By Lisa Zengarini
The Catholic Bishops of Canada have once again renewed their call against Bill C-7, the amendment to the Criminal Code that further expands euthanasia and assisted suicide (referred to as “medical assistance in dying” - “MAID”) in Canada. Amongst other things, the Bill eliminates the “reasonable foreseeability of natural death” criterion provided for in the law which legalized MAID in 2016, which the by the Superior Court of Québec rejected as “unconstitutional” in 2019. This would allow those who are approaching death, but who are experiencing intolerable suffering and who no longer wish to live to request and obtain euthanasia or assisted suicide. Its provisions also allow euthanasia to be performed without a patient’s explicit consent at the time of the procedure in certain circumstances. Canadian Bishops have steadfastly opposed the changes.
Following the recent adoption of the Bill at Third Reading in the House of Commons and the announcement by the Superior Court of Québec to grant a two-month extension to the Federal Government on its deadline to legislate on the matter, on December 18 the Executive Committee of the Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops (CCCB) issued a response asking both the House of Commons and the Senate, “to conscientiously rethink” the controversial amendments being considered in advance of the formal parliamentary review.
Lack of consensus
The CCCB is especially concerned by “the accelerated and reckless pace” in which the Government is attempting to pass the law, in spite of “the numerous warnings by disability organizations and physicians” about its “devastating consequences”. Quoting a recent scientific poll conducted by the Angus Reid Group and Cardus, according to which the majority of Canadians fear that the “health care system will start to ignore long-term care and chronic disease in the elderly as MAID becomes more available”, the statement points out that “there is no consensus in Canada on the proposed expansion of euthanasia and assisted suicide”, despite the Government’s claim to the contrary. It also recalls the apprehensions brought forward even by the United Nations Special Rapporteur on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities concerning the implementation of “Medical Assistance in Dying” in Canada. Bishops are equally concerned “by the delayed mandated parliamentary review on the impact of euthanasia and assisted suicide in Canada, and the state of palliative care” even though required by prior legislation.
Appeal to slow down
They therefore once again “implore” Canadian legislators to slow down this “needless haste” in legislating Bill C-7, because “there is too much at stake”: “A Bill that will adversely impact both individuals and society with such life and death matters deserves more time on the part of Canadians for listening and debate”, Bishops say, noting that the “urgency and need for careful and cautious consideration have become even more evident in view of the weaknesses and fragilities which the global pandemic has exposed in our healthcare system, our social services, and the overall level of competent care available for the most vulnerable in our communities”.
According to the CCCB, “it is not too late to reconsider Canada’s approach to euthanasia and assisted suicide, in order to ensure an ethical response, one that promotes the inherent dignity of each human person when faced with the profound questions surrounding what it means to be human, the quality of life, human suffering, death and dying. It is also imperative that the conscience rights of healthcare professionals be respected with regard to their decision not to provide or participate in the provision of MAID”, – the statement adds.
Need for palliative care
Bishops also once again remind “the grave lack of palliative care available across the country” and “the need to give immediate attention to provisions that encompass mental health, home care, and social services so that the living conditions of persons with disabilities or chronic/ terminal illness can be improved”.
Finally, the CCCB encourages Catholics, other religious communities, and all people of good will to become better informed on the content and grave moral implications of Bill C-7, and to address their objections and concerns directly to their local member of Parliament and the members of the Senate.