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Legatus Magazine

Cover Story
Archbishop J. Michael Miller, CSB | author
Oct 01, 2016
Filed under Faith Matters
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Canada goes MAD for euthanasia

When the Supreme Court of Canada overturned the country’s assisted suicide law last year, it didn’t take long for its implications to become apparent.

Archbishop J. Michael Miller, CSB

The court ruled that it was unconstitutional to deny the “right” to assisted death to persons with serious and incurable illnesses. A little more than a year later, legal medically assisted suicide arrived in Canada for adults suffering from a grievous and irremediable medical condition.

Pressure immediately mounted for the law to include youth and the mentally ill. Many euthanasia advocates want to compel physicians, nurses and other health-care workers to participate or, at the very least, provide “effective referral” to a doctor willing to provide euthanasia.

Furthermore, despite the fact that no Canadian hospital is able to provide every available medical procedure, there are demands for all hospitals (especially Catholic ones) to commit to making “medically assisted dying” available — including in palliative care wards — or lose their government funding.

In some ways, Canada has gone MAD for Medically Assisted Dying.

Palliative care doctors are now worried euthanasia will take place in the very beds where patients should be receiving compassionate care. The Canadian Medical Association, which opposes forcing doctors to participate in euthanasia against their consciences, was disappointed that conscience protection wasn’t included in the federal law. As a result, some physicians are preparing to retire, give up their practices, or move to the United States to avoid coercion.

Since healthcare delivery is a provincial responsibility in Canada, it’s now up to local conscience protection advocates to speak out. The Archdiocese of Vancouver recently wrote a letter to all the hospitals and Catholic health-care institutions in its jurisdiction, outlining why we oppose assisted suicide and asserting the right of health-care workers and institutions not to be coerced to participate. In addition to euthanasia, the letter deals with the withdrawal of treatment, as well as the requirement to provide nutrition and hydration.

Alberta’s bishops have also released a document to guide priests, deacons and pastoral workers in caring for individuals and families, focusing on spiritual and sacramental considerations in caring for individuals and families who may be considering death by these means.

Meanwhile, a regulatory patchwork has developed across Canada as provincial governments introduce varying guidelines for assisted suicide. Some, like Ontario and Nova Scotia, are more aggressive, requiring objecting physicians to at least provide “effective referral” to a doctor willing to end the patient’s life. The situation is more uncertain in other provinces like Quebec, which requires doctors to refer patients to a third party, who then refers the patient to a doctor who will help kill them.

No other country requires such a violation of conscience, and at least one lawsuit is already challenging draconian provincial requirements. The Archdiocese of Vancouver is a member of the Coalition for HealthCARE and Conscience, which is taking the College of Physicians and Surgeons of Ontario (CSPO) to court over its assisted suicide policy requiring doctors to refer patients to someone willing to provide euthanasia.

Fortunately, some provincial governments have been more restrained. In British Columbia, there is no obligation for doctors to participate, and calls to force Catholic hospitals to provide euthanasia have gone unheeded.

The code of ethics for the College of Pharmacists of British Columbia offers even more protection, stating that pharmacists are not required to provide drugs or services that are contrary to their sincerely held conscientious or religious beliefs.

We will continue to work with our partners in ministry and health care to establish guidelines that protect patients and health-care workers from abuses of the new law, since these abuses have resulted in every region around the world where such legislation has been introduced.

As more jurisdictions find themselves grappling with the euthanasia question, I urge the faithful — particularly those in the health field — to speak out and assert their rights to freedom of conscience. As we continue to minister and provide compassionate care and the sacraments to the dying, it is of critical importance that zealous euthanasia supporters don’t have the final word and thereby force healers to be complicit in killing — or to abandon health care altogether.

ARCHBISHOP J. MICHAEL MILLER is the chaplain of Legatus’ Vancouver Chapter. He is the chief shepherd of the Archdiocese of Vancouver, Canada.

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