Dutch cardinal: Priests should ‘speak clearly’ on assisted suicide

Catholic News Agency

Andrea Gagliarducci

Vatican City, Dec 16, 2019 / 05:06 pm (CNA).- A priest must say clearly to a person opting for assisted suicide or voluntary euthanasia that he is committing a grave sin, a Dutch cardinal told CNA this week.

For the same reason, a priest cannot be present when voluntary euthanasia or assisted suicide is performed. This might imply that the priest has no problems with the decision or even that “these morally illicit acts are not such in some circumstances according to the teaching of the Church,” Cardinal Willelm Eijk, Archbishop of Utrecht and an expert on euthanasia issues, told CNA. . . [Full text]

Archbishop Paglia says priests can be present at assisted suicide

Catholic Herald

Hannah Brockhaus

Archbishop Vincenzo Paglia, president of the Pontifical Academy for Life, said Tuesday that he would be willing to hold the hand of someone dying from assisted suicide, and that he does not see that as lending implicit support for the practice.

Paglia spoke at a December 10 press conference preceding a two-day symposium on palliative care, being sponsored by the Pontifical Academy for Life and the WISH initiative, part of the Qatar Foundation. . . [Full text]

Position Paper of the Abrahamic Monotheistic Religions on Matters Concerning the End of Life

The position of Abrahamic religions on end of life and palliative care

News Release

Dicastery for Promoting Integral Human Development

Yesterday 28 October at the Casina PIo IV in the Vatican, 40 representatives of the Jewish, Muslim and Christian faiths signed the joint Position Paper of the Abrahamic monotheistic religions on matters concerning the end of life.

Invited by the Pontifical Academy for Life, presided over by His Excellency Archbishop Vincenzo Paglia, the religious, including the Prefect of the Dicastery for Promoting Integral Human Development Peter K. A. Turkson, have committed themselves in 12 points to stating that euthanasia and assisted suicide are morally and intrinsically wrong and should be prohibited without exception. Any pressure and action on patients to end their lives is categorically rejected.

A very important point for the mission of the Dicastery is that concerning  Health Care Workers that states that no health care worker should be forced or subjected to pressure to witness directly or indirectly the deliberate and intentional death of a patient through assisted suicide or any form of euthanasia, especially when such practices go against the health care worker’s religious beliefs, because there should be always respect for conscientious objection to acts that conflict with a person’s ethical values. This remains valid, continues the Paper, even if such acts have been declared legal at a local level or by categories of persons.

Very significant, the joint declaration also addresses the spiritual and material accompaniment of the terminally ill and their families, as well as the use of medical technology at the end of life and the promotion of palliative care.

World Medical Association Reaffirms Opposition to Euthanasia and Physician-Assisted Suicide

News Release

World Medical Association

The World Medical Association has reaffirmed its long-standing policy of opposition to euthanasia and physician-assisted suicide.

After an intensive process of consultation with physicians and non physicians around the world, the WMA at its annual Assembly in Tbilisi, Georgia, adopted a revised Declaration on Euthanasia and Physician-Assisted Suicide.

This states: ‘The WMA reiterates its strong commitment to the principles of medical ethics and that utmost respect has to be maintained for human life. Therefore, the WMA is firmly opposed to euthanasia and physician-assisted suicide.’

It adds: ‘No physician should be forced to participate in euthanasia or assisted suicide, nor should any physician be obliged to make referral decisions to this end.’

The Declaration says: ‘Separately, the physician who respects the basic right of the patient to decline medical treatment does not act unethically in forgoing or withholding unwanted care, even if respecting such a wish results in the death of the patient.’

The revised Declaration defines euthanasia as ‘a physician deliberately administering a lethal substance or carrying out an intervention to cause the death of a patient with decision-making capacity at the patient’s own voluntary request.’

It says that physician-assisted suicide ‘refers to cases in which, at the voluntary request of a patient with decision-making capacity, a physician deliberately enables a patient to end his or her own life by prescribing or providing medical substances with the intent to bring about death.’

WMA Chair Dr. Frank Ulrich Montgomery said: ‘Having held consultative conferences involving every continent in the world, we believe that this revised wording is in accord with the views of most physicians worldwide.’

