OTTAWA (CCN) — Representatives from faith groups including Canada’s Catholic bishops faced tough questions from journalists Oct. 29 when they presented a united front against doctor assisted death.
“On the basis of our respective traditions and beliefs, we insist that any action intended to end human life is morally and ethically wrong,” said a joint statement signed by 56 religious leaders released at a news conference on Parliament Hill. “Together, we are determined to work to alleviate human suffering in every form but never by intentionally eliminating those who suffer.”
The Christian, Jewish and Muslim faith leaders called for accessible palliative and hospice care across the country: to reduce the demand for euthanasia and assisted suicide; for enhancing “human solidarity by promoting the rights to life and security for all people”; and ensuring respect for the conscience rights of all health professionals and administrators.
Ottawa Archbishop Terrence Prendergast, representing the Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops, said, “the Catholic Church believes and teaches that suicide is contrary to justice, hope and charity.”
Journalists challenged the apparent contradiction of faith groups uniformly opposed to assisted suicide and euthanasia now requesting a national conversation to craft a new law in line with the Supreme Court of Canada’s Carter decision Feb. 6 that struck down Criminal Code provisions against assisted suicide, paving the way for doctor assisted death.
Prendergast said he personally would prefer there be no assisted suicides or euthanasia in Canada. But “Canada is a democratic society,” he said. If no law is crafted with as many safeguards as possible, the archbishop said he feared the same legal vacuum around abortion.
If there were no rules or regulations, soon even teenagers might request assisted suicide, he said.
While the groups would accept “regretfully” that some citizens might opt for some type of assisted death, “we would like to have protection of life to the greatest extent possible,” including the option of palliative care so people will not feel forced to make a choice for assisted death, he said.Sister Nuala Kenny, a bioethicist and retired pediatrician, told the news conference, “As of the moment, in fact, (doctor assisted death) is legal.” The court gave Parliament and the provinces and territories year to work out the regulations and the legislation. If nothing happens by Feb. 6, 2016, Canada “will have the most liberal end-of-life policy in the world” and it will not only concern those who have terminal illness or who are dying, she warned.
Challenged on whether the faith leaders were bringing up the “slippery slope” argument and being “alarmist,” Kenny and Prendergast both pointed to the way euthanasia has even included children in countries like Belgium and the Netherlands. Kenny pointed out even the definition of adult is problematic because children as young as 12 can now refuse medical treatment.
Asked if the Liberals were perceived as less open to faith groups’ concerns, the archbishop pointed out Trudeau “eliminated all people who were pro-life on abortion” from running as candidates in the last election. “This is a life issue,” he said.
The faith leaders said they welcomed news the Trudeau government planned to seek an extension from the Supreme Court to give Parliament more time to craft a new law. They urged as wide a consultation as possible. Journalists asked if the faith leaders had spoken with Trudeau yet.
“Do we want to talk to him? The answer is absolutely, yes,” said Rabbi Reuven Bulka from Ottawa’s Congregation Machzikei Hadas. “Have we? No.”
Bulka said there needs to be a conversation to develop a Canadian consensus because the right to an assisted death is being imposed on others who must assist.
Suicide is “an epidemic across the democratic free world,” he said. “To say ‘you have to help me in doing it’ is the big quantum leap” that would “transform medicine” in a way that has never been seen since its beginnings.
Questioned on the rights of those who face a delay in receiving an assisted death to relieve their suffering, Kenny said individual rights have to be balanced against the common good.
Julia Beazley, policy analyst for the EFC, said any new law has to ensure those opting for doctor assisted death are “capable and competent,” and that ill and disabled citizens are protected from third-party coercion.
“None of us want to impose our particular religious values,” Bulka said. Instead they hope Canada will take into consideration the protections that have built Canadian society based on the sanctity and inviolability of human life.