In this interview, Michèle Boulva spoke with ZENIT about the growing pressure to spread euthanasia in Canada.
Q: For some time now, a movement has emerged in your country in favor of the legalization of euthanasia and assisted suicide. Is this movement growing and having a lot of impact on public opinion?
Boulva: These extremely worrying questions have been on the front page of Canadian news for some 15 years, every time that the media publishes dramatic cases or that a draft law is being promoted.
It must be said that the aging of the population associated with improved health care is a perfect recipe for the promotion of euthanasia and assisted suicide.
The promoters of these practices, unworthy for a civilized society, state that we should all have the right to choose our way of dying and the moment of our death. They argue that society does not have the right to impose added sufferings on us, forcing us to live against our will.
The most serious surveys show, moreover, that the Canadian population is divided into equal parts on this matter. … we have to be cautious in the interpretation of these surveys because there is much confusion among the population. Some, for example, say they are in favor of assisted suicide but in reality affirm their rejection of therapeutic cruelty.
Q: The bishops of Canada have taken a forceful position against this plan and ceaselessly urge the faithful to do the same. Their pro-life and pro-family organization has decided on an all-out battle. Can you make a historical summary of the key moments of the Church’s struggle?
Boulva: Beyond its educational and pastoral action relative to the unconditional respect for life and human dignity, the bishops intervene publicly every time the news calls for it.
Several cases have caught the attention of the public in Canada in the course of the years, among others, that of Sue Rodriguez, a 41-year-old woman affected by amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, also called Lou Gehrig’s disease, who fought from 1991 to 1994 for the right to die.
The judges in the Supreme Court rejected the legalization of euthanasia and of assisted suicide by a narrow majority — 5-4, and Mrs. Rodriguez committed suicide in 1994 with the help of an unknown doctor.
In 1993, a farmer of Saskatchewan was sentenced to prison for having killed his 12-year-old daughter, who was suffering from cerebral paralysis. Robert Latimer said he acted out of love, unable to endure his daughter’s suffering any longer.
In Quebec in 2004 Marielle Houle helped her son, Charles Fariala, 36, suffering from multiple sclerosis, to commit suicide. Mrs. Houle also said she acted out of love. Given her age and state of health, she was sentenced to three years probation instead of prison.
Moreover, in June 1995 the senate’s special Commission on Euthanasia and Assisted Suicide published a report entitled “Of Life and Death.”
This commission never arrived at a consensus on euthanasia or assisted suicide, but it made unanimous recommendations on palliative care.
Five years later, a senate sub-commission observed that the implementation of these recommendations was incomplete and made 14 new recommendations relative to palliative care. Much remains to be done in this field, though hospitals and centers dedicated to this mission already do formidable work, which is much appreciated by families.
Q: The reason invoked most often by people who wish to open the door to the practice of euthanasia and assisted suicide is the desire to alleviate the person’s sufferings. Isn’t it strange to hear talk of these gestures in terms of compassion for the person who is suffering. What is your response to this?
Boulva: It is an erroneous conception of compassion which sooner or later threatens citizens, especially the most vulnerable sick and disabled people.
To pretend to alleviate suffering eliminating the patient is an aberration. The latter, moreover, who ask for death do not always do so because of their suffering. For many it is a cry for help against loneliness, before the sentiment of feeling that they are a burden for others.
The response to their cry is an attentive presence full of human warmth and love. They need care, to be heard, the affection of their loved ones, and of the caring staff to “endure their suffering with dignity.”
Insofar as families are concerned, they need the support of the state and of society to assume their responsibilities toward their sick loved ones, grown old and dying.
According to the promoters of euthanasia and assisted suicide, a life of suffering is not worth living and the person’s dignity diminishes in the measure that illness and pain disintegrate the body.
Let us consider for a moment the other side of the coin. Would it not be possible for a life bound to suffering to still be worth living? What if it is an invitation to moral and spiritual growth? What if human dignity persists despite the illness that undermines the body?
What if it is the simple fact of being a human being and of having been created in the image of God which assures our dignity, and not our autonomy, our health or our social usefulness? What if the people who are suffering are calling us to human solidarity?
What the sick, the dying, and disabled need is not a premature death but more care and more love — true compassion.
[Part 2 of this interview will be published on Thursday]