Pope Francis on conscientious objection by health care practitioners

La Croix misrepresents papal statement

Sean Murphy*

Pope FrancisAn article in La Croix International, “Pope reminds health workers to put patients first” includes a subtitle, “Conscientious objectors told that human dignity demands exceptions sometimes be made.” (La Croix International, 20 May, 2019)

The subtitle reflects speculation by critics unidentified by the article’s anonymous author(s) that the Pope’s comments were aimed at “pro-lifers who may object to performing an abortion, even though the mother may, for various reasons, risk serious and even life-threatening physical or psychological trauma should she try to conceive.”

La Croix appears to be alone among news agencies in putting this “spin” upon the Pope’s address (Compare reports by Crux, Vatican News, ANSA, and the Catholic Herald, for example).

“[T]o put patients first” accurately conveys one of Pope Francis’ messages to the Italian Catholic Association of Health Care Workers.

“Conscientious objectors told that human dignity demands exceptions sometimes be made” does not.

Nothing in the text of the of the Pope’s address remotely suggests that human dignity sometimes requires health care workers to set aside their conscientious convictions and their objections and do what they believe to be wrong.

Pope Francis said nothing of the kind.  But that is precisely the kind of demand made by activists and even state authorities in a number of countries, even (as in Canada) to the extent of forcing unwilling practitioners to be parties to killing their patients or helping them commit suicide.

The misrepresentation exemplified in the La Croix article supports such attacks on freedom of conscience (and religion) and exacerbates the problems faced by healthcare practitioners attempting to resist them.

What Pope Francis actually had to say warrants attention by anyone who wants to understand the exercise of freedom of conscience by health care practitioners.

He noted that “any medical practice or intervention on the human being must first be carefully assessed if it actually respects human life and dignity (“di ogni pratica medica o intervento sull’essere umano si deve prima valutare con attenzione se rispetti effettivamente la vita e la dignità umana.”) .

When health care practitioners refuse to provide procedures or services, it is typically because they have made that assessment,and consider the interventions contrary to the good of the human person and subversive of the integrity and dignity of human life: in brief, harmful to the patient.

Conscientious objection in such circumstances, the Pope said, does not just reflect the need to preserve one’s personal integrity, but “also represents a sign for the healthcare environment in which we find ourselves, as well as for the patients themselves and their families” ( “ma rappresenta anche un segno per l’ambiente sanitario nel quale ci si trova, oltre che nei confronti dei pazienti stessi e delle loro famiglie. “)

In many situations, this “sign” may well be a sign of contradiction to the dominant ethos, likely to trigger violent emotional reactions and repression by state or professional authorities. Hence, for purely pragmatic reasons, it behooves objecting practitioners to be careful in expressing themselves. Beyond this, Pope Francis offers advice that reflects the actual practice of practitioners who responsibly exercise freedom of conscience:

La scelta dell’obiezione, tuttavia, quando necessaria, va compiuta con rispetto, perché non diventi motivo di disprezzo o di orgoglio ciò che deve essere fatto con umiltà, per non generare in chi vi osserva un uguale disprezzo, che impedirebbe di comprendere le vere motivazioni che ci spingono. È bene invece cercare sempre il dialogo, soprattutto con coloro che hanno posizioni diverse, mettendosi in ascolto del loro punto di vista e cercando di trasmettere il vostro, non come chi sale in cattedra, ma come chi cerca il vero bene delle persone. Farsi compagni di viaggio di chi ci sta accanto, in particolare degli ultimi, dei più dimenticati, degli esclusi: questo è il miglior modo per comprendere a fondo e con verità le diverse situazioni e il bene morale che vi è implicato.

The choice of the objection, however, when necessary, must be made with respect, so that what must be done with humility, so as not to generate an equal contempt, which would prevent the understanding of the true motivations that drive us. Instead, it is good to always seek dialogue, especially with those who have different positions, listening to their point of view and trying to transmit yours, not as someone who goes up in the chair, but as someone who seeks the true good of people. Be the traveling companions of those around us, especially the last, the most forgotten, the excluded: this is the best way to fully understand the different situations and the moral good that is involved.

Source: Libreria Editrice Vaticana, Discorso del Santo Padre Francesco all’ Assocziazone Cattolica Operatori Sanitari (ACOS).  Sala Clementina, Venerdì, 17 maggio 2019.

