Bishop Douglas Crosby

Bishop Douglas Crosby

September 28, 2015

Canada's Catholic bishops have unanimously called on the federal government to invoke the notwithstanding clause in response to the Supreme Court's Feb. 6 decision on euthanasia and assisted suicide.

"We urge the government that is elected on Oct. 19 to invoke the notwithstanding clause and extend this timeline to five years," said both the past president and the new president of the Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops (CCCB) in a news conference.

The notwithstanding clause of the Charter of Rights and Freedoms allows Parliament or a provincial legislature to override certain sections of the charter if it believes doing so would best serve democracy.

The notwithstanding clause can only be implemented for five years, but legislatures can decide to renew it for additional five-year periods.

The bishops also took aim at the court ruling itself.

"We cannot but express our outrage at the decision of the Supreme Court of Canada to create a new 'constitutional right' in Canada, the so-called 'right' to suicide," said CCCB's outgoing president, Archbishop Paul-André Durocher.

"Nor can we suppress our profound dismay, disappointment and disagreement with the court's decision.

"The ruling would legalize an action that, from time immemorial, has been judged immoral: the taking of innocent life," Durocher said Sept. 18 at the close of the annual CCCB plenary in Cornwall, Ont.

"Moreover, it puts at risk the lives of the vulnerable, the depressed, those with physical or mental illness, and those with disabilities."

Durocher called the bishops' unanimous statement a "cri de coeur" (cry of the heart).

"We are in the midst of a federal election campaign," said the new CCCB president Bishop Douglas Crosby, who begins a two-year term. "The candidates' silence on the question of assisted suicide astonishes us.

"This question is fundamental for our society and its future," Crosby said. "Have we relinquished the ability to debate the profound questions of life that touch us all? Are our politicians that terrified by the risk of awkwardly phrased responses, getting 'off message' or the ups and downs of public opinion polls?"


Durocher urged all citizens to raise this question of life and death at meetings with political candidates.

The bishops said the one-year period the Supreme Court gave Parliament to craft a new law is "far too short for such a fundamental change in our laws to enter into force."

Said Crosby: "In the face of the terrible suffering that can be caused by illnesses or depression, a truly human response should be to care, not to kill. The response to the anguish and fear people can experience at the end of their lives is to be present to them, offering palliative care, not intentionally to cause their death."

The newly-elected president underlined the need for available palliative care.

"This is where the energies and resources of our elected leaders should be directed," said Crosby.


The bishops also appealed for the protection of conscience rights of all caregivers.

Requiring a physician to kill a patient is always unacceptable," said Durocher. "It is an affront to the conscience and vocation of the health-care provider to require him or her to collaborate in the intentional putting to death of a patient, even by referring the person to a colleague."

The bishops said their views on this contentious subject are informed by "reason, ethical dialogue, religious conviction and a profound respect for the dignity of the human person."