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Euthanasia and Assisted Suicide 2009

Pastoral Letter on Euthanasia and Assisted Suicide

Dear Brothers and Sisters in Christ,

I am writing to you on a matter of grave urgency that affects all of us.

A private member’s bill has been introduced in the federal House of Commons by MP Francine Lalonde of the Bloc Quebecois. Labelled Bill C-384, it seeks to amend the Criminal Code of Canada so that euthanasia and assisted suicide would become legal in this country. It is scheduled for debate in Parliament on September 29th of this year. As Roman Catholics we have a serious responsibility to speak out in defense of the precious gift of human life whenever it is threatened. Therefore, I am asking that you become informed on this issue and to contact your Member of Parliament. Let him or her know that such a law would be morally unacceptable and unworthy of our country.

By euthanasia is meant the deliberate killing of a person by action (e.g. lethal injection) or omission (e.g. withholding medically indicated treatment), with the purpose of eliminating suffering. As a direct and intended termination of human life, it is immoral and not permissible.

Euthanasia is very different from respecting one’s request not to have treatment or to withdraw treatment when the burdens it brings outweigh any benefits. These decisions are acceptable from a moral viewpoint. It is also to be distinguished from those situations where medication is administered to relieve pain and suffering, even when it is foreseen that this might shorten the patient’s life. Provided that this medication is given with the sole intent of relieving pain, and not with the intention of ending life, it is morally permissible.

Assisted suicide is assistance given by a third party to a person to kill himself or herself (e.g. by providing pills). As such it is cooperation in an action which is objectively wrong, and is therefore itself an immoral act.

Many today will try to argue that either euthanasia or assisted suicide is a “compassionate” response to suffering. We must not allow such misuse of language to blind us to the fact that the indisputable issue at the heart of these practices is the killing of another human being.

True compassion calls us to stand with our suffering brothers and sisters and affirm that they are always a gift and never a burden; that their lives are at every moment worthwhile and never without meaning. As life nears its natural end, the compassionate response to any pain and hardship is good palliative care, not the killing of the patient.

The common good of any society depends upon the commitment of all citizens to uphold the dignity of every human life at each moment and circumstance. The legalization of euthanasia and assisted suicide in Canada would be a major social failure.

I encourage you to contact your local Member of Parliament and insist that euthanasia and assisted suicide not be legalized in Canada.

Yours sincerely in Christ,

Richard W. Smith
Archbishop of Edmonton

July 2009