Mark Pickup

March 17, 2014

I want to address the rhetoric used by people who promote euthanasia and assisted suicide. Those who control language control public discourse and set agendas that dictate behaviour that might not be acceptable in other contexts.

It is a confusing time. The culture in which we live is telling the incurably ill and severely disabled they have a right to assisted suicide while the healthy population deserves suicide prevention.

Do not be fooled. Assisted suicide is a misguided compassion at best and, at its worst, prejudice against the dying, sick and disabled. Acceptance of euthanasia and assisted suicide is an aberration from the historical ethos of western Christian civilization and against the teaching of the Catholic Church dating back into antiquity.

The ban of assisting suicide is deeply rooted in Canada's legal and moral history – and common law before that, dating back more than 700 years. The Hippocratic Oath for physicians, which dates back more than 2,400 years, forbids euthanasia (and abortion).

We are witnessing a dark, dramatic departure from the legal and moral consensus that governed our civilization in favour of something akin to culling society of its weakest and portraying it as compassion via the use of euphemisms.

The Wordsworth Reference book of Euphemisms says the word "euphemism" comes from the Greek eu meaning "good" and pheme meaning "speech" or "saying."

Euphemisms generally use pleasant language to hide something offensive. That is certainly the case in Canada with euthanasia and assisted suicide.

Quebec calls its euthanasia bill "An Act Respecting End of Life Care." It is not an act that respects end of life care; it is an act to end life instead of giving care.

The euphemism "medical aid in dying" is meant to give an air of medical legitimacy to killing the incurably ill whereas the word "euthanasia" still makes many people recoil.

The phrase "death with dignity" is designed to give the impression of compassion to euthanasia and assisted suicide. Death with dignity is not an event; it is a process, the end result of having lived with dignity. Dignity is not achieved by injecting poison into a depressed sick or dying person, or by dehydrating them to death.

Some advocates of euthanasia use the phrase "mercy killing." Providing pain relief and loving care is mercy, not killing. The 20th-century Christian apologist and writer Malcolm Muggeridge said, "Jesus healed the sick, raised Lazarus from the dead, gave back sanity to the deranged, but never did he practise, or include, killing as part of the mercy that occupied his heart. His true followers cannot but adopt the same attitude."


Advocates of euthanasia try to justify it by saying a sick person's quality of life may be unacceptably low. They fail to mention that this quality of life can change for incurably ill and disabled people. What was intolerable yesterday may be tolerable today and acceptable tomorrow. I have personally experienced this throughout 30 years with multiple sclerosis.

Euthanasia advocates speak about people dying with excruciating pain. In the 21st century, people need not die in unbearable pain. Dr. John Scott of the Ottawa Hospital, a renowned palliative care expert, has stated:

"The World Health Organization has demonstrated that access to pain-relieving drugs, along with a simple education program, can achieve relief in the vast majority of patients. Specialists in various parts of the world estimate these basic approaches can control 85 to 98 per cent of cases. The remaining cases require more careful attention and the use of multiple drugs and therapies to achieve complete relief."


Dr. Scott wrote those words in 1995. There have been advances in pain management since then. Dying or incurably ill people suffering unbearable pain do not need euthanasia or assistance with their suicide, they need a doctor who knows current palliative medicine which includes 21st century pain managements.

Catholic teaching makes no allowance for euthanasia or assisted suicide. That is important for an incurably ill person like me. To know my life is valued and safe even if I lose hope is critically important to me.

The Catholic Church and its institutions are spiritual havens in the midst of society's moral storm. The Church is a certain and solid anchor for people like me to embrace in this dark time when wrong is presented as right and right is decried as wrong. The Church remains solid on a landscape of shifting sand.