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Euthanasia poses problems for priests and hospital chaplains

By Deborah Gyapong
Canadian Catholic News

02/24/2016

OTTAWA (CCN) — It would be inappropriate for a person intent on assisted suicide to request the sacrament of anointing of the sick, said Ottawa Archbishop Terrence Prendergast.

“Asking your priest to be present to something that is in direct contradiction to our Catholic values is not fair to the pastor,” Prendergast said. “Of course a pastor will try and dissuade a patient from requesting suicide and will pray with them and their family, but asking him to be present is in effect asking him to condone a serious sin.”

A person who requests a lethal injection “lacks the proper disposition for the anointing of the sick,” he said.

“Asking to be killed is gravely disordered and is a rejection of the hope that the rite calls for and tries to bring into the situation.”

Prendergast said a priest should go when his presence is requested to pray for the person or to try to dissuade them from assisted suicide. But withholding the sacrament can be a pastoral way to help a patient realize the gravity of their decision.

“The rite is for people who are gravely ill or labour under the burden of years and it contains the forgiveness of sins as part of the rite, in either form,” he said. “But we cannot be forgiven pre-emptively for something we are going to do — like ask for assisted suicide when suicide is a grave sin.”

The Alberta bishops issued a statement Feb. 11, on the World Day of the Sick, that said participating in assisted suicide is “morally wrong” and “no Catholic may advocate for, or participate in any way, whether by act or omission, in the intentional killing of another human being either by assisted suicide or euthanasia.”

The advent of legalized assisted suicide means priests and hospital chaplains will inevitably face moral challenges.

“When someone asks for the presence of a priest, whatever the situation, you always say yes,” said Montreal Archbishop Christian Lépine.

Without speaking specifically about administering the sacraments, the archbishop said suicide is “a grave evil” and the focus “has to be to promote the sacred character of life from conception to natural death.”

He compared attending to a person intent on assisted suicide to seeing someone ready to jump to their death from a bridge and rushing to talk them out of it. “It’s the same thing with the terminally ill,” he said.

Hospital chaplains already face similar moral quandaries when dealing with abortion.

Catholic priests can only pray the person will “turn away from it,” Prendergast said.

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