By Mary Deutscher

Every August, I sit down and spend some time thinking about what topics I would like to address in this column in the coming year. During this year’s annual planning session, I decided I should focus a little less on euthanasia and highlight some cheerier topics instead, like designer babies and xenotransplantation.

But then so many interesting things happened in the world of end-of-life issues that I’m finding it hard to contain myself! So permit me to provide an update.

To begin with, there have been two developments in the legal status of euthanasia and assisted suicide in Canada that require our attention. Last spring many Canadians were shocked when the Quebec government passed Bill 52, which legalized euthanasia as “medical aid in dying.” In response, the Quebec group Living with Dignity has joined two physicians groups to challenge the constitutionality of Bill 52 before it comes into force in December 2015. The dates for this court challenge will be determined in late October.

The Euthanasia Prevention Coalition (EPC) of Canada plans to be among the interveners in this case and will argue that “euthanasia is homicide not health care.” Bill 52 uses “medical aid in dying” as a euphemism for euthanasia, placing it within the jurisdiction of provincial health care.

However, euthanasia continues to be defined as homicide in the Criminal Code of Canada, something the EPC defends as a necessary protection for vulnerable members of society who could be coerced into ending their lives. By attempting to circumvent the federal law, Bill 52 is jeopardizing the lives of Canadian citizens.

The EPC will also be involved in the Supreme Court of Canada’s hearing of the Carter case. The Carter case began in British Columbia in 2011 when Kay Carter, who was eventually joined by ALS sufferer Gloria Taylor, challenged the constitutionality of the sections of the Criminal Code that prohibit assisted suicide. Both women have since died, but their case will be heard by the nation’s highest court on Oct. 15. The EPC has intervened in the Carter case in the lower courts, and will once again argue that legalizing assisted suicide will harm vulnerable members of society.

Intervening in both the Carter case and the challenge to Bill 52 will strain the resources of the EPC. If you wish to support their work, please visit to make a donation.

Thankfully there have also been some positive developments in the world of end-of-life care. The Catholic Organization for Life and Family (COLF) has just launched a new campaign, A Life-Giving Love, that aims to promote palliative and home care through prayer, education, political action and journeying with the sick and dying. The campaign website,, provides resources for families and parishes to promote end-of-life care that respect the dignity of every person.

In other news, Dying with Dignity Canada recently commissioned a poll that found 83 per cent of Catholics support assisted suicide. Although this number may seem devastating, I accept it as a challenge to ensure the faithful are better educated on these issues and are given the tools they need to articulate their position.

To this end, there are two events in Saskatoon this November that I encourage everyone to attend. On Nov. 4 Margaret Somerville will be presenting on The Ethics of Physician Assisted Suicide and Euthanasia at St. Paul’s Hospital, and on Nov. 26, the Christian Medical and Dental Society will lead an evening titled, Living with Dignity, at the Cathedral of the Holy Family. End-of-life issues will also be the focus of attention in the Archdiocese of Regina during their annual Reverence for Life Month this October, which provides Catholics with an opportunity to learn more about our baptismal call to respect all life.

Finally, the most uplifting story in my news roundup is that after a long wait, Saskatoon is one step closer to getting a hospice. In late September, the Saskatoon Regional Health Authority approved a plan for a 15-bed hospice, which will fill a gap in the palliative care services offered in Saskatoon. Currently, a dedicated homecare team and a 12-bed unit at St. Paul’s Hospital serve the needs of palliative patients. However, if patients require more care than can be provided at home but do not need to be in an acute care facility, they often wind up in a setting that does not suit their needs.

Such patients would benefit from a hospice because it would provide them with a home-like atmosphere in which to live out the final weeks of their lives in comfort. The hospice setting allows families to be present with their loved ones, without worrying about providing medical care. Although there are still several challenges ahead for the development of the hospice, the much-needed facility will hopefully open its doors in 2017.

So there you have it. There are some good developments in end-of-life care, and there are some things that we need to fight against. There is a lot of work to be done to ensure that every Canadian receives the care they deserve. I hope you will be able to find a way to join the cause!

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