A Catholic Convert in Ottawa

Posts Tagged ‘euthanasia

Last week, the Supreme Court of Canada handed down a unanimous ruling in the Carter v. Canada (Attorney General) case. The Court struck down Canada’s ban on assisted suicide as unconstitutional, as it deemed the law unreasonably restricted the right to life, liberty and security of the person protected by s. 7 of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms.

On reading the news, my emotions ran the gamut from shock and outrage to sadness and worry.

My concern? That this ruling finds us at the top of a slippery slope leading to the euthanasia of people suffering from Alzheimer’s disease and other forms of dementia, people with chronic but not terminal illnesses, people of all ages with disabilities, elderly people with various health issues, and those deemed not competent to manage their own health care.

I also found myself confused. On one hand, we have organizations such as Do It for Daron, health centres such as The Royal, and countless individuals striving to prevent suicides and to teach us to recognize the warning signs so we can encourage others to seek help. We hear about the need for a national suicide prevention strategy. And on the other hand, the Supreme Court has ruled the federal government has one year to enact a new law that doesn’t unfairly restrict access to doctor-assisted death.

Andrew Coyne summed it up in “Court crosses Rubicon on right-to-die decision,” his opinion piece in Saturday’s Ottawa Citizen:

Once we have embraced the idea of suicide, not as a tragedy we should seek to prevent, but a right we are obliged to uphold; once the taking of life has been converted from a crime into a service—“physician-assisted death”—to be performed at public expense. . .how is it to be imagined that we could stop there?

Some readers may think I’m borrowing trouble, but a look at past posts on Action Life’s blog or LifeSiteNews gives us a frightening glimpse of just how the legalization of assisted suicide has played out in Belgium and the Netherlands.

Often we talk about groups in armed conflicts having little value for life, but in a country where “abortion rights” and “death with dignity” aren’t uncommon phrases and where the highest court in the land has struck down the laws on abortion and assisted suicide, I can only wonder whether others would view our country as one that values life or holds it cheaply.

May we continue to pray and work for the recognition of the right to life—and for the recognition that “assisted suicide” and “death with dignity” aren’t synonymous.

Every human life, from the moment of conception until death, is sacred because the human person has been willed for its own sake in the image and likeness of the living and holy God.

~ s. 2319, Catechism of the Catholic Church: Popular and Definitive Edition

As I sat down today to write this post, I thought I’d do a quick web search to find out the results of Belgium’s vote on a law that would extend euthanasia to minors who are terminally ill.

I couldn’t believe my eyes when I read the CNN report: parliament voted 86 to 44 in favour, with 12 abstentions, and the bill will become law once signed by the king.

I can’t imagine extending the “right to die” to children under 18, even with parental consent being required. And palliative care nurse Sonja Develter raised an awful possibility when she spoke with CNN: she fears that children might opt for euthanasia because they believe that’s what their families want.

The CNN article notes that, while euthanasia laws were extended to children in the Netherlands in 2002, only five children there have opted for euthanasia. Which makes me wonder who is advocating such laws be passed, and why.

The Catechism has much to say about raising our children, but a few points stand out for me today:

  • “Children are the supreme gift of marriage (…).” (s. 1652)
  • “The importance of the family for the life and well-being of society entails a particular responsibility for society to support and strengthen marriage and the family.” (s. 2209)
  • “Parents must regard their children as children of God and respect them as human persons.” (s. 2222)
  • “Parents’ respect and affection are expressed by the care and attention they devote to bringing up their young children and providing for their physical and spiritual needs.” (s. 2228)

How does extending euthanasia to children fit into this picture? How does it demonstrate support for the family, respect for children, or provision for their needs? How does it treat children as a gift from God?

Section 2279 of the Catechism tells us, “Palliative care is a special form of disinterested charity. As such it should be encouraged.” Could effort and money not be better spent in providing quality end-of-life care and support to families?

Sadly, this vote will no doubt provide fuel for the euthanasia debate in Quebec, where supporters will point to the extension of euthanasia laws in Belgium as a sign that such laws are needed here.

I pray that we would be guided and inspired by these words from Donum Vitae (Instruction on Respect for Human Life in its Origin and on the Dignity of Procreation), issued by the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith and quoted in s. 2273 of the Catechism:

Among such fundamental rights one should mention in this regard every human being’s right to life and physical integrity from the moment of conception until death.

“I came that they may have life, and have it abundantly.” – John 10:10*

Once I would have thought it went without saying that life is precious.

So why do I believe it bears repeating?

Lately I’ve been reading far too many news reports that show how easy some people find it to take a life (or lives), as well as articles suggesting society’s attitudes on issues such as euthanasia and abortion tend not to lean toward the pro-life side.

Dr. Donald Low, who was the microbiologist in chief at Mount Sinai Hospital in Toronto and a University of Toronto professor, passed away in September. Before his death, Dr. Low called for the legalization of doctor-assisted suicide. Among the many news items in support of euthanasia in the days that followed, I spotted a letter to the editor in the Ottawa Citizen by Steve Passmore of Hamilton, Ontario. He described his physical health and went on to say this about euthanasia (the emphasis is mine):

Legalizing euthanasia or assisted suicide is an abandonment of me as a person, that society would rather help me die, than help me live….The answer is not legalizing euthanasia or assisted suicide but rather improving social supports….Society needs to ensure life with dignity not death with dignity.

Much of the media coverage on euthanasia focusses on whether we have the right to a doctor’s assistance to “die with dignity.” And not enough attention is given to whether we are helping people live out their final days with dignity through palliative care, including hospice programs such as Hospice Care Ottawa.

Similarly, when the mainstream media reports on abortion, the focus tends to be on access to abortion services, with limited coverage of pro-life events. And the pro-life position is sometimes tarred with labels such as “anti-choice” and “anti-woman.” But I wasn’t sad to read in the October issue of Catholic Digest that, since 40 Days for Life began, 38 abortion clinics across the United States have closed, as Carolee McGrath reported in her article “Peaceful, Prayerful, Public Witness Pays Off.” Or to hear that campaigns such as Defund Abortion, Life Chain and 40 Days for Life continue, and that Priests for Life Canada offers a monthly Pro-Life Hour program on pro-life and pro-family issues.

Sometimes it seems people of faith swim against the tide when we take a pro-life stance, especially if we rely on the perspective of mainstream media. But I pray that we would find hope in reading articles from pro-life media such as Action Life’s blog and The Interim newspaper and in learning about and participating in pro-life events such as the ones I’ve mentioned.

Life is precious.

(*Scripture quote taken from the Holy Bible, Revised Standard Version, Second Catholic Edition.)

Food for Thought

(Y)ou do not know about tomorrow. What is your life? For you are a mist that appears for a little time and then vanishes. Instead you ought to say, “If the Lord wills, we shall live and we shall do this or that.” ~ James 4:14-15

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