One of the pillars on which the Diocese of Victoria is founded is health care. We have a long history of taking care of people, providing loving assistance for the sick, and compassion and comfort for those who are dying; we are committed to promoting high quality palliative care. But with Euthanasia and Assisted Suicide legislation, physicians across our country who have devoted their lives to healing patients will soon be asked to do the exact opposite. They will not be asked to ease their suffering by providing them with treatment and loving care, but by putting them to death. In fact, killing a patient will no longer be considered a crime, but will actually be seen as a kind of health care, complete with legislation to regulate it.
The legacy of health care entrusted to us by our forebears, those on whom this Diocese is built, must be protected. It is critical that we do our utmost to ensure that we safeguard the vulnerable, and defend the conscience rights of institutions and of doctors, nurses, care aids, and other health care workers. Individuals and institutions must be free to refuse to participate in euthanasia or assisted suicide, without prejudice.
Diocese of Victoria
- Letter from Most Reverend Gary Gordon regarding the postcard campaign for protection of conscience rights for health care workers and institutions, February 24, 2016
- Letter from Most Reverend Gary Gordon regarding the Euthanasia Declaration, February 10, 2016
- Statement and call to action from Cardinal Thomas Collins concerning Euthanasia/Assisted Suicide, Tuesday, March 1, 2016
- Most Reverend Douglas Crosby OMI, Bishop of Hamilton, President of the Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops, Friday, February 26, 2016
- Archbishop J. Michael Miller, Archbishop of Vancouver, Thursday, February 25, 2016
- Canadian Catholic Bishops of Alberta, Thursday, February 25, 2016
- Assemblée des évêques catholiques du Québec, December 2015
Accoradtion Demo. One of the best ways you can learn about the Catholic Faith is to contact a Catholic parish near you to let them know that you are interested in learning more about the Faith. You can also explore an Overview of Catholic Teaching on our website, or consult the Catechism of the Catholic Church.
One of the best ways you can learn about the Catholic Faith is to contact a Catholic parish near you to let them know that you are interested in learning more about the Faith. You can also explore an Overview of Catholic Teaching on our website, or consult the Catechism of the Catholic Church.
Today, the Government of Canada has introduced Bill C-14, An Act to amend the Criminal Code and to make related amendments to other Acts (medical assistance in dying). This proposed legislation, which responds to the decision of the Supreme Court of Canada in early 2015, will make euthanasia and assisted suicide legal and more accessible in our entire country. The Supreme Court decision and current legislative efforts are in stark contradiction to the endeavours of individuals, families and communities to counteract the dangers and sufferings of suicide – as we have seen this week in Attawapiskat, Ontario.
The teaching of the Catholic Church and the stance of the Catholic Bishops of Canada affirm the sacredness and dignity of human life. Suicide and euthanasia are contrary to the most profound natural inclination of each human being to live and preserve life. Furthermore, they contradict the fundamental responsibility that human beings have to protect one another and to enhance the quality of health and social care which every human life deserves, from conception to natural death.
Bill C-14, no matter how it may be amended, is an affront to human dignity, an erosion of human solidarity, and a danger to all vulnerable persons -- particularly the aged, disabled, infirm and sick who so often find themselves isolated and marginalized. Moreover, it is a violation of the sacrosanct duty of healthcare providers to heal, and the responsibility of legislators and citizens to assure and provide protection for all, especially those persons most at risk.
As our country faces this new moral and social threat, the Bishops of Canada renew their call to federal, provincial and territorial legislators to consistently defend and protect the lives of all, to renew efforts to guarantee accessible home care and palliative care, and to protect the conscience rights of healthcare providers and agencies refusing to be part of euthanasia and assisted suicide.
Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops
April 14, 2016
On April 14, 2016, the federal government introduced legislation that, if passed, will amend the criminal code to make euthanasia/assisted suicide legal in Canada.
