The Catholic archbishops in two of Canada's largest English-speaking dioceses stepped up their campaign against euthanasia and assisted suicide this week, calling on Catholics to resist changes to the law and pray for the protection of the vulnerable.
Cardinal Thomas Collins of Toronto and Archbishop Terrence Prendergast of Ottawa called on the faithful to take their concerns to their local parliamentary representatives. They issued pastoral letters read in parishes last weekend.
The letters were a reaction to the possibility of euthanasia laws extending to minors and people with advanced dementia and mental health problems. The proposals to a parliamentary committee also insisted that doctors who decline to end the life of a patient prematurely most find another doctor who will.
"Physicians across our country who have devoted their lives to healing patients will soon be asked to do the exact opposite," Cardinal Collins wrote. "They will not be asked to ease their suffering by providing them with treatment and loving care, but by putting them to death. In fact, killing a patient will no longer be considered a crime, but will actually be seen as a kind of health care, complete with legislation to regulate it," he said.
Last year in a unanimous vote, the Supreme Court lifted the ban for euthanasia and assisted-suicide, making the practice fully available for the first time to all “mentally competent” Canadian patients with terminal illnesses.
Cardinal Collins urged Catholics to join the Coalition for HealthCARE and Conscience via its website Canadiansforconscience.ca and to contact their elected representative to start a “necessary conversation about the reality of death”.
"We need to understand the destructive implications of these legal changes and offer truly loving and merciful alternatives," he said.
Archbishop Prendergast called on Catholics to share their concerns about the “grave threat to human dignity and life that assisted suicide and euthanasia pose to our most vulnerable neighbours” with their friends, colleagues and family, and he urged the faithful to share Catholic social teaching that human life “begins at conception in the womb and ends in natural death”.
He said the wilful killing of vulnerable people in the name of “misplaced compassion” suggests that the lives of the ill or disabled do not have value and are not worth living. “The law should protect all life,” he continued.
The Ottawa archbishop urged Catholics to fast and pray and participate in a novena to St Joseph from 10-18 March.
Prendergast reminded those who request a doctor-assisted death that they would not be able to receive the sacrament of the sick. A priest could come and pray with them, and perhaps try to dissuade them, he told Canadian Catholics News recently.