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May 2, 2016

The moral landscape for assisted suicide and euthanasia changed dramatically with the February 2015 Supreme Court of Canada decision which mandated Parliament to establish a law legalizing assisted suicide in Canada.

Parliament has two basic choices: It can enact a law which establishes a process for assisted suicide or it could ignore the court ruling, thus allowing a free-for-all with no restrictions on assisted suicide.

This situation replicates that of the 1988 Supreme Court ruling on abortion. Following the ruling, the Mulroney government attempted to pass a law which outlawed abortion except when a doctor decided the woman's life or health would be threatened by continuing the pregnancy.

The bill was passed by the House of Commons, but voted down by the Senate at least in part because some pro-life senators believed it was not strict enough. The government refused to introduce different legislation; consequently, for nearly 30 years, Canada has had abortion on demand.

The 2015 Supreme Court decision was a heinous ruling, one whose garbled logic was based on its unsupported contention that the existing law against assisted suicide is actually a threat to human life because it forces some people "to take their own lives prematurely."

The next major development after the court ruling was the report of the joint Parliamentary Committee on Physician-Assisted Dying issued Feb. 25.

The report recommended allowing assisted suicide for people with psychiatric conditions or dementia, and for children under 18. It also proposed forcing all physicians to make an effective referral for those who request assisted suicide and for all publicly-funded health facilities to be required to provide physician-assisted suicide.

The committee report was likely the most reprehensible, comprehensive attack on

human dignity by a group of elected officials in Canadian history.

The legislation which the Liberal government introduced in the House of Commons April 14 barred assisted suicide for the mentally ill, those with dementia and minors. It turned over the issues of freedom of conscience for health care workers, especially physicians, and health care facilities to the provinces.

Bill C-14 is more restrictive legislation than that sought by the Supreme Court. Euthanasia advocates are upset, and, if the bill is passed, court challenges will follow and, in all likelihood, be successful.

The bill would restrict assisted suicide to those with a serious, incurable disease or disability, who are in an advanced state of

irreversible decline in capability, who find the disease or disability causes them enduring and intolerable physical or psychological suffering and whose natural death has become "reasonably foreseeable." After a patient signs a document calling for assistance in committing suicide, at least 15 days will pass before their request is carried out.

We will never approve of such a law because it legalizes the killing of the innocent. Physicians and other health care workers will always receive the counsel of the Church to never play even a minor role in assisted suicide and to do what they can to convince their patients not to go forward with such action.

At the same time, legislators find themselves in a dilemma. Should they support the somewhat restrictive Bill C-14, while working for amendments and clearly stating their opposition to assisted suicide? Or, should they vote against the bill, knowing that could mean there will be no legislation and unrestricted access to assisted suicide?

In that regard, one must re-state St. John Paul II's judgment (in relation to abortion) from his 1995 encyclical The Gospel of Life (Evangelium Vitae):

"When it is not possible to overturn or completely abrogate a pro-abortion law, an elected official, whose absolute personal opposition to procured abortion was well known, could licitly support proposals aimed at limiting the harm done by such a law and at lessening its negative consequences at the level of general opinion and public morality. This does not in fact represent an illicit cooperation with an unjust law, but rather a legitimate and proper attempt to limit its evil aspects."

Whatever legislation Parliament passes may be no more than a thumb in the dike. Assisted suicide proponents are determined to use the courts if necessary to open the gates to assisted suicide as wide as possible.

Nevertheless, the rest of us ought to continue lobbying federal politicians to close the loopholes in Bill C-14, especially to define strictly the meaning of natural death being "reasonably foreseeable." We also ought to give more attention to provincial elected officials who will decide whether physicians, other health care workers and health care institutions retain their right to freedom of conscience.