Faith leaders and other groups denounce expansion of euthanasia in Canada as MPs debate bill to expand medically-assisted death

By Brian Dryden, Canadian Catholic News

(with additional files from Catholic Saskatoon News)

[Ottawa – CCN] – Leaders of the Catholic Church in Canada have joined with religious leaders from all faiths and creeds across the country to denounce the federal government’s plan to make it easier to get a medically-assisted suicide in Canada.

An open letter to Canadians has been signed and endorsed by some 50 religious leaders in Canada, including Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops (CCCB) president Archbishop Richard Gagnon of Winnipeg, Rabbi Dr. Reuven P. Bulka, the Canadian Council of Imams, the Evangelical Fellowship of Canada, and Ahmadiyya Muslim Jama’at Canada. The faith leaders join other opponents of Canada’s euthanasia/ assisted suicide system who are working to stop the federal government from expanding who qualifies for medically-provided euthanasia.

“It perplexes our collective minds that we have come so far as a society yet, at the same time, have so seriously regressed in the manner that we treat the weak, the ill, and the marginalized,” says the open letter by Canadian faith leaders that was released on Oct. 5.

“We the undersigned remain inalterably opposed to euthanasia and assisted suicide, the intentional killing of human beings, euphemistically being called ‘Medical Assistance in Dying,’ (MAiD) but which is more accurately, and tragically, nothing less than murder,” the statement says.

On Oct. 20, 2020, the CCCB also released a separate statement in response to Bill C-7 (in English / in French) calling on Catholics and “all people of good will” to raise their voices in opposition to the bill.

With the legislation introduced this month unchanged from that which was tabled before the COVID-19 pandemic in February, 2020, the Canadian bishops again express their serious concerns regarding Bill C-7, and call upon Canadians to speak up against the bill.

‘The proposed legislation of Bill C-7 remains deeply flawed, unjust, and morally pernicious,” says the CCCB statement of Oct. 20. “The bishops of Canada call on Catholics and all people of good will to make their voices heard in opposition to the Bill. Similarly, all Canadian legislators should recall that no law that permits the taking of innocent human life can ever be morally justified. Such a law would always violate the intrinsic dignity of the human person.”

A number of other civic groups against the expansion of euthanasia in Canada have also come forward to speak out against the federal government’s proposed Bill C-7.

The Council of Canadians with Disabilities (CCD) ethics committee chair Dr. Heidi Janz recently “denounced” the federal government’s proposed euthanasia eligibility changes. A recent joint public statement by a number of disability rights organizations and advocates makes “an urgent call to re-think Bill C-7” and how “the lives of Canadians with disabilities can be both protected and supported, while maintaining a careful balance of equality rights and autonomy rights.”

The Christian Legal Fellowship has issued a statement condemning the legislation’s move to expand eligibility for medically-provided euthanasia and to remove safeguards, stating: “In its current form, Bill C-7 undermines our constitutional commitment to the equal and inherent value of all lives, as well as our ongoing struggle to meet Canada’s international commitments to persons with disabilities. Perhaps most concerning of all, Bill C-7 eliminates key statutory protections that help protect those considering MAiD from being euthanized against their true wishes.”

As well, the group Canadian Physicians for Life is striving to influence MPs from all political parties to reject Bill C-7, as the proposed changes to the rules around medically-provided euthanasia are debated in the House of Commons.

Dr. Ryan Wilson, President of Canadian Physicians for Life, says in a recent press release: “This bill significantly expands euthanasia. The federal government is focused on streamlining death. There is no waiting period. You do not have to be dying. You do not even have to consent at the time of your death. The bill creates an atmosphere that is ripe for abuse and poses a great danger to marginalized Canadians.

“We are deeply concerned that this proposed legislation sends the message to persons with disabilities that their lives are not worth living. People facing challenges, be it at the end of their lives or in a time where they are more vulnerable as in the case of mental illness, should be offered support and solutions, not just the option to die. Unmet needs should not be a cause of death.”

A “MAID to MAD” campaign by Physicians’ Alliance Against Euthanasia protesting the removal of protections and the expansion of eligibility for medically-provided assisted suicide recently released a statement opposing Bill C-7, signed by hundreds of doctors from across the country.

