By Christopher White, National Correspondent
NEW YORK — As Canada’s government works to expand the criteria for individuals seeking medically assisted suicide, the head of Canada’s Catholic bishops has written to Prime Minister Justin Trudeau saying his government has failed to provide an impartial consideration of the matter.
“Suffering and death are indeed terrifying and the instinct to flinch from pain is universal. But euthanasia and assisted suicide are not the answer,” wrote Archbishop Richard Gagnon, president of the Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops in a letter dated January 31.
“We strongly urge the Government of Canada, before proceeding further, to undertake a more extensive, thorough, impartial, and prolonged consultation on the question, in order to ensure all pertinent factors – social, medical, and moral – are carefully and thoroughly considered,” he continued.
The letter is in response to the Trudeau’s government’s efforts to extend the categories of individuals who are allowed to seek medical support to end their lives, following a ruling from the Superior Court of Quebec saying it is unconstitutional only to allow the practice to individuals who are already near death.
Archbishop Gagnon, who is also the archbishop of Winnipeg, called the move “deeply troubling.”
“The government’s attempt to expand euthanasia to include advance directives, as well as extending it to situations in which death is not reasonably foreseeable, is deeply troubling,” he wrote. “Further attempts to make it available to mature minors, the mentally ill, and the cognitively impaired are evidence that the current safeguards are inadequate and can be legally challenged and overturned.”
The four-page letter went on to challenge the federal government for not appealing the Quebec ruling and also for an “inappropriate, inadequate, and biased” survey that was recently conducted by Canada’s Department of Justice on the matter.
The archbishop said that the survey was the wrong forum to consider such a serious moral question and that two weeks was not a long enough period to study properly the questions raised by assisted suicide and euthanasia.
Further, he faulted the survey for not giving adequate attention to vulnerable parties, such as the elderly and isolated, whom he said may feel pressured to seek assisted suicide so as not to become a burden to their caretakers.
“At this point in Canada’s history, we should ask, with integrity and honesty, what kind of culture we are leaving to future generations,” he pleaded.
“We, as Bishops of the Catholic faithful in Canada, call on the government to engage in a more rigorous, impartial and prolonged study of the problems inherent in euthanasia/assisted suicide by involving those whose experiences offer a different perspective and even present inconvenient truths,” the letter went on to request.
Gagnon concluded his letter with a plea that greater efforts be given to support palliative care initiatives and hospice programs as a “comprehensive and ethical” alternative to assisted suicide.
To date, he said the government and the media have been too quick to prefer assisted suicide and euthanasia as a quick remedy to the complexities raised by death.
Palliative care, he said, “is more humane because it is anchored in the recognition that human life has an objective value over and above our free choices.”
In 2016, soon after physician-assisted suicide became legal throughout Canada as a result of a nationwide Supreme Court ruling, Montreal Archbishop Christian Lépine told The Tablet that such a move would likely open the floodgates for the practice, and that it would become hard to limit the circumstances for which one could seek it.
“It plants a seed of death within democracy, because as a society, we’ve provided a reason for killing someone willfully and directly,” he said at the time. “Even when you want to believe that you have good reasons, such as to relieve suffering or pain, you’ve crossed the line. And then your reasons to do so expand to include more and more exceptions.”