At a time when our priority should be fostering a culture of love, and enhancing resources for those suffering and facing death, assisted suicide leads us down a dark path. At first sight it may seem an attractive option, a quick and merciful escape from the suffering that can be experienced in life, but fuller reflection reveals its grim implications, not only for the individual but for our society, and especially for those who are most vulnerable. Such fuller reflection is sorely needed now. Just days ago, Pope Francis stated, "Care and concern for the final stages of life is all the more necessary today, when contemporary society attempts to remove every trace of death and dying...Euthanasia and assisted suicide are serious threats to families worldwide."
In the coming days I, along with others who share deep concerns about assisted suicide, will study the proposed legislation carefully and continue to advocate for the most vulnerable among us. I thank the thousands of Canadians, of many faiths or no faith at all, who have reached out to elected representatives, respectfully expressing their concerns regarding the unsettling recommendations included in the parliamentary joint committee report.
I would encourage all those who are troubled by the prospect of assisted suicide to continue to dialogue with their members of parliament, both at the federal and provincial level to:
- Prioritize effective palliative care for all, and support for those experiencing chronic suffering of any kind. We must especially offer love and compassionate assistance to those who are tempted to suicide.
- Protect health care workers across Canada who oppose participating in euthanasia/assisted suicide, either by doing it personally or by arranging for it to be done (that is, referring for these procedures.) Their conscience rights are protected under the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms, and those rights must be respected in practice. In protecting them, we protect those they serve.
- Protect health care institutions, hospices and long-term care facilities whose mission, vision, and values commit them each day to heal, not to hasten death. In a cold world of euthanasia, havens of hope are all the more needed.
A discussion about death is never an easy one. Yet now, more than ever, Canadians across the country need to be fully informed and mindful of the implications of this legislation.
In a familiar Catholic prayer we meditate on the two key moments of life: now, and the hour of our death. In these days ahead, may that reflection guide us as in a spirit of love, mercy and compassion, we journey with all those who are suffering.
Thomas Cardinal Collins
Archbishop of Toronto
April 14, 2016
Following the release on February 25, 2016, of the report Medical Assistance in Dying: A Patient-Centred Approach, by the Special Joint Committee of the Government of Canada on Physician-Assisted Dying, several declarations and reactions have been published beginning with the pastoral statement of the Most Reverend Douglas Crosby OMI, Bishop of Hamilton and President of the Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops (CCCB). His Eminence Thomas Cardinal Collins, Archbishop of Toronto, also issued a statement, as well as the Most Reverend J. Michael Miller, C.S.B., Archbishop of Vancouver, and the Catholic Bishops of Alberta. Furthermore, the Assembly of Québec Catholic Bishops (AECQ) has just made available the English version of its pastoral letter, Approaching Death in the Company of Christ. This pastoral letter was published in French in December 2015 and includes a proposal of a number of steps that may be taken as part of the spiritual journey to accompany the dying.
Other resources promoted by dioceses across the country:
- The Archdiocese of Edmonton is sponsoring a campaign to promote the true dignity of life and death. The Every Life Matters campaign includes a website with a video to help parishes and Catholics understand the issues involved, and provides a list of practical suggestions on how to choose life. The website is http://www.commitlife.com/.
- The Archdiocese of Toronto is part of the Respect for Conscience project. This involves a detailed proposal on how to respect the conscience rights of doctors and health-care facilities without interfering with the patient's choice for assisted death. The project, and its website http://www.canadiansforconscience.ca/, is an initiative of the Coalition for HealthCARE and Conscience, which involves the Archdiocese of Toronto, the Christian Medical and Dental Society of Canada, the Catholic Organization for Life and Family, the Canadian Federation of Catholic Physicians' Societies, the Canadian Catholic Bioethics Institute, and Canadian Physicians for Life. The project also represents some 5,000 physicians across Canada. The website allows concerned Canadians to indicate their support for the proposal, as well as providing an opportunity to write to the appropriate officials in each province or territory with respect to its plans to protect the conscience rights of health-care workers.
