The president of the Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops has written to Prime Minister Justin Trudeau decrying the effort to further expand euthanasia within the country.
“We strongly urge the Government of Canada, before proceeding further, to undertake a more extensive, thorough, impartial, and prolonged consultation” on Medical Assistance in Dying (MAiD) legislation, Archbishop Richard Gagnon of Winnipeg wrote last week.
The archbishop told the prime minister that a delay in further legal changes was urgently needed “in order to ensure all pertinent factors--social, medical and moral--are carefully and thoroughly considered,” wrote Archbishop Richard Gagnon of Winnipeg.
The letter, dated January 31, was also addressed to three members of Trudeau’s cabinet as well as the leaders of the other four parties represented in Canada's parliament.
Gagnon called the proposed changes to MAiD legislation, which include advance directives and allowing those who do not have a reasonably foreseeable death to be euthanized, “deeply troubling.”
“Further attempts to make (MAiD) available to mature minors, the mentally ill, and the cognitively impaired are evidence that the current safeguards are inadequate and can be legally challenged and overturned,” he said.
In September, the Quebec Superior Court ruled that MAiD should not be restricted to those with a terminal illness or a “reasonably foreseeable death.” The Canadian federal government announced that they do not intend to appeal the decision and will let it stand. The law will go into effect in March.
Prior to this decision, a Canadian would have to be an adult with a “reasonably foreseeable death” in order to be eligible for an “assisted death.” There is no legal requirement for a patient to possess a prognosis of a certain number of months or weeks left to live in order to receive “assisted death.”
In Canada, patients have the choice of either self-administering the lethal medication, or having a doctor do it. The vast majority of MAiD cases involve a doctor administering the drugs.
Gagnon said that the bishops were “disappointed and deeply concerned” by this decision, as well as by a Department of Justice questionnaire that provided Canadians an opportunity to weigh in on the legalization and eligibility criteria for MAiD patients.
Although the bishops “agree in principle with consulting Canadians,” they found the questionnaire to be flawed on multiple levels.
It is “inappropriate and superficial to use a survey to address grave moral questions concerning life and death,” wrote Gagnon. He added that he believed that the two-week for responses was “entirely insufficient” to study the issue of euthanasia.
Gagnon also raised concerns that the questionnaire was biased towards increased eligibility for MAiD, and neglected to address concerns regarding the outside factors that may cause a person to wish to end their life. The archbishop said that consultation on the euthanasia question “should take account of the full rage of factors that can influence a decision to request euthanasia/assisted suicide,” such as loneliness, inadequate medical support, a lack of family and community assistance, or psychological crisis.
Instead of MAiD or euthanasia, Gagnon said that Canada should expand access to palliative care services.
This, he argued, would result in fewer people seeking to end their lives. Presently, most Canadians do not have access to palliative care, and it is not guaranteed to be fully funded by the country’s Health Act. Conversely, Canadians have both a right to widely-available MAiD services, and the procedure is fully funded.
Gagnon explained that the Church’s ministry of attending to the sick and protecting the sick means that Catholic institutions, in addition to everyday Catholics, dedicate their lives to assisting the sick and suffering. This history is motivating their opposition to euthanasia and the proposed expansions.
“We listen to those who, gripped by a physical or psychological crisis, see no reason for going on,” he said. “All of these people are endangered by euthanasia/assisted suicide. They need our steadfast support, our advocacy, and indeed the protection afforded by the very safeguards this government is trying to overturn.”