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EPC urges Catholic health organizations to make strong statement against assisted suicide

By Deborah Gyapong
Canadian Catholic News


OTTAWA (CCN) — Alex Schadenberg of the Euthanasia Prevention Coalition (EPC) said he hopes the Catholic Health Alliance of Canada (CHAC) will issue a strong statement against assisted suicide.

Schadenberg said it’s been a very difficult time for those “concerned with protecting people against euthanasia and assisted suicide” since the Supreme Court of Canada struck down Canada’s laws on assisted suicide Feb. 6 in the Carter decision.

“I am also very concerned about conscience issues for physicians,” he said. “The only actual way they can be protected is if the Catholic health care system comes out and says we will not in any way participate in these acts. We will not do it; we will not refer for it.”

“If they would come out with such a statement that would put a lot of people in a place where they feel somewhat protected in a very bad situation,” Schadenberg said. “I don’t want to be in a position where I go to my physician when I’m down and feeling horrible about my situation and have my doctor acquiesce to assisted suicide or euthanasia when I am in need of good care.”

People need to have someone “there for us who will say, ‘I am not going to kill you or ask someone else to kill you,’ ” he said.

“There is no debate around assisted suicide,” said Catholic Health Alliance of Canada (CHAC) president Michael Shea in an interview from the United States where he was attending a conference. “It’s not something Catholic health care can support or be involved in, that’s very clear.”

“It’s against our values and ethical principles,” Shea said. “But there is a lot more around this issue than simply that.”

“Clearly Catholic health care organizations cannot undertake the procedures,” he said.

It’s in the area of referrals and requests for patient transfers where the issue is not quite so black and white, he said. “Obviously we can’t keep people against their will.” That’s why at the end of June, a group of Catholic ethicists will be meeting to advise the CHAC on the implications of assisted suicide legislation, he said.

Shea said the CHAC is concerned about any legislation around assisted suicide. “We will be and are working to try to influence and affect any government policy that is developed in response to the Supreme Court ruling.” It is also going to focus on promoting palliative care as an option.

Catholic health care has been a pioneer and innovator in palliative care, Shea said, and CHAC continues to “see palliative care as an appropriate response to end of life care.”

“If Canadians had access to effective and appropriate palliative care, requests and a desire for assisted suicide would be a lot less,” he said.

“We’re going to try to do whatever we can to ensure it’s as restrictive as possible,” he said. “We’re spending our time and resources looking at the ethical implications of a whole matter of policies around physician assisted suicide.”

Though CHAC affiliated organizations across the country have agreements with funders and governments and provide services within the Canadian health care system, “by in large we are not asked to do things contrary to our values and ethics.”

“There will be some kind of legislation, whether on the provincial or federal level, but we’ll need to adapt to that,” he said.

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