Legal assisted suicide will soon arrive in Canada, prompting a Catholic archbishop to reflect on what the last rites mean for those who want to kill themselves.
Priests should work to dissuade people who request assisted suicide, Archbishop Terrence Prendergast of Ottawa said. Priests should pray with these people and their families. However, someone who requests assisted suicide doesn’t have the right disposition to receive anointing of the sick.
“Asking to be killed is gravely disordered and is a rejection of the hope that the rite calls for and tries to bring into the situation,” the archbishop said, according to Canadian Catholic News.
Last rites — which is the sacrament given to the elderly or gravely ill — includes the forgiveness of sins.
“But we cannot be forgiven pre-emptively for something we are going to do — like ask for assisted suicide when suicide is a grave sin,” said Archbishop Prendergast.
Canadian lawmakers are preparing new assisted suicide laws. The law had previously criminalized assisted suicide. Those who counseled, aided or abetted a suicide faced up to 14 years in prison.
Then in February 2015 the Supreme Court of Canada unanimously ruled that doctors may help patients who have severe and incurable suffering to kill themselves. The national parliament was tasked with crafting a legal response to the decision.
The government’s final report on the topic was published Feb. 25. It said all publicly funded health care institutions must provide euthanasia and assisted suicide. This includes Church-run hospitals, hospices and nursing homes. The report has no protections for doctors who have religious or moral objections to referring a patient to a doctor who will help him or her commit suicide.
If the recommendations are accepted, the new law could have a major impact on Catholic institutions, the U.K. newspaper The Catholic Herald reports.
A full response from parliament is expected by June 2016.
Many other Catholic bishops have spoken out against assisted suicide.
“Caring for the dying does not include killing them or helping them kill themselves,” Bishop Douglas Crosby of Hamilton, the president of the Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops, told the Canadian Parliament in a Jan. 20 intervention.
The bishop said the Canadian government should prioritize palliative care, fund further research and education in pain relief and advance suicide prevention programs. He said the government must guarantee conscience rights in law.
Bishop Hamilton also wrote against assisted suicide in the Canadian bishops’ Lenten message to laity. In the Feb. 8 message he urged Catholics to be in communion with the Pope and the bishops and oppose assisted suicide.
The Catholic bishops of Alberta reflected on assisted suicide in a Feb. 11 message for the Catholic Church’s World Day of the Sick.
“The decision of the Supreme Court of Canada makes legally permissible in some circumstances what is morally wrong in every circumstance: the taking of innocent human life. This is unacceptable in a truly just and ethical society,” they wrote.
They said “no Catholic may advocate for, or participate in any way, whether by act or omission, in the intentional killing of another human being either by assisted suicide or euthanasia.”
“When any life can be taken at will, the dignity of all lives is seriously eroded and respect for human life in our society as a whole is diminished.”
They warned that the law will place some people at serious risk, including the disabled and the mentally ill. Purported safeguards are not effective, they said.
The Alberta bishops warned that some jurisdictions in Canada undermine the conscience rights of doctors and other healthcare workers opposed to suicide. To force a physician to assist in a suicide or euthanasia would “fundamentally redefine what it means to be a doctor,” they said. “Killing is not medicine.”
In October 2015, the Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops and the Evangelical Fellowship of Canada issued a joint declaration against euthanasia and assisted suicide. They were joined more than 30 other Christian denominations as well as 20 Jewish and Muslim leaders.
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