The Catholic bishops of Canada issued a statement on Wednesday, condemning parliament’s efforts to further expand medically assisted suicide to those who do not have terminal illnesses.
The legislation, known as Bill C-7, was introduced in parliament on February 23. In addition to permitting people without terminal illnesses to end their lives, the bill also creates the possibility for patients to issue advance directives, authorizing their own death in advance.
According to the language of the bill, it would “remove the requirement for a person’s natural death to be reasonably foreseeable in order to be eligible for medical assistance in dying,” and would “introduce a two-track approach to procedural safeguards” depending on if a person’s natural death is “reasonably foreseeable.”
“The Catholic Bishops of Canada wish to express the greatest concern and dismay in regards to the (introduction) of Bill C-7 which seeks to expand the eligibility criteria for euthanasia and assisted suicide,” said the bishops Feb. 26.
The bishops condemned “the lamentable legislative aim” of broadening access to assisted dying, and insisted “that every opportunity for due diligence be taken during the parliamentary process.”
“Every effort [must] be made to understand more fully the grave implications of what is being contemplated by way of Bill C-7, including the unavoidable, negative and detrimental dangers facing those who are most vulnerable in society,” they added.
The bishops called for the Canadian House of Commons to refer the legislation to a committee for further debate and examination prior to the bill’s second reading in parliament. If the bill were to be moved to committee, witnesses would be permitted to testify “in a manner which is fully public, transparent, and open to a wide range of voices,” they said.
The bishops expressed their hope that a committee hearing would result in “full and prudent consideration of inviolable moral and ethical principles, the common good, and concern for future generations.”
The bishops also expressed concerns about the loosening of existing safeguards for “medically assisted deaths,” drawing attention to the bill’s provision for “advance directives.”
“This means that those who change their minds at a later date, but whose ability to communicate has since been impaired, would be left to express their refusal in potentially vague ‘words, sounds, and gestures,’” said the bishops.
This would make it “immensely difficult and highly subjective for medical practitioners and lawyers to decipher whether or not the patient still wishes to consent to the lethal procedure,” they said.
The bishops also noted that the government ignored an open letter signed by more than 65 Canadian disability advocacy organizations, as well as the advice of the United Nations Special Rapporteur on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities.
Bill C-7 is the Canadian governments attempt to accommodate a ruling by the Quebec Superior Court, which found in September 2019 that the previous requirement that euthanasia be reserved for the terminally ill was a “human rights” violation.
“The Minister of Justice and Attorney General of Canada regrettably chose not to appeal the Quebec Superior Court decision,” said the bishops.
Additionally, the bishops took issue with a two-week online opinion survey on assisted dying in January. The results of that survey helped to shape the text of Bill C-7.
“The questions in this survey were framed in a manner which presupposed agreement with euthanasia and assisted suicide, including its broadening, without giving Canadians who are opposed an equal voice,” they said.
The bishops were further concerned that although less than 1% of the Canadian population responded to the survey, “it regrettably did not ask for detailed and essential demographic data from participants,” including questions about age, gender, or disability status. The bishops noted that the online-only nature of the survey could exclude low-income, elderly, cognitively disabled, or rural Canadians, who may lack internet access.
“The online survey cannot purport to represent a ‘wide spectrum’ of the Canadian population, as has been claimed,” they said.
“Such a flawed survey cannot be used realistically to justify Bill C-7,” said the bishops.
The Catechism of the Catholic Church condemns euthanasia, and Pope Francis recently reiterated the Church’s rejection of the practice.
The bishops are now calling on Canadians to “make their voices heard,” and they “strongly urge members of Parliament to acknowledge the giftedness of life as an inalienable right not to be taken away by others.”