In light of a Canadian Supreme Court decision earlier this year to legalize physician-assisted suicide, various religious leaders throughout the nation joined together to speak out against the practice.
In a statement titled “The Declaration on Euthanasia and Assisted Suicide,” Catholic bishops and Protestant leaders from the Evangelical Fellowship of Canada, expressed their concerns about how ending human life, even in the case of extreme suffering and human illness, is not properly honoring its dignity. The document stated that, informed by their religious views, the various leaders “insist that any action intended to end human life is morally and ethically wrong. Together, we are determined to work to alleviate human suffering in every form but never by intentionally eliminating those who suffer.”
The Catholic and Protestant leadership bodies that composed the document were joined by support from more than 30 other Christian denominations and 20 Jewish and Muslim leaders. Despite their various backgrounds, all were equally discontented by the idea of legislation that would allow for patients to choose euthanasia and would undermine the idea of the common good: “Humanity’s moral strength is based on solidarity, communion, and communication—particularly with those who are suffering,” the statement read. It went on to call the sanctity of human life a “foundational principle of human society.”
The statement further argued for the moral cause against euthanasia, saying that honoring the sanctity of human life consists of “personal attention and palliative care and not assisted suicide or euthanasia,” and that euthanasia and assisted suicide “treat the lives of disadvantaged, ill, disabled, or dying persons as less valuable than the lives of others. Such a message does not respect the equal dignity of our vulnerable brothers and sisters.”
“It is when we are willing to care for one another under the most dire of circumstances and at the cost of great inconvenience that human dignity and society’s fundamental goodness are best expressed and preserved,” the document asserted.
The practice of passive euthanasia, the withholding of life-preserving measures, has always been legal in Canada; however, active euthanasia was illegal and punishable by up to 14 years in prison until the Supreme Court ruled unanimously in February to legalize the practice. Carter v. Canada overturned the provision preventing physician-assisted suicide; however, the nation continues to debate the topic, as the practice will not officially go into effect until 2016. Physicians in Quebec are already preparing kits to perform the procedure and discussing how it could be incorporated as a care practice through appropriate measures.
As the practice of euthanasia has gained popular support as well as medical feasibility in recent years, the Catholic Church has continuously and actively opposed it. The Second Vatican Council outwardly condemned the practice as a “crime against life,” a category that includes “any type of murder, genocide, abortion, euthanasia, or willful suicide.” In 1980, a similar statement on the topic was issued by Sacred Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, which echoed Vatican II language. Thus, the action of the Canadian bishops against advancement of the practice in their own country is a reiteration of many previous statements, this time joined by religious leaders from other traditions.