- The Archdiocese of Vancouver has launched a campaign to protect and safeguard freedom of conscience and religion for health-care workers. It includes a petition to the House of Commons for a national strategy on palliative care, as well as a postcard to the Minister of Justice on ensuring protection for the freedom of conscience of those who cannot ethically participate in assisted suicide. Information about the campaign, as well as copies of the petition and the postcard, are available at http://rcav.org/assisted-suicide/.
Submissions received by Special Joint Committee on Physician-Assisted Dying:
The CCCB intervention, together with other written submissions received by the Special Joint Committee on Physician-Assisted Dying, has been posted on the latter's website,
The Special Joint Committee of the Government of Canada on "Physician-Assisted Dying" this past February 25 released its report, Medical Assistance in Dying: A Patient-Centred Approach. The report, in part, recommends:
- That assisted suicide be available to those with psychiatric conditions (Recommendation 3)
- That psychological suffering be among the criteria making an individual eligible for assisted suicide (Recommendation 4)
- That within approximately three years assisted suicide be available for adolescents and possibly also children who can be considered "mature minors" (Recommendation 6)
- That all health-care practitioners be obliged at the minimum to provide an "effective referral" for clients seeking assisted suicide (Recommendation 10)
- That all publicly funded health-care institutions in Canada provide assisted suicide (Recommendation 11)
In addition, the report fails to show how palliative care and home care can provide true options for those tempted by suicide, nor does it call for a national plan to prevent suicides. Suicide rates are five to seven times higher for First Nations youth in Canada than for non-Aboriginal youth, while suicide rates among Inuit youth are among the highest in the world, at 11 times the national Canadian average.
The teaching of the Catholic Church and the stance of the Catholic Bishops of Canada are clear. Suicide is not part of health care. Killing the mentally and physically ill, whether young or aged, is contrary to caring for and loving one's brother and sister. The dignity of the human person and the flourishing of the human community demand: 1) protection and respect for each human life from conception to natural death, and 2) freedom of conscience and religion for each person as well as each institution. Social wellbeing, personal security and the common good – together with religious faith – involve safeguarding, not endangering, the lives of those suffer.
The above recommendations and the thrust of the report completely fail to be "patient-centred" or to assist and support the dying and the vulnerable. To borrow from the words of Pope Francis, the report's recommendations are the approach of a "throw-away" society. They do not reveal the face of God's mercy.
Together with my brother Bishops, both Catholic and Orthodox, as well as with leaders from the Evangelical Protestant, Jewish and Muslim faith communities, and many of other faiths or of no faith, I urge you to inform your elected officials why euthanasia, assisted suicide and the above recommendations are completely unacceptable.
(Most Rev.) Douglas Crosby, OMI
Bishop of Hamilton
President of the Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops
February 26, 2016
His Eminence Thomas Cardinal Collins, Archbishop of Toronto, and Deacon Larry Worthen intervened on February 3, 2016, before the Joint Parliamentary Committee on Physician-Assisted Dying. Cardinal Collins and Deacon Worthen spoke on behalf of the Coalition for HealthCARE and Conscience. This comprises the Archdiocese of Toronto, the Christian Medical and Dental Society of Canada (CMDSC, of which Mr. Worthen is Executive Director), the Catholic Organization for Life and Family, the Canadian Federation of Catholic Physicians' Societies, the Canadian Catholic Bioethics Institute, and Canadian Physicians for Life. The text has been also published by The Catholic Register.
Last week, on January 29, Bishop Douglas Crosby OMI, President of the Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops, made a written submission to the Joint Parliamentary Committee by means of a letter to the Minister of Justice and Attorney General of Canada, the Honourable Jody Wilson-Raybould, and the Minister of Health, the Honourable Jane Philpott.
From www.cccb.ca ~ This past October 29, the Evangelical Fellowship of Canada (EFC) and the Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops (CCCB) launched a joint Declaration on Euthanasia and Assisted Suicide. The sponsoring signatories to the Declaration intend now to engage in a concerted effort in view of obtaining signatures from a wide spectrum of people in Canada who agree with the principles outlined in the Declaration. The number of signatures has grown to 2,264 as of January 12, 2016.
