Canadian bishops: Keep palliative care distinct from assisted suicide

A person at the end of his life deserves palliative care not assisted suicide

In the age of legal assisted suicide and euthanasia, palliative care must remain as a distinct form of care that attends to the needs and dignity of the whole person at the natural end of their life, the Catholic bishops of Canada have said.

The bishops gave their recommendations in a submission for a national public consultation, in response to the passing of a new bill on the development of palliative care in the country.

The bishops’ document focused on numerous questions and suggestions for healthcare providers, and was developed with the assistance of the Catholic Health Alliance of Canada, the Canadian Catholic Bioethics Institute, and multiple other resources.

“The investment of the Catholic community in healthcare is inspired by Christ,” Bishop Lionel Gendron of Saint-Jean-Longueuil, president of the Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops, said in the bishops’ submission. “It is a response by Christians to be healing hands for the sick; to provide compassionate care for those in need; to accompany the dying with self sacrifice, and to bear witness to the inviolable dignity of the human person and our common responsibility to love our neighbour and to serve and protect human life at every stage.”

He also noted that despite the legalization of euthanasia and assisted suicide in Canada, the Catholic Church remains “strongly opposed” to the practices.

Assisted suicide and euthanasia were legalized by the Canadian Senate 44-28 in June 2016. However, the move was met with pushback from some lawmakers, who underscored their concerns over euthanasia for minors and additionally said the legislation would conflict with conscious protections for medical institutions.

Some of these concerns were raised again in the recent case of a Canadian man, Roger Foley, who suffers from an incurable disease and claims that despite asking for home care, the medical team at an Ontario hospital would only offer him medically assisted suicide.

Foley has filed a lawsuit and provided Canada’s CTV News with two separate audio recordings, in which medical personnel appear to offer him assisted suicide.

Due to the opportunity for coercion, the bishops in their statement noted multiple times that it is imperative that assisted suicide and euthanasia are not included as part of palliative care programs.

“While euthanasia and assisted suicide are also referred to as Medical Assistance in Dying (MAiD), these are not to be admitted within the definition and practice of palliative care,” Gendron noted, a stance which is in keeping with the World Health Organization’s definition of palliative care, along with that of many other secular providers.

In an interfaith statement signed by the Catholic bishops of Canada, palliative care is defined in this way: “As a comprehensive approach to end-of-life challenges, palliative care combines pain management with efforts to attend to a patient’s psychological, emotional, social, and spiritual needs, as well as caregiver support. The practice of palliative care does not include interventions which intentionally cause the death of the patient. This has been central to the philosophy of palliative care and is a fundamental distinction that must be maintained.”