Canadian bishops redouble their efforts to encourage more government and social support for palliative care as the best way to help Canadians experience a “dignified natural death,” as a barrage of Canadian judgments continues to remove existing safeguards around aid die in the country.
“There is minimal (government support) for palliative care,” said Winnipeg Archbishop Richard Gagnon, the new president of the Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops. “There is a great need for more palliative care in Canada, whether religious or not.”
Archbishop Gagnon said that palliative care and assisted dying are not two equal options for Canadians approaching the end of their lives – one, palliative care, respects the dignity of human life, and the other, assisted dying, does not.
“You can help a person in their final days of life to die with dignity in a supportive manner that respects the importance of life (with palliative care),” said Archbishop Gagnon. “The idea of euthanasia is at odds with that.”
The Catholic Church has played a pioneering role in advocating more social support for palliative care options in Canada.
The CCCB participated in 2018 public consultations on palliative care coordinated by Health Canada in response to the adoption of Bill C-277, a law providing for the development of a Canada palliative care framework.
One of the problems with palliative care in Canada is that although the federal government establishes a healthcare framework in the country, it is the provinces that provide health services in Canada that have led to major differences in how palliative care is funded in health care budgets in nationwide and how palliative care services are delivered.
The CCCB entry, developed with, among others, the Catholic Health Alliance of Canada and the Canadian Catholic Bioethics Institute, emphasized the importance of the spiritual care dimension in palliative care and “strongly emphasized that palliative care does not include euthanasia or assistance with suicide, or what is called “Medical Assistance in Dying” (MAid) in Canada, “the CCCB statement said.
The CCCB further emphasizes the importance of palliative care as a means to turn Canadians away from what is essentially legally sanctioned medically assisted suicide by emphasizing the importance of palliative care at parochial level throughout the country.
Edmonton Archbishop Richard Smith said an ad hoc CCCB committee is working with other Catholic and social institutions to develop information tools and knowledge about palliative care that may be shared with the school and health care providers at parish level and then in the future.
“We have done a lot on this,” Archbishop Smith said, adding that the CCCB is trying to create easily understandable information at the local level about the Church’s view of the importance of palliative care.
“We want this to encourage them in advocacy for palliative care,” he said, adding that the CCCB hopes to have palliative care kits available across the country by 2021.
This all happens when judgments, most recently in Quebec in September, eroded the “foreseeable death” requirements for medically induced suicide, which has been part of Canadian law since the federal government allowed medically assisted death as an option for healthcare in Canada following a previous decision of the Supreme Court of Canada.
Judge Christine Baudouin, judge in Quebec, has determined in federal law that the death of a person is “reasonably foreseeable” to be eligible for euthanasia on September 11. She has also laid down a similar clause in the Quebec euthanasia law that requires that an illness is terminal.
Her verdict said that the existing 2016 federal law violated the fundamental rights of Canadians and that the judge allowed requests from two people to have a doctor end their lives, despite the fact that neither is terminally ill but suffering to incurable and painful medical conditions.
The Government of Quebec has indicated that it will not appeal the ruling, while the Federal Government has stated that it will review the ruling.
Alex Schadenberg, executive director of the Euthanasia Prevention Coalition, told the Catholic Register at the time of the decision that the federal government had planned a five-year review of its euthanasia laws by June 2020.
“What is the purpose of a revision if courts think it is their job to crush parts of the law?” He said.
Opening up euthanasia to people with psychiatric disorders was one of the three areas to be reviewed, but the court effectively paved the way for this by removing the requirement that death could reasonably be foreseen, Schadenberg said at the time.