Legalization of assisted suicide in Canada will threaten the vulnerable, mask killing behind euphemisms, and threaten the consciences of those who oppose it, Cardinal Thomas Collins of Toronto has said.
On April 14, the Canadian government introduced legislation to legalize assisted suicide and euthanasia under the federal criminal code.
“We’re all deeply concerned that this is a sad day for Canada,” Collins told CNA April 14.
While people see assisted suicide as a “simple solution,” he said, once people begin to consider what the practice really means to society, and its threats to the vulnerable, “they begin to realize that this is not the way to go.”
Catholics, Evangelical Protestants, Jews, Muslims and the Salvation Army, all opponents of legalization, will hold a press conference Tuesday on Parliament Hill in Ottawa, the Canadian capital.
“The very people who are most involved in helping people by the bedside while they are dying, or while they are suffering, are the ones most opposed to killing those entrusted in their care,” Collins said.
Collins characterized the joint effort to oppose the euthanasia measure among different religious traditions as “the ecumenism of practical love.”
The new legislation was required by a February 2015 Canadian Supreme Court decision. The ruling said that doctors may help patients who have severe and incurable suffering to kill themselves, and ordered Parliament to create a legislative response.
“That is the root of the problem,” Collins said, describing the court decision as “sadly unanimous.”
Previously, under Canadian law those who counseled, aided, or abetted a suicide faced up to 14 years in prison.
Collins said the law previously barred the provision of “noxious substances”.
“Now, it’s possible that giving a substance like that is going to be considered a form of health care. What have we come to?”
He criticized using the phrase “medical assistance in dying” to describe “taking a substance and injecting it into a person, and that makes them die.”
“That’s not called dying. The word for that is ‘killing’. To not know the difference between dying and killing is astonishing.”
He warned against euphemisms that are “comfortable and pleasant and sweet, but which do not describe what is happening.”
“When we are ashamed, troubled, by what we are doing, I think we always leave the light of clear language,” he said. “We don’t want the light to shine upon what we are doing.”
Collins said Catholics should strongly encourage palliative care for those in severe pain, and for the terminally ill. This, not suicide, is true medical assistance, he argued.
He said the government also has an obligation to support palliative care if it is going to set up a legal euthanasia regime.
“That’s the positive way to deal with this very real issue,” he said.
Collins also stressed the need for conscience safeguards to protect individuals who are “committed to healing, and not to killing.”
“They say that there’s nothing in the law that somebody must do this,” he said. “Well, there’s nothing in the law, yet, but this has to be taken care of.”
He said individuals and institutions will certainly face pressure to take part in assisted suicide or euthanasia.
“What protections are being offered? There are no protections in this bill at all,” he said.
Backers of the bill say that Canada’s 10 provinces and three territories will provide the protections, but Collins is skeptical.
“For all of Canada, they’re making it acceptable to provide a noxious substance to somebody. But they’re not providing the same nationwide protections for people’s consciences and for ‘havens of refuge’.”
He said that in this “cold world of euthanasia,” there must be “places where you know where you will be safe” – worrying, for instance, about mounting pressure on the elderly to “hurry up and die.”
“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,” Collins said in an April 14 statement.