The Catholic Bishops of Canada are calling on all Canadians to raise the issue of assisted suicide with candidates during the current federal election campaign.

In a statement issued after their annual plenary meeting in Cornwall, the Bishops pointed to Canada's long tradition of caring for the sick and the vulnerable, which has been jeopardized by the Supreme Court ruling that struck down the law that prohibited doctors from assisting in the suicides of their patients.

"We cannot but express our outrage at the decision of the Supreme Court of Canada to create a new "constitutional right" in Canada, the so-called "right" to suicide," the bishops wrote. "Nor can we suppress our profound dismay, disappointment and disagreement with the Court's decision. The ruling would legalize an action that, from time immemorial, has been judged immoral: the taking of innocent life. Moreover, it puts at risk the lives of the vulnerable, the depressed, those with physical or mental illness, and those with disabilities."

"In the face of the terrible suffering that can be caused by illnesses or depression, a truly human response should be to care, not to kill. Likewise, the response to the anguish and fear people can experience at the end of their lives is to be present to them, offering palliative care, not intentionally to cause their death. The need for palliative care should be one of the most pressing preoccupations of our country and its institutions. This is where the energies and resources of our elected leaders should be directed. This is why we advocate making high-quality palliative care, long-term care, and home care easily accessible to all Canadians.

"We are in the midst of a federal election campaign. The candidates' silence on the question of assisted suicide astonishes us. This question is fundamental for our society and its future. Have we relinquished the ability to debate the profound questions of life that touch us all? Are our politicians that terrified by the risk of awkwardly phrased responses, getting "off message", or the ups and downs of public opinion polls? We urge all the citizens of our country to raise this question of life and death at meetings with candidates, to stimulate a true debate worthy of our great country.

"The one-year period given by the Supreme Court is far too short for such a fundamental change in our laws to enter into force. We urge the government that is elected on October 19 to invoke the Notwithstanding Clause and extend this timeline to five years. If ever a legal decision warranted invoking this clause in our Constitution, this is it. We need to allow ourselves time to reflect before acting, time to consider seriously the consequences of our actions in dealing with this crucial moral issue.

"Furthermore, we must at all cost uphold and protect the conscience rights of the men and women who work as caregivers. Requiring a physician to kill a patient is always unacceptable. It is an affront to the conscience and vocation of the health-care provider to require him or her to collaborate in the intentional putting to death of a patient, even by referring the person to a colleague. The respect we owe our physicians in this regard must be extended to all who are engaged in health care and work in our society's institutions."

Read the full statement


The Catholic Bishops of Canada
September 18, 2015