TORONTO – The Archbishop of Toronto said he doesn’t think Canadians have put enough thought into medically assisted dying – and when they do, they’ll realize it’s a bad idea.
Cardinal Thomas Collins weighed into the debate on assisted dying Sunday, reading a statement on the church’s position at a mass, while a written or videotaped version was presented to more than 200 Catholic churches across the Archdiocese of Toronto – the country’s largest diocese.
In his sermon, Collins said people are being “dazzled by sweet words”, but that assisted death is “most destructive to the human person, destructive to our society, our community.”
Collins told reporters outside the church that he thinks “people have not thought much about this,” and once they think more deeply about it, they’re likely to have second thoughts.
After the service, parishioners voiced differing opinions on doctor-assisted death and Collins’ statement.
“I think that it is the best thing that can happen to people who are sick and there is no hope to make them better,” Maria Nella Espinal said.
“The church thinks it shouldn’t be done that way, but as a human being I think that is the best thing that can happen.”
Asked how she reconciles her opinion with that of the church, Nella Espinal said, “we are human beings and we have a mind of our own.”
“I think it’s completely wrong,” said another parishioner. “It’s a very big violation of the rights to life. As a christian and a catholic, no one has the right to take life. It’s not only sinful, it’s even evil to take it upon yourself to take life.”
Shanaaz Gokool, the CEO of the advocacy group Dying With Dignity, disagrees with the notion that Canadians have not seriously thought about the issue.
“It’s being played out in the press, it’s being played out in people’s homes. At family dinners, people are having these discussions as they consider their own wishes for end-of-life.”
She cited a poll conducted by Ipsos-Reid last month, in which 86 per cent of people questioned agreed with the Supreme Court of Canada decision that struck down the Criminal Code ban on assisted dying. She added that 83 per cent of people surveyed who identified themselves as Catholic were also in support of the ruling.
As it stands, laws surrounding assisted dying are in a state of limbo, as the Supreme Court has given the federal government until June to bring in new legislation. Until then, Canadians who want an assisted death need permission from a Superior Court.
The College of Physicians and Surgeons of Ontario has prepared with an interim guide for medically-assisted death, in case such permission is granted.
Their guide says a physician can’t be compelled to perform assisted death, but that they must offer their patient with an “effective referral” to a doctor who is willing offer it.
In his sermon, Collins said that for those doctors, effective referrals are a “violation of conscience”. He added that forcing Catholic doctors to refer patients to doctors who will perform assisted suicide is tantamount to religious discrimination.
The college said in a written statement that it doesn’t accept that argument. Spokeswoman Kathryn Clarke said a referral “does not foreshadow or guarantee” that the assisted death will be performed.
And Gokool added that if a doctor who is morally opposed to assisted death refuses to refer their patient elsewhere, it’s like the patient’s care is being “abandoned.”
A parliamentary committee has recommended that terminally ill Canadians should be able to seek medical help to die with few obstacles and that the mentally ill should not be excluded and that eventually “mature minors” should be included.
Collins expressed opposition to those findings as well as allowing people suffering from conditions like dementia to pre-schedule the date of their death.
The cardinal also stressed that publicly-funded Catholic hospitals shouldn’t be compelled to provide assisted death. Gokool also took issue with that, saying that in some places in the country, Catholic hospitals are the only ones in travelling distance. She said that in those cases, it’s not fair to deny a patient an assisted death if a doctor is willing to perform it.
Collins urged church members to contact their member of Parliament to express their concerns about how the new law is being drafted.