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Editorial

Abbot Peter Novecosky, OSB

11/02/2016

Abbot Peter NovecoskyThe changing health profession

The news headline last week was disconcerting: “Former Woodstock, Ont., nurse facing 8 murder charges in deaths of elderly patients.”

The Woodstock nurse is charged by Ontario Provincial Police with killing eight elderly patients in southwestern Ontario nursing homes.

The deaths occurred between August 2007 and August 2014, police said during an Oct. 25 news conference in Woodstock. The victims were between the ages of 75 and 96. Police did not say exactly how they died, except that seven of them received a fatal dose of a drug.

The news is troubling given that Canada has now passed a law that allows health practitioners to assist people in commiting suicide. While the deaths took place before the law on euthanasia was changed in Canada, they happened while the legal atmosphere was changing.

With the new law now in place in Canada — and not broad enough, according to some proponents — the incidents in Ontario raise red flags, two in particular.

Cardinal Willem Eijk of Utrecht raised one red flag in his talk to the Canadian bishops at Cornwall on Sept. 26. Speaking of the introduction of an assisted-suicide law in the Netherlands, he noted that the criteria for killing people has been gradually expanding. It’s a slippery slope that Canadians should be concerned about, he warned.

The Dutch first introduced assisted suicide for patients who requested it. Doctor-assisted suicide was introduced to relieve unbearable suffering for a patient. It soon expanded into terminating life without the patient’s request. The subjective criteria to end one’s life replaced the long-standing objective criteria of the dignity of all life, expressed in the Commandment: “Do not kill.”

A second red flag is the attitude and training future doctors and nurses will have. In Holland, the majority of doctors are now in favour of euthanasia. These are the kind of people who will be attracted to the medical profession.

Will Canada be far behind? Not if some doctors have their way.

As reported in the Oct. 26 Prairie Messenger, the policy of the College of Physicians and Surgeons of Ontario now forces doctors to provide an “effective referral” for any recognized legal medical procedure or treatment, even in those cases where the doctor objects on moral or religious grounds. Doctors are fighting back, as they fear they will be forced to refer for assisted suicide.

The Coalition for Health-CARE and Conscience is taking the College of Physicians and Surgeons of Ontario to court over its “Professional obligations and human rights” policy. This policy states that “Where physicians are unwilling to provide certain elements of care for reasons of conscience or religion, an effective referral to another health care provider must be provided to the patient.”

Michèle Boulva, executive director of the Catholic Organization for Life and Family (COLF), says she is worried the assisted suicide law is corroding the conscience of citizens, doctors and health care institutions. “This may be the new normal and the new legal, but it will never be moral,” she warned.

While the nurse in Ontario is now facing murder charges, is it just a matter of time before this will not happen in the future? Will there come a time when a nurse or doctor can kill patients with impunity, even when not requested? Will there come a time when health professionals will be trained to accept as normal the “duty” to kill someone who requests it? Will there come a time when a young person interested in becoming a nurse or doctor will have to choose another career because of the the new “legal” directives for health professionals?

The time for vigilance is now.