Neither Dignity Nor Justice

Canadas Supreme Court Legalizes Euthanasia

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On February 6 the nine judges of the Canadian Supreme Court legalized euthanasia in a unanimous decision, reversing a previous 1994 ruling.

The move continued a tendency towards judicial activism that started with the striking down of about laws, then the introduction of same-sex marriage, and the striking down of laws on prostitution.

While technically the court did not eliminate the legal prohibition regarding assisted suicide it said that it no longer applied to a person consents to the termination of their life and has a “grievous and irremediable medical condition (including an illness, disease or disability) that causes enduring suffering that is intolerable to the individual in the circumstances of his or her condition.”

Commentators pointed out that this is not limited to terminal illnesses and could even apply to persons with psychological problems, including depression.

The effect of the decision is suspended for twelve months so that parliament has an opportunity to pass a law on this matter. With an election coming up later in the year in October there is doubt that a law will be passed in the near future.

“Grievous and irremediable” is not the same as terminal, never mind “at the end of life,” while what is “intolerable” is explicitly left “to the individual” to decide,” Canada’s National Post newspaper observed in a February 6 editorial.

“We believe such an open-ended liberalization to be unwise and dangerous,” it concluded, after having commented that the Canadian decision seems to follow the more liberal models of the Netherlands and Belgium.

The archbishop of Gatineau, Paul-André Durocher, President of the Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops, issued a statement the same day as the decision in which he said that Catholics are called upon to help all those in need and that comforting the dying has long been a part of Christian mercy.

No mercy

“Helping someone commit suicide, however, is neither an act of justice or mercy, nor is it part of palliative care,” he added.

“The Bishops of our country invite Canadians, especially Catholics, to do all they can to bring comfort and support for all those who are dying and for their loved ones, so that no one, because of loneliness, vulnerability, loss of autonomy, or fear of pain and suffering, feels they have no choice but to commit suicide,” he said.

The Canadian Catholic Organization for Family and Life also criticized the decision saying that it was a “sad day for our country.”

“Christ calls each of us to do everything in our power to serve the most vulnerable in our society, to eliminate suffering — but never at the price of eliminating those who suffer,” the statement explained.

The court, the declaration continued, based “its decision on false notions of autonomy and human dignity; these terms are being misused in such a way as to seriously weaken the common good.”

The organization also raised the question about the rights and autonomy of those in the health care field who in the future may find themselves obligated to help kill people, particularly as the population ages and there is increasing pressure on resources.

“We need to ask ourselves: Can anyone feel safe in a society in which the state, having relieved us of the responsibility of being our brother’s keeper, has given some among us permission to be his killer?” they concluded.

Suicide creep

In a February 6 press release the Institute of Marriage and Family Canada pointed out the many problems associated with countries and states that have legalized euthanasia.

For example, in Belgium, a study published in the Canadian Medical Association Journal found that 32% of euthanasia deaths took place without the express request of the patient. Most of these cases involved persons 80 years or older who were mostly in a coma or had dementia.

In the Netherlands, they referred to data showing that the number of deaths by euthanasia doubled between 2008 and 2013. Moreover, in recent times the right to assisted suicide has expanded to include babies.

“The Institute of Marriage and Family Canada sees no evidence to believe ‘suicide creep’ won’t also happen in Canada,” they declared.

“At the time when our physical powers fail us, every Canadian will now be obliged to calculate how much love and support is too much to ask of others,” commented a statement from the Council of Canadians with Disabilities.

“The Canadian disability movement remains united in our claim that the lives of people with disabilities matter,” they said.

In an address last November 15 to the Italian Catholic Physician’s Association Pope Francis said that: “in the light of faith and right reason, human life is always sacred and always has ‘quality’.”

“Every human life is sacred,” Pope Francis declared: A concept that unfortunately does not find favor with the justices of the Supreme Court of Canada.

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Fr. John Flynn

Australia Bachelor of Arts from the University of New South Wales. Licence in Philosophy from the Pontifical Gregorian University. Bachelor of Arts in Theology from the Queen of the Apostles.

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