Open letter from Cardinal Lacroix – “Assistance in Dying” : No Deadline for Dignity
May 30, 2016
On June 6th, the Supreme Court of Canada’s decision concerning “medical assistance in dying” will take effect with or without a federal law to control it.
The adoption of bill C-14 or the Carter decision’s coming into effect will certainly give place to appeals within the court system to widen the use of euthanasia in Québec, available to its citizens for the past 5 months. Pressures will also be felt to provide assisted suicide as defined by Bill C-14: “the prescribing or providing by a medical practitioner or nurse practitioner of a substance to a person, at their request, so that they may self-administer the substance and in doing so cause their own death”.
Today, I wish to address myself especially to the persons that have “a grievous and irremediable medical condition, (including an illness, disease or a disability) that causes enduring suffering that is intolerable 1 ”.
The life you have received, the breath that sustains you, the personality that characterizes you are imprinted with beauty, nobility and greatness. The love you have received, the love you have given are always present and make you – like all of us – people that are vested with great dignity in all circumstances. What you have been, what you are today require, among other things, respect, accompaniment and appropriate care to help you grow to the very end.
To respect the sanctity of life, the Catholic Church firmly opposes euthanasia and assisted suicide. She deplores that all the scenarios put forward by the federal government eventually allow a growing number of people to ask to end their life.
Oftentimes, I repeat that the Church’s position is not to highlight the value of suffering. Yes, faith can give a sense to suffering, but Christians, just like Jesus, wish to avoid suffering when possible: “Father, if you are willing, remove this cup from me; yet, not my will but yours be done” (Luke 22:42). I am firmly convinced that God loves us with an eternal love, just as we are here and now, and until our death when he will receive us with open arms. Just listen to our emeritus Archbishop Maurice Couture’s recent conference on our diocesan web television ECDQ.tv to be convinced of it.
Until next June 6th, I collectively challenge ourselves. You surely know a person who can recognize him or herself in the Québec and (soon to be) Canadian criteria for access to medical assistance in dying. Listen to that person express to the very end his or her suffering and fear. Tell that person that he or she has a great worth in your eyes and will always be able to count on your presence. Remind him or her of your unconditional love.
The calls for assistance in dying usually disappear when suffering people are well accompanied. Doctors and palliative care personnel have so many times witnessed it to me. I thank them for pursuing their role in this new legislative context in Québec. Their efforts to relieve physical and moral suffering carry real fruits and investments in palliative care must continue. For those who oppose euthanasia – still a majority – , their objection of conscience must be protected. If a doctor does not wish to refer a patient to his medically provoked death, the doctor’s wish must be respected without being questioned.
I also want to thank the caregivers. The present debate puts us at risk to forget their dedication, courage, strength, but also their sense of presence to others and their respect for life. These persons have a great need to be recognized and supported.
My personal journey in accompanying people in end of life situations confirms to me that it is dangerous to allow permission to provoke the death of another person, even with his or her consent. Not only does the law dictate, but it educates and gives a demand of the right and a suggestion of duty. With time, customs are affected and the rarity of the gesture cedes way to habit. In my humble opinion, it is a very sad “progress”. We have the responsibility, the mission to accompany with gentleness and tenderness the life of our close ones who suffer, and that, without recourse to a law that promotes death. In this context, we are invited to prevent this suicidal mode by choosing to recognize the dignity of life.
Gérald C. Cardinal Lacroix
Archbishop of Québec
May 30, 2016
1 This description corresponds to the Canadian Supreme Court’s decision to amend our criminal code by June 6th to offer “medical assistance in dying” .