At the launching of the Declaration at the National Press Gallery in Ottawa on Parliament Hill, the CCCB and EFC were assisted likewise by Rabbi Dr. Reuven P. Bulka, C.M., from the Congregation Machzikei Hadas in Ottawa, and Imam Samy Metwally from the Ottawa Main Mosque/Ottawa Muslim Association. At the time of its release, the Declaration had 56 signatories from Catholic, Orthodox, Evangelical, Jewish and Muslim faith leaders across Canada.
The invitation to sign the Declaration is now open to all people in Canada who agree with the principles of the Declaration. Signatures are added on line. The Declaration and the signatory option can be accessed at the following link:
Source: Canadian Catholic Bioethics Institute, Toronto
Referrals, Assessments and Transfers When Assisted Death is Requested
by Moira McQueen, LLB, MDiv, PhD
Catholic institutions and many physicians and nurse practitioners are opposed to assisted death procedures and will not perform them.(1) These institutions and practitioners make it clear that they do not perform such procedures and that they do not offer any such procedure as part of a spectrum of care. They should also state clearly that they do not allow these procedures on their premises. Nor may they refer patients directly to another physician, institution or to any third party agency or care coordination service that provides or arranges assisted death.
Patients themselves must initiate any steps towards contacting such a service if they wish to obtain assisted death. Catholic institutions and conscientiously objecting physicians will not and cannot do that for them, since they cannot refer directly for procedures they deem to be morally wrong. They must not impede the patient, however, and must transfer the patient and/or patient files if the patient or someone acting legally on his or her behalf requests this, since these are obligations which arise any time a patient wishes to transfer to another physician for any reason.
Assessment in general
One of the legal requirements in obtaining assisted death is that the person requesting the procedure must have the capacity to understand its implications and must fulfill the legal requirement about being able to consent to the procedure. The person must be assessed for competence in this regard.
This raises some moral questions. On the one hand, assessment for capacity to understand treatment options and to consent to any treatment is necessary before any medical procedure may be performed, although there is apparently no standardized method for doing so. Every physician and nurse is involved in making such an assessment from their first conversation with the patient. Every patient or substitute decision maker must be judged able to consent to the treatment for which he/she approached a physician or facility in the first place, and judged capable of giving consent by signing the necessary treatment forms. This type of assessment occurs on a regular basis.
Assessment for assisted death
Is a request for assessment for capacity to access assisted death procedures different from the more preliminary and nonstandardized assessment which happens when patients first come into contact with health care professionals? It is true that discussing the request might allow some time for the physician or nurse practitioner to dissuade the patient from moving towards assisted death, and that would be morally acceptable.
On the other hand, if the patient persists in requesting assisted death or makes use of the government forms issued to help patients gain access to the procedures, of which the first step is assessment, then that would be a “standardization” that formalizes the assessment.(2) The actual method of assessment in these cases per se may be similar, but there is a difference in the reason for which it is sought: one is for treatment of an illness, the other is for assisted death. If a patient is asking for the assessment that is specifically required as the first step in obtaining assisted death, then a conscientiously objecting institution, physician or nurse practitioner cannot comply.
Third party agencies
Recognizing that the parties above object conscientiously to assisted death procedures and therefore will not refer patients directly for them, some provincial authorities have established a third party agency, a body removed from the patient-doctor/ patientinstitution situation, which will help those who seek assisted death. This has been arranged in Alberta, and appears to be effective. The possibility of providing such a third party agency or care coordination service has been raised in Ontario. If such services were to be established, patients would be able to apply for access to assisted death procedures on their own, and that would then recognize and respect the conscience rights of health care professionals who will not refer them.
Information about access to assisted death
A legal requirement may arise to post notices or provide pamphlets about the possible availability of third party agencies in public hospitals, long term care homes, doctors’ offices, etc., where staff do not all object conscientiously to assisted death. While seemingly posing moral problems for staff who do object, the posting of such notices in offices, waiting rooms, etc., does not constitute a direct referral. Legally required notices concerning other issues which pose moral questions for some are frequently posted in public sections of doctors’ offices, hospitals, clinics and long term care homes. While they often give information concerning sex education, family planning, IVF and so on, this does not mean that those who conscientiously object to those practices endorse or specifically contribute to the acts advertised by other agents or agencies, since, if they did, they would be cooperating in evil.
