Canadians support Catholic hospital rights to refuse to provide euthanasia

The Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops, in collaboration with the Pontifical Academy for Life, is hosting "Towards a Narrative of Hope: An International Interfaith Symposium on Palliative Care" May 21-23 in Toronto. (Image -

By Quinton Amundson, The Catholic Register

[Toronto – Canadian Catholic News] – Nearly three-in-five Canadians (58 per cent) believe religiously affiliated hospitals should not be forced to provide assisted suicide / euthanasia, according to the latest joint poll released by the Angus Reid Institute and the Cardus think tank on Oct. 17, 2023.

Provincially, support for religious conscience rights exceeds the 60 per cent threshold in Alberta, Saskatchewan, Manitoba, Ontario and Atlantic Canada. Fifty-eight per cent of British Columbians affirm these rights. Quebec stands out as the lone province where less than half of participants (47 per cent) feel religiously affiliated hospitals should have the freedom to transfer a patient who requests euthanasia, known as “Medical Assistance in Dying (MAiD)”.

Nationally, 24 per cent of the 1,872 participants said that despite moral objections, these health institutes should be forced to offer euthanasia. Eighteen per cent were unsure of their opinion.

Rev. Andrew Bennett, the faith communities program director at Cardus, said the findings indicate that Canadians believe religiously-based hospitals should not be forced to change their operational and moral mandate.

“We wanted to look at how Canadians understand the place of religiously-affiliated health care,” said Bennett. “Fifty-eight per cent of Canadians agree that such facilities should be able to continue with what they’ve been doing, which is not providing assisted suicide or euthanasia, but transferring patients to facilities that do not object.”

Nicole Scheidl, executive director of Canadian Physicians for Life, is “quite encouraged” by this data.

“It is really interesting that Canadians are recognizing that there is a role for faith-based hospitals to play in the health-care system, and it is a valued role,” said Scheidl.

These statistics corroborate Scheidl’s ongoing research into widespread cultural and religious objections to euthanasia. She cited a document published in 2022 by the National Institutes of Health (NIH) in the United States called Cultural Religious Competence in Clinical Practice.

“(It) speaks about having cultural humility and understanding where people are coming from in terms of their religious beliefs,” said Scheidl. “And it tells you that Hindus, Islam, Mormons, Seventh Day Adventists all prohibit euthanasia. It is quite a bit wider than just saying ‘the Catholics prohibit euthanasia.’ … they want a safe space, a sanctuary place where they can receive care.”

The religious data bears out Scheidl’s point. More than 61 per cent of Christian participants stated that religious health-care establishments should not be forced to provide euthanasia. Fifty-six per cent who practice other religions also believe freedom of conscience rights should be upheld.

Another key finding is that 70 per cent of all participants believe a medical professional who objects to medically-provided euthanasia must refer his or her patient to a doctor with no consternation. Provincially, this notion received the lowest level of support in Alberta, Manitoba and Atlantic Canada (63 per cent), and the highest in Quebec (76 per cent) and Ontario (71 per cent).

Bennett believes most of the population “does not understand what an effective referral is.” If they did have a better grasp, the level of support “would be much lower.”

“We say, basically, that if you are a doctor or a nurse practitioner who objects to euthanasia and assisted suicide, there is an idea that ‘okay, if you are not going to engage in that action, you must refer it to a doctor who you know will do it.’ It is the classic story of you’re not robbing the bank, you are not committing the moral evil, but you are driving the getaway car. You are still morally complicit in that action.”

Both Scheidl and Bennett said they would like to see the Church take a more active role in educating their congregants about the moral threat euthanasia poses to religiously affiliated hospitals and how parishioners can step up to provide honourable end-of-life accompaniment.

“We have lost sight of what natural death looks like,” said Scheidl. “We have lost sight of the idea of accompaniment, and those things are so embedded in the Catholic ecosystem of how the Church approaches end of life. The Church has to do a good job of telling that story of helping people see the value of accompanying their loved ones right till the end.”