Journalist: shut down Catholic health care facilities that refuse euthanasia, assisted suicide

Sean Murphy*

Doctor Examining an Elderly PatientFollowing a strong statement from the Catholic Bishops of Alberta that Catholic health care facilities will not provide euthanasia or assisted suicide, a columnist at the Edmonton Journal has accused them of defying the Supreme Court of Canada, breaking the law, and denying patients their “legal rights”.

Paula Simons wants to deny public funding to Catholic hospitals, hospices and nursing homes that refuse to allow patients to be killed or helped to commit suicide, which would force them to close, or (more  likely) to be seized by the state through expropriation or other means.

Simons’ column was published the day after statements issued by Covenant Health and Alberta’s Catholic bishops affirmed the traditional opposition of the Catholic Church to euthanasia and assisted suicide, despite the Supreme Court of Canada ruling that ordered legalization of the procedures.

Covenant Health’s Dr. Gordon Self emphasized that the organization was confident that it would “find a way to respond respectfully and compassionately to requests for physician assisted death that does not abandon the person in our care nor compromise the values of care providers or our organization.”

Throughout this process we are committed to upholding the right of both personal and institutional conscience. This will be important for all organizations as they grapple with the same issues of safe and timely co-ordination of care between institutions without abandoning the person in care when their own medical staff conscientiously object. Together we can all learn at this time and benefit from mutual dialogue and thoughtful, ethical reflection.

Alberta’s six Catholic bishops noted that “from a Catholic perspective, the intentional, wilful act of killing oneself or another human being is morally wrong,” so that “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.”

The following passage is taken from the bishops’ full statement:

Upholding Conscience Rights

Third, other provincial jurisdictions in Canada have proposed regulations that undermine the conscience rights of physicians and other healthcare workers. This must not be allowed to happen here. Physicians, other medical professionals, and our institutions have to be allowed the freedom that is theirs by right to exercise their conscience, not only to accord with our Charter of Rights and Freedoms, but also as a matter of good medical practice. Morally wrong in itself, the attempt to force a physician to assist in a suicide or to kill another by euthanasia would also fundamentally redefine what it means to be a doctor. Killing is not medicine. Likewise, from an ethical perspective, and certainly from that of Catholic moral teaching, a physician who conscientiously objects to these practices must not be coerced into referring a patient to another professional for assisted suicide or to be euthanized. This would, in fact, be complicity and thus a violation of the person’s right to freedom of conscience. Furthermore, medical professionals who refuse for reasons of conscience direct or indirect participation must also be protected from intimidation and discrimination.

Patient rights and the rights of family members must also be respected – that is, their civil right to access medical care for themselves and their loved ones in which there is no pressure to request or to submit to assisted suicide or euthanasia, and indeed their natural right to be served by doctors and institutions that practice only medicine and are not involved in state-sponsored killing. This is essential to maintaining the relationship of trust between patients and doctors or other care-givers. A great many citizens still intend that their doctors, and the institutions to which they entrust themselves at need, be committed to the Hippocratic oath. They must not be deprived of access to such just because there are other citizens who desire assistance in committing suicide. If they are so deprived, this will have far-reaching consequences, disrupting the relationship of trust with the state as well as with the medical community.

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.

Most Reverend Richard W. Smith
Archbishop of Edmonton

Most Reverend Frederick Henry
Bishop of Calgary

Most Reverend Gregory J. Bittman
Auxiliary Bishop of Edmonton

Most Reverend Daniel Motiuk
Bishop of the Ukrainian Eparchy of Edmonton

Most Reverend Girard Pettipas,CSsR
Archbishop of Grouard-McLennon

Most Reverend Paul Terrio,
Bishop of St. Paul

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