Bishops want input to law on assisted suicide

Archbishop Paul-André Durocher

Archbishop Paul-André Durocher

June 1, 2015
CANADIAN CATHOLIC NEWS

The Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops should be included in consultations regarding assisted suicide legislation, the conference's president has told the country's justice minister.

In a letter released May 25, Archbishop Paul-André Durocher expressed deep concern about the implications of the Supreme Court of Canada's Feb. 6 ruling that struck down the laws against assisted suicide and opened the way to doctor-assisted death.

Durocher, archbishop of Gatineau, Que., said the bishops want to be consulted to ensure "the law offers the greatest protection possible to the lives and health of all, and that it also ensures complete protection for the rights and freedom of conscience of health care workers and managers."

Justice Minister Peter MacKay has told journalists a wide-ranging consultation would begin soon.

MacKay said he expected new legislation to be passed before the one-year deadline the Supreme Court allowed before putting its decision into effect.

No legislation will be introduced before the October federal election, thus sidelining euthanasia and assisted suicide as campaign issues, he said.

In his letter, Durocher said, "The classic words of the Hippocratic Oath bind medical practitioners to keep patients 'from harm and injustice,' and not to 'give a deadly drug to anybody who asked for it' nor to 'make a suggestion to this effect.'"

TRUST AND CONFIDENCE

"The court's ruling not only erodes society's appreciation for human life, but also the trust and confidence all people, particularly those most vulnerable, should have in medical personnel and health care institutions to protect their lives."

The archbishop said the court pointed out provincial legislatures and colleges of physicians will need to protect the charter rights of physicians and other health care workers.

They must not be compelled "to provide, or be involved in, physician-assisted suicide."

Durocher reminded MacKay of the long-standing Catholic commitment to health care and its involvement in establishing many health care institutions.

As well, many Catholics are involved in the health care field, he wrote.

"Compassion and care for the sick, the dying and those socially and economically vulnerable is a principal work of mercy for our Church," he wrote.

DEEPLY TROUBLED

"Together with the leaders and members of many other faith communities, we too are deeply troubled by the Supreme Court ruling and concerned about the possible implications of any new legislation that will be developed in view of implementing that ruling."

The Euthanasia Prevention Coalition, McGill University bioethicist Margaret Somerville, the Association for Reformed Political Action and others have been calling on the government to set up a royal commission to examine the implications of assisted suicide and euthanasia.

They want the federal government to invoke the notwithstanding clause of the Charter of Rights and Freedoms to override the court's decision and give five years for the government to develop its legislation.

Others have argued about the risk of doing nothing, leaving Canada with a legal void similar to that on abortion that would leave vulnerable Canadians unprotected.

The Quebec grassroots group Living with Dignity opposes changing the law, but its executive director Nic Steenhout has said the group is also "facing reality" and wants to see the strictest possible limits on physician assisted death.