Paul Tuns

On Nov. 30, the Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops released a statement reiterating the Church’s unequivocal moral teaching against euthanasia and assisted-suicide, reminding Catholic health care facilities that they cannot be complicit in so-called Medical Assistance in Dying.

The statement, “On the Non-Permissibility of Euthanasia and Assisted Suicide within Canadian Health Organizations with a Catholic Identity,” noted that “Catholic dioceses and religious orders in Canada have been major contributors to the development and delivery of health care services across the country” throughout Canada’s history, establishing the first hospital, the Hôtel-Dieu in Quebec City, in 1639 by three Religious Sisters of the Augustines de la Miséricorde de Jésus. It was the first hospital in North America and is still in operation.

The CCCB said there are health care providers in Canada, providing about 20,000 health care beds in a total of six provinces.

The bishops state the “Catholic Church, which regards life as sacred and inviolable, remains firm in its opposition to MAiD.” Euthanasia and assisted suicide, the statement reads, “have always been, and will always be, morally unacceptable because they are affronts to human dignity and violations of natural and divine law.” That is because of the principle of Imago Dei, “that every person, made in the image of God (cf. Gen 1:26), has intrinsic value, regardless of ability or health.”

The CCCB acknowledges there is tremendous pressure on Catholic health care institutions from euthanasia advocates to participate in the euthanasia deaths of patients and for governments to legislate their complicity. Dying with Dignity, for example, is lobbying for euthanasia to be carried out in Catholic facilities in British Columbia.

In response to this pressure, the CCCB “unanimously and unequivocally opposes the performance of either euthanasia or assisted suicide (MAiD) within health organizations with a Catholic identity” and “opposes any efforts by governments or others to compel such facilities to perform MAiD in violation of Catholic teachings.” They said that committing euthanasia “would deeply betray the identity of these institutions as Catholic and would not be in keeping with the Church’s moral teachings on the sanctity of life and the dignity of the human person.”

The CCCB praised Catholic health care institutions for upholding “the moral position” in keeping with the Guidelines of the Health Ethics Guide of the Catholic Health Alliance of Canada.” When patients in a Catholic health care facility request to be killed by euthanasia, they are discharged and transferred to an alternative care centre.

The bishops affirmed “the provision of compassionate and high-quality care for all,” including comprehensive palliative care. Effective and timely palliative care “not only relieves pain, but also responds to patients’ existential, psychological, and spiritual needs and those of their families and caregivers.” The CCCB has developed an online toolkit, Horizons of Hope to promote the benefits of palliative care which can be utilized by individuals, parishes, and health care facilities.

The CCCB also called for more government spending on health care, arguing that scarcity of mental health care can cause the “discouragement and despair” that could lead to patients to request euthanasia for mental illness.

The CCCB said its commitment “as Christians” is “to accompany the sick with care and love until natural death (which) is a direct response to the command of God and the example of our Lord: ‘Do not cast me off in the time of old age; do not forsake me when my strength is spent’ (Ps 71:9); “I was sick and you took care of me” (Mt 25:36).”

The statement follows a commitment to oppose euthanasia within Catholic health care institutions made at the CCCB’s September plenary meeting.

The statement was released hours after David Eby’s NDP government in B.C. announced it would build a euthanasia centre next to St. Paul’s Hospital in Vancouver, which is run by Providence Health Care. The new centre would be connected to the Catholic hospital through what critics are calling “a death corridor.” Vancouver Archbishop J. Michael Miller said the government’s directive “respects and preserves Providence’s policy of not allowing MAiD inside a Catholic health care facility.”

In Quebec, François Legault’s Coalition Avenir Québec government is trying to force St. Raphael Palliative Care Home and Day Centre, a Catholic hospice, to commit euthanasia. The centre has an agreement with the Archdiocese of Montreal to provide end-of-life care and never assisted-suicide.