Social Justice Initiative regarding Physician Assisted Death

Last week in this space, Ryan explained last rites and viaticum. We all hope to receive last rites. But what if we choose Physician Assisted Death? Will we still receive the sacrament? As Archbishop Terrence Pendergast of Ottawa says “…we cannot be forgiven preemptively for something we are going to do, like ask for assisted suicide when suicide is a grave sin.” If we willingly terminate our lives, we cannot receive the last rites.

Think of the burden on the priest if we ask him to confer the sacrament when he knows what we are planning to do? We’d be putting him in conflict between our request and his obligation to act in accordance with church teaching. We can decide to refuse heroic measures to keep ourselves alive; and we can refuse treatments meant to prolong, but not improve, our lives, and thus die naturally and still receive the sacrament.
Caring for our loved ones does not include killing them or helping them to kill themselves. We’d have to ask someone else to carry out the procedure of killing. What a selfish act, and terrible burden to place on another human being. Medicine is about healing and providing care. Assisted Death is not a medical treatment. It is a choice. It is not compassionate. Compassion is about presence, solidarity and love through palliative care where we’ll receive, with dignity, what we need in our final days.

The Supreme Court of Canada has decided that Physician Assisted Dying will happen in Canada. An all party committee has recently released its report. This report goes well beyond what the Supreme Court has recommended and seeks to provide death for children (eventually) and for the mentally ill. We currently have many programmes across our country whose goal is to prevent suicide. What are we telling our friends and family members who have depression? Do their lives no longer matter? Is it more convenient to kill them than to help them to overcome their distress and to realize their full potential?

This week after our masses, you are invited to sign letters to members of government asking them to invoke Section 33 of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms in the case of Carter vs. Canada. Section 33 asks for five years of careful deliberation before a final court ruling. Please sign one or more of these letters and we shall send them to Ottawa.

Betsy Fletcher


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