On February 6th this year, the Supreme Court of Canada effectively allowed assisted suicide and euthanasia to be legal in this country. The Court struck down section 241 of the Criminal Code which forbids assisted suicide and section 14 which forbids euthanasia. In so doing the Court reversed its 1993 judgement in Rodriguez v British Columbia which had upheld the ban on assisted suicide, and also went against the expressed democratic will of Canada’s Parliament which had refused over and over again to declare assisted suicide and euthanasia to be legal. It also ignored successive opinion polls over the years which had underlined that most Canadians are opposed to these practices.
Recently, a parishioner took me to task, rightly for not speaking about this Supreme Court decision either in the bulletin or in a homily. I confess I dropped the ball on this issue. But as we approach our annual March for Life on May 14th, with its usual associated flurry of life-related events and activities, I want to pick up the ball on this and run with it. Interestingly, at two public events recently, a Knights of Columbus Clergy Appreciation Dinner and a Catholic Women’s League Convention, Archbishop Prendergast spoke about the ramifications of this Court decision and urged all Catholics to strongly protest to our MPs against it. It is still possible for the government to circumvent this decision by invoking the constitutional “notwithstanding” clause. Let us pray that they will make use of it. Let us pray also for a change of heart in our justices so that they do not feel they can “make new law” against the stated intention of a democratically elected government and the wishes of the greater majority of Canadian citizens. And which, by the way, ignores the sinister reality of open mercy killing in countries like Holland and Belgium who started down this slippery slope of allowing assisted suicide and euthanasia, while claiming that legal restrictions were in place to prevent any abuses.
Archbishop Prendergast took the opportunity to re-state Catholic teaching on issues of death and dying. Contrary to many people’s understanding, the Church does not ban the giving of medication, such as morphine, which is administered primarily to help ease a patient’s suffering in a terminal illness, but which incidentally may also advance their death. A patient, or a patient’s family, is not obliged to request medical treatment which would be burdensome on them and which would not materially advance their chances of improvement. Allowing a person to die of natural causes is not the same thing as euthanasia. Neither is respecting a patient’s refusal of treatment or request to stop treatment.
Euthanasia is deliberate killing in order to put an end to a person’s suffering, with our without the person’s consent. In assisted suicide, people take their own lives with the help of someone else. For example, a doctor assists by providing pills, an intravenous drip, or other means that they use to kill themselves. Both euthanasia and assisted suicide are clearly against Catholic teaching. We need to be ready for this new stage in the battle for life in Canada, and use prayer and legal action to fight to reverse this appalling Supreme Court decision. Make a commitment now to come out on May 14th for the National March for Life on Parliament Hill to show your protest against this latest assault on our most vulnerable members.
N.B. EWTN will be filming a pro-life roundtable on Wednesday May 13th and they are looking to assemble a live audience of 500 people. Admission is free. The event will take place at St Brigid’s Centre for the Arts in downtown Ottawa from 5pm to 6.30pm (please arrive at 4.30pm) Archbishop Prendergast and Alex Schadenberg of Euthanasia Prevention Canada are among those taking part.