The Anglican bishops in Quebec have urged the provincial government to withdraw its controversial “medical aid in dying” bill saying it could present risks for the vulnerable, including the elderly, people suffering from clinical depression and those with disabilities.
Bishops Dennis Drainville (Diocese of Quebec) and Barry Clarke (Diocese of Montreal) acknowledged, “the emotional and challenging circumstances that have led the government to consider the legalization of physician-assisted suicide.”
However, they said, “we share, with other members of society, concern for the protection of human persons from chronic pain and respect for human dignity.”
In an open letter published in the Montreal Gazette, Drainville and Clarke echoed statements expressed in the Anglican Church of Canada’s 1998 report, Care in Dying: A Consideration of the Practice of Euthanasia and Physician Assisted Suicide.
“Christian thought through the ages has been guided by the principle that human beings are made in the image and likeness of God, and our life is to be seen as a gift entrusted to us by God,” they wrote in the letter. “Life is thus seen as something larger than any individual person’s ownership of it, and is not simply ours to discard.”
The bishops added that while they recognize “the diversity of opinion about euthanasia, both within our church and in society at large, the Christian vision of human dignity and community gives rise to some profound misgivings” about Bill 52, also known as An Act respecting end-of-life care.
The bishops said that while they appreciate the bill’s intent to also make palliative care accessible to all, they were unable to support the idea that “care can include an act or omission whose primary intention is to end a person’s life.”
Allowing doctors to administer “medical aid in dying” transforms them from being “ministers of healing to agents of death,” they added. “Both the request for assistance in committing suicide, and the provision of such assistance, must be taken seriously as a failure of human community.”
Quebec is the first province in Canada to propose legislation providing “rights with respect to end-of-life care,” and requirements for “certain types of end-of-life care, namely terminal palliative sedation and medical aid in dying.” It provides that only those suffering from an incurable serious illness, “an advanced state of irreversible decline in capability” and “constant and unbearable physical or psychological pain” can obtain medical aid in dying, according to a set of criteria prescribed in the bill. “The patient must request medical aid in dying themselves, in a free and informed manner,” the bill further states.
The issue of assisted suicide has been a long and contentious battle in Canada. On Oct. 10, the British Columbia Court of Appeal upheld the ban on euthanasia. The federal government had appealed the B.C. Supreme Court’s June 2012 ruling that prohibiting euthanasia is discriminatory.