Canadian religious leaders concerned over assisted-dying legislation

Canadian religious leaders concerned over assisted-dying legislation

Canadian religious leaders on Tuesday expressed their concerns regarding the proposed legislation on “physician-assisted-dying” and are calling on the government to protect the vulnerable, improve palliative care and protect freedom of conscience.

“We stand together today, leaders within our respective faith communities – Jewish, Muslim and Christian – to express our grave concern over the decriminalization of assisted suicide and euthanasia,” said Mr. Bruce Clemenger, President of The Evangelical Fellowship of Canada at the press conference on Parliament Hill. “We believe that any action intended to end human life is morally and ethically wrong.”

On April 14, 2016 the Government of Canada introduced legislation that grants access to “physician-assisted-dying” to “competent adults” age 18 or older who must suffer from a “grievous and irremediable” condition such as a “serious and incurable” illness, disease or disability that leaves them in a state of “irreversible decline,” and that brings enduring physical or psychological suffering that is intolerable and cannot be relieved. The person’s natural death must be “reasonably foreseeable,” though not imminent.

The principal concerns of the religious leaders relate to the protection of vulnerable persons, conscience protection for healthcare workers and healthcare facilities, as well as the lack of availability of quality palliative care for all Canadians.

“Our churches, synagogues and mosques are committed to comfort and care for those who are dying and their families,” they said. “Together, with our diverse communities of faith, we are determined to work to alleviate human suffering in every form but never by intentionally eliminating those who suffer.”

Expressing their concerns over the proposed legislations were representatives of the Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops (CCCB), The Evangelical Fellowship of Canada, The Canadian Council of Imams, The Salvation Army and Jewish communities, as well as a hematologist – oncologist from the Hôpital du Sacré-Cœur, Montreal.

“We firmly believe that as Canadians, we must do more to provide compassionate care to those who are ill and to find better and more effective ways to alleviate their suffering and improve their quality of life,” said Imam Sikander Hashmi representing the Canadian Council of Imams. “Instead of promoting death, let us come together to enhance and cherish life.”

The religious leaders called on the government to provide palliative care, support services for people with psychiatric illness and supports for the disabled.

Addressing the fundamental right of conscience for healthcare workers and facilities such as hospices, nursing homes and hospitals, His Eminence Thomas Cardinal Collins, the Roman Catholic Archbishop of Toronto said, “for the same protection that has been provided to these facilities in every foreign jurisdiction in the world that has legalized euthanasia/assisted suicide; that is, never to force hospitals, nursing homes, hospices and other care facilities to go against their mission and values, which are their institutional conscience.”

Because there is no reference to conscience rights in the draft legislation Cardinal Carter said, “it appears that the federal government is leaving this issue to the provinces and territories for consideration.”

The religious leaders insisted “those protections are vital not only for the fundamental human rights of healthcare professionals; not only for the integrity of the medical profession; they are vital to maintaining the sanctity of life as an enduring Canadian value. That value continues to define us whatever legislation is adopted as law.”

Speaking at the news conference were: Mr. Bruce Clemenger, President of The Evangelical Fellowship of Canada; Imam Sikander Hashmi, Canadian Council of Imams; Commissioner Susan McMillan, The Salvation Army; Rabbi Dr. Reuven P. Bulka, C.M., Congregation Machzikei Hadas, Ottawa; Dr. Caroline Girouard, MD, FRCPC, a hematologist – oncologist at the Hôpital du Sacré-Cœur, Montreal, and Assistant Clinical Professor, Department of Medicine, University of Montreal; and His Eminence Thomas Cardinal Collins, the Roman Catholic Archbishop of Toronto, representing both the CCCB and also the Coalition for HealthCARE and Conscience.