As Catholic Christians we speak in terms that are informed by reason, ethical dialogue, religious conviction, and profound respect for the dignity of the human person. Our awareness is shaped by thousands of years of reflection, prayer, and by our actions as Christians following Jesus. He showed most fully what it means to love, to serve, and to be present to others. His response to the suffering of others was to suffer with them, not to kill them. He accepted suffering in his life as the pathway to giving, to generosity, and to mercy. In Jesus’ life and through his actions, we are offered a supreme example of humanity.
The values of Jesus of Nazareth are the basis for our views on euthanasia and physician-assisted suicide.
In a spirit of collaboration in building a society that is more compassionate, more respectful of all human life, more just, and more generous, we have a number of issues to ponder, pray about, and discuss, for example:
- Euthanasia means killing someone - such as by a lethal injection to end his or her suffering. Physician-assisted suicide means a doctor provides the means for someone to kill oneself (proscribing a lethal dose of medication). The distinction lies in who initiates the process – the doctor or the patient.
- One of the most important principles of palliative care is to manage the pain, or illness, of patients while neither hastening death, nor prolonging the dying process. With proper palliative care, almost all requests for euthanasia would disappear.
- Euphemisms such as "medical aid in dying" or "mercy killing" or "dying with dignity" or "terminating the suffering" or "physician-assisted death" do not change the fact that allowing assisted suicide and euthanasia makes it legal to kill someone (euthanasia) or to aid in their suicide (assisted suicide).
- Physicians and other health care staff have a basic right to conscientiously object to hastening a patient’s death through assisted suicide or euthanasia and should never be forced to do so.
- Every person, at the end of life, would benefit from good palliative care, but in Alberta there are only a handful of qualified palliative care physicians and far too few palliative care and hospice beds.
- There is a huge difference between palliative sedation and euthanasia. With palliative sedation, the intent is to reduce consciousness to ease suffering. The intent of euthanasia, however, is to kill the person.
- A government advisory panel in December of 2015 and a joint committee in February 2016 recommended the widest possible access to physician-assisted suicide and euthanasia. One of the panel’s recommendation was to eventually allow terminally ill children ("mature minors") the right to ask their doctor to hasten their death.
- Doctors who are against euthanasia and who care for terminally ill children argue that virtually all pain and other symptoms can be managed to minimize suffering. If pain is not being managed well, a new doctor should be consulted. Don’t kill the patient.
- In jurisdictions where euthanasia has been legalized, the initial restrictions have eroded. Belgium, for example, now allows euthanasia for terminally ill children of any age, with the consent of parents and doctors.
- No human being dies in a social vacuum. Consider how other people will be impacted by assisted suicide and euthanasia. Consider the impact on the person who is responsible for ending someone’s life.
- Many doctors and other health professionals who want nothing to do with killing their patients may feel forced to leave the profession. Young adults considering a medical profession may choose another path if they are expected to become killers instead of healers.
- The legislation of assisted suicide could lead to the natural process of dying being recast as a process to be avoided. This could lead to pressuring patients or their families to choose a hastened death as a cost-saving measure.
- The normalization of suicide through legislation of physician-assisted suicide could significantly impact suicide prevention programs. What happens if suicide, instead of being a tragedy to avoid, becomes an acceptable option or a "responsible" choice?
- All persons deserve protection against discrimination, but especially those who are vulnerable and may not have a voice, including those living with disabilities, mental illness, or dementia. Allowing assisted suicide and euthanasia entrenches the idea that some lives are not worth living.
Let us pray:
Mary, woman of listening, open our ears; grant us to know how to listen to the word of your son Jesus among the thousands of words of this world; grant that we may listen to the reality in which we live, to every person we encounter, especially those who are poor, in need, in hardship.
Mary, woman of decision, illuminate our mind and our heart, so that we may obey, unhesitating, the word of your son Jesus; give us the courage to decide, not to let ourselves be dragged along, letting others direct our life.
Mary, woman of action, obtain that our hands and feet move "with haste" toward others, to bring them the charity and love of your son - Jesus, to bring the light of the Gospel to the world, as you did. Amen.
~Pope Francis, 2013
☩ F. B. Henry
Bishop of Calgary