Photo by Nacho Arteaga on Unsplash

Pope Francis: Freedom of conscience in danger in ‘Christian countries’

Catholic News Service

Courtney Grogan

Rome, Italy, Mar 31, 2019 / 03:45 pm (CNA).- Pope Francis decried the regression of freedom of conscience in “Christian countries” during an in-flight press conference Sunday, telling reporters on his return trip from Morocco, “let’s not accuse Muslims”.

When asked by a French reporter about a criminal law in Morocco that prohibits enticing a Muslim to convert to another religion, Francis responded, “Let’s not accuse Muslims. Let’s accuse also ourselves.”

“Today, we Christians have the danger that some governments will take away our freedom of conscience, which is the first step toward freedom of worship,” Pope Francis said March 31.

“Think of the Christian doctors and hospital institutions that do not have the right of conscientious objection, for example, for euthanasia. How? The Church has moved on and you Christian countries go backwards?” he told the French reporter. . . [Full text]

Holy See: freedom of religion – “litmus test”of other human rights

Vatican News

Robin Gomes

Archbishop Ivan Jurkovič, Holy See’s Permanent Observer to the Human Rights Council in Geneva on March 5 attended a meeting on freedom of religion of belief.

The Holy See is reiterating its advocacy of the universal and unbiased application of the fundamental right to freedom of religion or belief saying it is the “litmus test of all other human rights”. . .

. . . The Holy See diplomat observed that increasing calls to restrict the right of conscientious objection, indicate that some politicians and even some quarters of international agencies, forgetting their nature and mandate, are still uncomfortable with the right of freedom of conscience and belief. . . [Full text]

Move to call abortion and assisted suicide ‘human rights’ is ‘evil’, says Princeton professor

Christian Today

The United Nations Human Rights Committee has been accused of elevating individual freedom above moral considerations after recently including abortion and assisted suicide among the ‘human rights’ that should be protected by states.

The committee’s ‘General Comment’ on the right to life, issued at the end of October, argued for the decriminalisation of abortion and the removal of restrictions that could subject women or girls to ‘physical or mental pain’ if they are unable to terminate their pregnancy. . .

‘States parties should not introduce new barriers and should remove existing barriers that deny effective access by women and girls to safe and legal abortion, including barriers caused as a result of the exercise of conscientious objection by individual medical providers,’ it said. . .

On assisted suicide, the committee stated that where this was legal, ‘robust’ legal safeguards should be in place to protect patients from abuse. . . [Full text]

World Medical Association to consider policy changes on abortion, euthanasia, assisted suicide

Debate planned for ethics conference in October in Iceland

Sean Murphy*

Following a meeting of the WMA Council in Riga, Latvia, the WMA issued a statement noting that a revised version of the WMA abortion policy would be presented for approval at the WMA annual General Assembly in Reykjavik, Iceland.

In addition, the WMA has announced that there will be a further “open debate” on changing the Association’s policy against physician participation in euthanasia and assisted suicide.  The debate will occur during a WMA conference on medical ethics taking place at the same time and place.  Formal presentations on euthanasia and assisted suicide will be given on 4 October, 2018, but informal discussions among delegates are likely to be important.  The debate appears to be a consequence of lobbying by the Canadian and Royal Dutch Medical Associations to convince the WMA to drop its condemnation of the practices

It is not clear whether or not WMA members appreciate the relationship between abortion policy and euthanasia policy.  Compulsory referral for abortion is essentially a dress rehearsal for compulsory referral for euthanasia and assisted suicide, something clearly demonstrated in Canada.  Accusations of “patient abandonment” formerly aimed at those refusing to refer for abortion1 are now, in addition, being levelled at those who refuse to refer patients to someone willing to kill them or help them commit suicide.2

In 2011, a Royal Society of Canada panel of experts chaired by Udo Schuklenk  recommended legalization of assisted suicide and euthanasia.3  The experts insisted that health care professionals unwilling to provide euthanasia help patients commit suicide must refer them to someone willing to do so.4 This was justified, they said, because it was agreed that objectors are obliged to refer for “reproductive health services.”5  It really was not agreed: the Canadian Medical Association had, in fact, rejected this claim five years earlier6 after it was made by Jocelyn Downie,7 one of Schuklenk’s colleagues on the Royal Society Panel.

