Canada's laws must care and protect life


Mark Pickup

July 16, 2012

Last month, British Columbia Judge Lynn Smith declared Canada's laws banning assisted suicide unconstitutional. Apparently it is not fair for severely disabled people to be denied suicide when healthy and able-bodied people can take their own lives. Really?

Canadians do not have a right to suicide simply because they are capable of doing it. There is no Canadian law that declares people have a constitutional right to kill themselves . . . at least not yet.

That may come with the twisted decision of "Justice" Smith. Not only did she declare Canada's laws against assisted suicide unconstitutional, this unelected judge had the unmitigated audacity to tell Canada's elected Parliament to change the law. What hubris!

The B.C. Civil Liberties Association originally mounted the legal challenge of Canada's laws against assisted suicide on behalf of Gloria Taylor who suffers from ALS.

After Smith's odious decision, the association's representative Grace Pastine stated, "The court has recognized today that Canadians who are seriously and incurably ill have the right to request a physician to assist them to end their lives in a dignified and humane manner." (It's not surprising the Civil Liberties Association would say that – it also supported Robert Latimer.)

I am reminded of something George Orwell said: "In our time, political speech and writing are largely the defence of the indefensible."

Canada does not hold any so-called right to suicide. In October 2011 Parliament gave unanimous support to the idea of a National Suicide Prevention Strategy. If suicide is a right, why would Parliament make such a unanimous statement?


What sort of message would be sent to the severely disabled or people with incurably illnesses (like me) if Canada legalizes assisted suicide for sick and disabled people while also adopting a national suicide prevention strategy for the rest of the population? The message will be clear: the lives of suicidal sick or disabled people are worth less than suicidal able-bodied people. Ironically, sick and disabled Canadians would become a new underclass of citizens in the name of equality.

Law must always default to the care and protection of human life. Death is not a right. It is an inevitability that will visit all of us, regardless of what any law may state.

Proponents of assisted suicide often cite numerous public opinion polls that show 70 per cent of Canadians favour assisted suicide for the terminally and chronically ill, and severely disabled people. They are right. Most Canadians do support assisted suicide for people like me. It is not easy to accept that seven out every 10 of my able-bodied fellow citizens hold people like me in such low regard.

The Catholic Church has an opportunity to give a profound witness for the sanctity and dignity for all human life. It is in stark contrast to the current social climate. The Catholic Church is the best friend and defender of people with disabilities and incurable illnesses.

This is not new. Throughout the ages the Catholic Church has defended the weakest and most vulnerable humanity against those who would oppress or destroy them. Years before I converted to Catholicism I recognized that the Catholic Church consistently and unequivocally defended human life beginning at conception through every state and stage of life to its conclusion.

Despite vicious and unrelenting anti-Catholic attacks, the Church never wavered in its defence of life and Christian service – nor changed its beliefs to accommodate new trends in thinking. The Catholic Church's steadfast witness in the face of withering opposition had a major influence in my conversion.


Among other things, Catholic teaching says suicide "offends love of neighbour because it unjustly breaks the ties of solidarity with family, nation, and other human societies to which we continue to have obligations. Suicide is contrary to love for the living God" (Catechism of The Catholic Church, 2281).

About assisted suicide we can apply the following: "Voluntary co-operation in suicide is contrary to the moral law" (n. 2282). Later in no. 2325 we find these words: "Suicide is seriously contrary to justice, hope and charity." Self-murder is still murder.

As Catholics, part of our evangelical role in a culture of death is to promote a culture of life and inclusion. We must tirelessly promote the truth about the intrinsic value of human life because every human being is created in God's image – even if they are unaware of it or have rejected God and his goodness. The Gospel message is a message of life and hope, not death and defeat.