“As medical doctors, we feel compelled to voice our dismay at how individuals who have little lived experience of the realities involved in the everyday practice of medicine suddenly and fundamentally changed the nature of medicine by decriminalizing euthanasia and assisted suicide,” says the Oct. 19 statement from doctors objecting to the expansion of medically-provided euthanasia in Canada.

“Bill C-7 would allow those who are not dying to end their lives by a lethal injection at the hands of a doctor or nurse practitioner. Shockingly, most of the safeguards that Parliament deemed necessary in 2016 to protect the lives of vulnerable individuals from a wrongful death are being removed,” says the statement.

The physicians’ statement continues: “Under the new bill, an individual whose natural death is considered to be ‘reasonably foreseeable’ could be diagnosed, assessed and euthanized all in one day. We are very concerned that removing the 10-day reflection period and other safeguards will lead to an increase in coerced or tragically unconsidered deaths.”

ARTICLE: B.C. doctors sign statement opposing expanded euthanasia

“The reckless removal of safeguards previously deemed essential will place desperately vulnerable patients directly in harm’s way and may cost them their very lives,” says the “MAID to MAD” statement.

“Under the new bill, an individual whose natural death is considered to be ‘reasonably foreseeable’ could be diagnosed, assessed and euthanized all in one day. We are very concerned that removing the 10-day reflection period and other safeguards will lead to an increase in coerced or tragically unconsidered deaths.”

The federal government’s effort to change the “medical aid in dying (MAiD)” system to comply with a 2019 Quebec court decision which ruled that requiring a person’s death to be “reasonably foreseeable” in order to qualify for euthanasia was too restrictive, does not reflect “Canadian values,” according to the Oct. 5 open letter by Canadian faith leaders.

“Palliative care addresses pain in a loving and caring environment, wherein people go out of their way to offer comfort and solace. It makes everyone into a better person,” says the faith leaders’ open letter to Canadians..

“Palliative care is a viable and life affirming alternative, which does not discriminate against any group and which gives expression to the ethics of caring and inclusion, hallmarks of Canadian values,” the letter by faith leaders states, adding “How precipitous a fall we have made into a moral abyss. This is not what we, as Canadians, have in mind when thinking of ourselves as a caring, compassionate and inclusive society.”

When the new Bill C-7 was introduced in the House of Commons Oct. 5, a federal gvoernment statement said that “the bill reflects emerging societal consensus and was informed by views and concerns raised by Canadians, experts, practitioners, stakeholders, Indigenous groups, as well as provinces and territories during the public consultations undertaken in January and February 2020.”

Bill C-7 would remove the requirement for a person’s natural death to be reasonably foreseeable in order to be eligible for medically-provided euthanasia, introduces a two-track approach to procedural safeguards based on whether a person’s natural death is reasonably foreseeable, excludes eligibility for individuals suffering solely from mental illness, allows a waiver of final consent for eligible persons whose natural death is reasonably foreseeable and who may lose capacity to consent before euthanasia can be provided, and expands data collection about medically-assisted suicide / euthanasia in Canada.

The government points to an online consultation process that it quickly put together after the Quebec court decision as proof that Canadians are in favour of the medically-provided euthanasia system and making it easier to access.

Public opinion polls have shown that Canadians support medically-assisted suicide/euthanasia, including an Angus Reid Institute 2020 survey on social values in Canada that indicated “four-in-five (80%) of Canadians now say it should be easier to make their own end-of-life decisions, compared to nearly three-quarters (73%) in 2016.”

The Catholic Church in Canada has consistently taken the position that on issues of right and wrong and the sanctity of human life, popular opinion at any given time should not matter. This is also reflected in the recent open letter to Canadians from faith leaders.

“With our world-renowned health care system now endorsing euthanasia as a ‘solution’ to human suffering, we will be undermining the creativity and resolve that is needed to confront some of the most complex cases of care,” says the faith leaders’ open letter.

“We are, in effect, imposing the intentional taking of human life as a solution to human suffering. This is not just deeply troubling; it is unacceptable for a civilized society.”