By 2015 Schuklenk was arguing that objecting physicians should not be accommodated at all. Among his arguments was that referring for abortion or euthanasia is not a compromise because it involves moral complicity in the act, “barely reduced” by the act of referral.8  This implied that physicians should be forced to provide abortion and euthanasia, notwithstanding religious or conscientious convictions to the contrary, a position Schuklenk explicitly adopted over the next two years.9, 10

At the same time, Ottawa law professor Amir Attaran was insisting that physicians should be forced to kill eligible patients themselves.11 He claimed that this was required by human rights law,12 describing effective referral as an unacceptable form of illicit discrimination.13

In considering changes to euthanasia, assisted suicide and abortion policies in October, WMA delegates will have to take great care to consider not only the most obvious ethical issues of life and death, but less obvious yet important issues like the distinction between acceptable cooperation and unacceptable collaboration, which play out in disputes about mandatory referral for abortion and euthanasia.


Notes
1.  “According to the prevailing norm of beneficence therefore, as well as those of trust, patient autonomy, and not abandoning patients, physicians should refer patients for abortions.”  McLeod C. Referral in the Wake of Conscientious Objection to Abortion. Hypatia, Vol. 23, No. 4 (October-December, 2008) at p. 36 (Accessed 2018-08-022).

2.  Cook M. Canadian court tells doctors they must refer for euthanasia. Mercatornet, 2 February, 2018

3. Schuklenk U, van Delden JJM, Downie J, McLean S, Upshur R, Weinstock D. Report of the Royal Society of Canada Expert Panel on End-of-Life Decision Making (November, 2011)[“Royal Society“] p. 96 (Accessed 2014-02-23).

4.  Royal Society, p. 69, 101.

5.  Royal Society, p. 62.

6.  Blackmer J. Clarification of the CMA’s position on induced abortion. CMAJ April 24, 2007 vol. 176 no. 9 doi: 10.1503/cmaj.1070035 (Accessed 2017-12-12).

7.  Rodgers S. Downie J. Abortion: Ensuring Access. CMAJ July 4, 2006 vol. 175 no. 1 doi: 10.1503/cmaj.060548 (Accessed 2017-12-12).

8.  Schuklenk, U. Conscientious objection in medicine: private ideological convictions must not supercede public service obligations (2015) 29:5 Bioethics ii, DOI: 10.1111/bioe.12167

9.  Schuklenk U, Smalling R. Why medical professionals have no claim to conscientious objection accommodation in liberal democracies (2016) 43:4 J Med Ethics 234, DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.1136/medethics-2016-103560.

10. Savulescu J, Schuklenk U. Doctors have no right to refuse medical assistance in dying, abortion or contraception (2017) 31:3 Bioethics 162, DOI: 10.1111/bioe.12288

11.  Though conceding that a lethal drug might be administered in the physician’s presence by a delegate, and that referral might be necessitated by technical incompetence. Attaran A. The Limits of Conscientious and Religious Objection to Physician-Assisted Dying after the Supreme Court’s Decision in Carter v Canada (2016 ) 36:3 Health L Can 86 [“Attaran“], p. 87-88, 96.

12.  “[W]hen a doctor refuses to assist a patient who is disabled by a ‘grievous and irremediable medical condition’, just because the patient wants death rather than something else, that arguably discriminates against the disabled patient.” Attaran, p. 89.

13.  Attaran, p. 91–93.

UN agencies denounce Mexico for proposed law allowing doctors to opt out of abortion, euthanasia

LifeSite News

Matthew Cullinan Hoffman

April 24, 2018 (LifeSiteNews.com) – Three United Nations agencies are denouncing Mexico’s Senate for passing legislation that will protect the right of medical professionals to abstain from practices for which they have a conscientious objection.

Although the legislation covers any case of conscientious objection by a doctor or nurse, it is regarded as most applicable to medical professionals who do not wish to cooperate with anti-life procedures such as abortion, euthanasia, and sterilization.

The three agencies, the United Nations Entity for Gender Equality and the Empowerment of Women (UN Women), the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA), and the Office in Mexico of the High Commissioner of the United Nations for Human Rights (OHCHR), together denounced the legislation for not requiring conscientious objectors to give referrals to doctors who are willing to carry out the medical practice at issue. . . [Full Text]