SASKATOON — A pastoral letter about the legalization of assisted suicide and euthanasia was released this summer by the five Catholic bishops serving in Saskatchewan.
The Supreme Court of Canada overturned existing laws against assisted suicide in a Feb. 6, 2015, ruling, giving Parliament one year to write a new law.
“At this critical moment in our nation’s history, our faith in Jesus Christ impels us — as the Catholic bishops exercising ministry in Saskatchewan — to reach out to Catholics and invite all to focus attention on the vital issue of legalizing assisted suicide and euthanasia,” begins the letter signed by Archbishop Daniel Bohan of Regina, Bishop Albert Thévenot of Prince Albert, Bishop Donald Bolen of Saskatoon, Archbishop Murray Chatlain of Keewatin-Le Pas, and Bishop Bryan Bayda, Eparch of Saskatchewan.
“This is of grave concern to all of us. In particular, we must consider how this decision will impact the most vulnerable among us — including our elderly, those who are dying, and our sisters and brothers who live with disabilities or mental illness,” wrote the bishops in the July 13 letter circulated to parishes across the province.
“We also face threats to freedom of conscience and religion, particularly for medical professionals who may be pressured to act against their calling as healers,” continued the pastoral letter, which urges individual Catholics to take action on the issue.
“We encourage the Catholic faithful and all Canadians to respond courageously to the challenges posed by the Supreme Court’s ruling, by raising their voices in defence of the life and the human dignity of all persons, especially the most vulnerable. As St. John Paul II exhorted us, ‘Be not afraid!’ ”
The bishops’ suggestions included: urging the federal government to carry out a thorough consultation to ensure that new legislation on assisted suicide is as restrictive as possible; asking governments and professional associations to ensure that freedom of conscience will be respected for all health care professionals who do not accept killing as a solution to pain and suffering; supporting Catholic physicians, nurses, health professionals and administrators as they stand up for their faith in the face of changing circumstances and new demands; and pressing for improved access to palliative care, including proper pain and symptom management.
“Instead of hastening death for Canadians who are ill or dying, we must support them with high quality palliative care, which offers a holistic healing experience for them and for their families,” wrote the bishops.
The pastoral letter also encouraged Catholics to participate in the second round of the College of Physicians and Surgeons of Saskatchewan (CPSS) consultation on their revised conscientious objection policy before an August 7 deadline (see related article).
That deadline — and the strong need to keep the issue of assisted suicide in the forefront at this moment in history — prompted the bishops to circulate the letter in summer time, explained Bolen. He said that after consultation with groups and individuals working on addressing the issue, the bishops decided to release the pastoral letter sooner rather than later, even though many parishioners might have been away when it was circulated in mid-July.
“We felt that it was vital to keep up the momentum on this important issue,” he said. “Hopefully in the weeks ahead, parish leaders will continue to draw attention to the pastoral letter and to the implications of legalizing assisted suicide and euthanasia, encouraging ongoing awareness and advocacy.”
On July 17, Canada’s Minister of Justice Peter MacKay and Minister of Health Rona Ambrose announced the establishment of a panel of experts who will conduct a national consultation on options for dealing with the Supreme Court of Canada ruling, which lifts the prohibition against physician-assisted suicide.
Followers of Christ are called to serve the vulnerable and the voiceless, affirmed the Saskatchewan bishops. “Exercising our responsibility as Christians to act on our concerns about these vitally important matters will encourage the development of health and social policies that are consistent with social justice teachings,” states their letter.
“We affirm with deep gratitude and encourage with genuine care all who work to uphold the value of human life and dignity from conception to natural death,” write the bishops. “All human life deserves respect and protection. We share a common responsibility to serve the sick and the aged, not only by attending to physical illnesses, but also by caring for the well-being of the whole person, in imitation of Christ the Healer.”