EDMONTON — Alberta’s Catholic leaders have come out against legalizing physician-assisted death, which the Supreme Court of Canada ruled Canadians have a right to in February 2015.
“We want to be clear that from the Catholic perspective, the intentional, wilful act of killing oneself or killing another human being is morally wrong,” Edmonton Archbishop Richard Smith said.
“This is society saying to those who suffer: ‘We agree at this point that your life is no longer worth living.’ That is a major societal failure,” Smith said.
He said the most compassionate, just and ethical response is to support those who are suffering.
“To walk with those who suffer, to comfort, to do whatever we can obviously do alleviate the suffering…This is what the church has been doing for over 2,000 years.”
The archbishop also expressed the church’s concerns that the legalization of physician-assisted death will place certain members of society at serious risk, including the elderly, those who suffer from mental illness or are disabled.
In a unanimous decision called the Carter ruling, the Supreme Court ruled that Canadians with grievous and irremediable medical conditions who are enduring intolerable suffering have a right to die with a doctor’s help – and Canada’s criminal prohibition on assisted death violates those rights. The Supreme Court gave the federal and provincial governments one year to respond. In January Ottawa said it needed more time, so a four month extension was granted.
After the Supreme Court struck down the law against assisted suicide last February, the Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops said the church opposes any form of mercy killing.
WATCH: Mark Pickup, who has lived with degenerative MS for 30 years, joins Gord Steinke to share why he opposes doctor-assisted death.
The national organization wants the federal government to ensure that any changes to the law would not force health-care providers or hospitals to be involved in assisted dying. The group has also asked Ottawa to ensure that the law would not be interpreted differently by each province and territory.
Alberta’s bishops want the province to consult with the public before taking any steps to comply with new regulations the federal government must develop by June.
The Catholic Bishops of Alberta released the following statement on Tuesday morning:
Informed by our faith and tradition of caring for people who are poor, sick, or dying, we are convinced that excellent palliative care, understood to exclude physician assisted suicide and euthanasia, is the ethical way to ensure that all Albertans can die in a manner that respects their true human dignity.
We want to be clear that, from a Catholic perspective, the intentional, willful act of killing oneself or another human being is morally wrong. Therefore, no Catholic may advocate for, or participate in any way, whether by act or omission, in the intentional killing of another human being either by assisted suicide or euthanasia.
Scroll down to read the full statement.
“The comments from the church today are really almost farcical,” Bradley Peter, who helped form the Edmonton chapter of Dying with Dignity, said. “It really just shows how out of touch the church is with the general opinion of society at this point.”
The Dying with Dignity organization commissioned a poll with Ipsos that found 85 per cent of respondents supported doctor-assisted death. Scroll down to view the results.
“Society is moving far ahead of the church who is really, at this point, dragging their feet like an overgrown toddler into 2016,” Peter said.
He said his eyes were opened to this issue when his grandmother died from cancer.
“I really felt that her death was one that didn’t really respect her life experiences or her life values,” he said. “Palliative care is absolutely important but it sometimes doesn’t go far enough. Physician-assisted dying is a must in Canada.”
“Every day we don’t have physician-assisted dying, people with grievous and irremediable illnesses are literally suffering to death against their wills,” Peter added.
The College of Physicians and Surgeons of Alberta is proposing a standard that would allow physicians to say no to assisted dying, but would require them to refer a patient to another doctor.
With files from Karen Bartko, Global News and The Canadian Press
Below: Statement of the Catholic Bishops of Alberta on assisted suicide and euthanasia