OTTAWA (CCN) — Euthanasia and assisted suicide are legal in Canada, but opponents vow to fight on a number of fronts in hopes, ultimately, of seeing Canadian society reverse its position.
In a statement released June 20, Toronto Cardinal Thomas Collins said the Supreme Court of Canada and Parliament have “set our country down a path that leads not simply, and obviously, towards physical death for an increasing number of fellow citizens, but towards a grim experience for everyone in our society of the coldness of spiritual death.”
“That death is found in a loss of respect for the dignity of the human person, in a deadening pressure upon the vulnerable to be gone, and in an assault upon the sanctuary of conscience to be suffered by good individuals and institutions who seek only to heal,” the cardinal said.
He called the deepest roots of this “malign development” spiritual and said he would be suggesting prayer and penance as a way to address them.
“Our broader society also needs to engage in the necessary but lengthy process of reflection upon the dire implications for every aspect of our life together when we lost the fundamental ability to distinguish between dying and being killed. We all need to recognize the profound significance of that distinction.”
Catholic Organization for Life and Family director Michele Boulva said Catholics have work to do in educating the next generation and those after why euthanasia and assisted suicide are “wrong, morally and spiritually.”
“Education is No. 1, to address the confusion that is still there,” she said.
At the same time, she urged Catholics to make sure euthanasia and assisted suicide “become irrelevant because of how we care for people.”
“We have to be like the first Christians, so people will say of us, ‘See how they love each other,’ ” she said. “We have to do that also, so people looking at us will say, ‘Look how they love each other.’ ”
“If we teach people to care about others, and love them when they become vulnerable, then the elderly and the disabled won’t want to be killed,” she said.
Catholic lay people need to “be proactive” and “not wait until the next moves are made by those who want to widen access to euthanasia,” she said. “Others will be pressing for a law that is wider. We have to do the opposite.”
Both Collins and Boulva stressed the importance of fighting to protect the conscience rights of health care professionals and institutions and of promoting good palliative care.
Catholic Civil Rights League President Phil Horgan said there is already a challenge to the College of Physicians and Surgeons of Ontario before the courts concerning the college’s requirement of an effective referral in euthanasia requests. This will likely be heard before a court in 2017, he said.
On a positive front, however, the Ontario health minister has signalled a willingness to recognize that Catholic and Christian hospitals not be required to participate, Horgan said. “That’s a hopeful proposition that needs to be acknowledged across the country.”
Strengthening palliative care may prove difficult now that assisted suicide and euthanasia are legal, he said. Horgan cited a vast difference in the number of palliative care specialists and available beds in the Netherlands where euthanasia is legal, and the United Kingdom, where it is not. If Canadians are euthanized at the same rate as Belgians, there could be between 8-12,000 euthanasia deaths a year here, he warned. Making an “assisted death” part of the continuum of health care is “not a palliative care culture,” he said.
But an even bigger adverse effect will be the way the new law will have an “educative effect” on the population. In the bill, “there wasn’t enough attention paid to the ideation of suicide, which is a mental health problem.”
“Now that we’ve introduced suicide relativism, you’re going to run into the problem of suicide attraction,” he said. “If ‘it’s OK for grandma,’ we’re not actually addressing the real issue of the absence of moral reasoning in our civic discourse.”
“We’ve moved away from the supremacy of God and the rule of law when it comes to assisted suicide in favour of a grounding in autonomy even to the extent of requiring the state and or a third party medical practitioner to assist you in your choice of early death,” he said. “The notion of autonomy before long really becomes a notion of the exercise of power.”
Euthanasia Prevention Coalition legal counsel Hugh Scher anticipates there will be a constitutional challenge coming soon to the requirement in the legislation death be “reasonably foreseeable” in order for a patient to obtain euthanasia and assisted suicide.
“We’ll see how the courts deal with that and the amount of deference the courts are willing to pay to Parliament on such a complex social policy issue,” he said.
Scher said challenges may come from vulnerable Canadians who say their Charter rights to life, security of the person and to equality are threatened by having an assisted suicide and euthanasia law.
Others could challenge the “failure to provide palliative care as a right to all Canadians,” arguing it is “depriving Canadians of the ability to lead dignified lives.”
“Denial of that right to palliative care and related support may give rise to violations of Section 7 (life and security of the person) and Section 15 (equality provision) of the Charter,” he said.
There will be those who want to broaden access to euthanasia, those who want to keep it the way it is, and “those who want it done away with altogether, for the Supreme Court decision to be overturned,” he said.
The preamble of Bill C-14 noted there would be further study on issues such as advanced directives and access for mature minors. Scher said that he expected, as in many “social policy evolutions” the changes will be “incremental.”
Collins also warned against taking any reassurance in the fact “the law could be worse.” He noted in jurisdictions where euthanasia is legal, “it has always been cloaked with ‘safeguards’ that lull the citizens into complacency.”
“Over the years those ‘safeguards’ finally drop away, and then the full hard cold force of euthanasia is felt,” the cardinal said. “Here is a chilling fact: despite the confidence of the Supreme Court justices that Canada is different from those jurisdictions, in only slightly more than a year since their decision, the ‘safeguards’ are already under vigorous attack.”