Patients who need help to access assisted death
Some patients may have difficulty in achieving access to a third party agency or care coordination service on their own, perhaps because of their physical condition. Must the physician or nurse practitioner in a non-conscientiously objecting office or facility assist such a patient? Must they do so in a Catholic facility? Even if some patients demonstrate some difficulty in pursuing their request for assisted dying, we should remember that the onus of achieving access does not lie on, and should not be transferred to, those who conscientiously object to the procedure requested. It is up to the patient to find a way or to find someone else ready to help. The same response can be made in non-objecting facilities where a conscientiously objecting physician or nurse practitioner works.
Competence and consent
An important factor in these situations that is not considered enough is that, since competence to consent to assisted death procedures is legally necessary, then patients who make an initial request to a physician or nurse practitioner should also be able to demonstrate competence to request a transfer and to follow through with requirements on their own as autonomous persons. If patients cannot do that or say they need help to find assistance, then concerns about overall competence should be raised.
A competent patient may need some physical assistance for many matters, but the very nature of competency means he or she should be able to enlist help from someone who will carry out their wishes. It is not ‘abandoning’ a patient if a physician or nurse practitioner finds the patient’s request morally repugnant and cannot comply. Clearly, if patients cannot arrange anything further through their own initiative, they are not competent and should not be granted legal access to assisted death procedures in any event.
Responses to requests for transfers
In conscientiously objecting facilities, the wording of the negotiation of requests for transfers, etc., is of prime importance. Such wording as "…WE will facilitate a transfer of care of a patient at the request of the patient to an alternate care provider who can meet their desired care needs in another facility or in the home…" is wrong in its emphasis. There is no onus on conscientiously objecting providers to do anything. They are legally obliged to respond in some way to requests, but they should avoid wording that indicates a willing readiness to transfer patients to another facility which will carry out the patients’ wishes.
“At the patient’s request…” should be the key words in these scenarios, and it should be clear that a transfer of a patient and/or files is being done on that basis. Some wording seems to offer no resistance whatsoever to procedures that institutions hold to be morally wrong and, while a transfer at the request of the patient to an accommodating facility does not constitute cooperation in evil, physicians and institutions must be prudent in how they state these matters, to avoid being seen as condoning procedures and becoming a cause of scandal.
Overall, patients who request assisted death must be able to direct the whole process. Every step should be initiated by the patient, and nothing should be offered by way of direct assistance, although their self-initiated requests must be respected. Conscientiously objecting facilities will not post notices nor have pamphlets available offering information about assisted death. Patients may be told about the existence of third party agencies or care-coordination services, where they exist. That information is in the public domain and readily accessible, and there is no “abandonment” of a patient in not assisting him or her every step of the way towards achieving access to assisted death procedures. He or she is not seeking medical treatment to cure an illness but rather a 4 medical means of ending life, and that is never morally right.
Moira McQueen, LLB, MDiv, PhD, is the Executive Director of the Canadian Catholic Bioethics Institute. Prof. McQueen also teaches moral theology in the Faculty of Theology, University of St. Michael’s College. In 2015 Pope Francis appointed Dr McQueen as an Auditor at the Synod of Bishops on Marriage and the Family (October 4-25), and in September 2014, he appointed her as a member to the International Theological Commission for a five-year term.
(1) I use the term assisted death throughout because I refuse to use the legal term MAID, which I think is inaccurate. These procedures are not assistance in dying, but assistance to die, and this is a fundamental distinction. A secondary reason is that is easier to repeat than constantly saying “Euthanasia and Assisted Suicide,” which is what I mean by “assisted death” and is what the law entails.
(2) Accessed March 8, 2017. An Ontario government form, “Clinician Aid A – Patient Request for Medical Assistance in Dying.” See other forms on same website.