Archbishop’s Remarks at the 9th Archbishop’s Benefit Dinner
Ottawa Conference and Event Centre—October 20, 2016
Your Excellencies, reverend Fathers, dear Sisters, dear members and friends of the Archdiocese of Ottawa and supporters of those in need of support at the end of their lives:
On Good Friday, I heard that my friend John Corston was close to death in a palliative care centre. My episcopal vicar, Father Kerslake, and I drove there to be with him, his family, and friends. About thirty of us crowded around his bed praying, chatting, and reminiscing.
Father Geoff and I sang a few hymns and recited prayers for the dying, including granting John the Apostolic Pardon. Our spirits were lifted as we entrusted our friend and fellow-disciple into the Lord’s hands for a peaceful final passage to the Home of the Father. John died a short time after I left, fortified by the sacraments and surrounded by a community of faith.
John Corston was of Ojibwa origin. He was the founding leader of Ottawa’s Kateri Native Ministry. On March 17, 1978, as he heard the story of the Prodigal Son interpreted at a retreat centre, he experienced a profound conversion. Jesus had freed him from the grip of alcoholism, which had held him for many years. John shared his testimony of healing and salvation with First Nations people across Canada. He was an exemplary Christian and a wonderful human being. His beautiful death reflected that reality.
I mention this because, since June 17 of this year, another kind of death has been legally available in Canada. Euphemistically called “medical aid in dying,” it is in fact assisted suicide or euthanasia. However, the permission now granted by law to take one’s life or allow another to assist in terminating does not change God’s moral law, which forbids such practices.
Euthanasia is the deliberate killing of a person by action or omission with the claimed purpose of eliminating suffering. “Action” includes lethal injection and other methods of directly causing death. “Omission” includes withholding medically indicated treatment or nutrition. As a direct and intentional termination of human life, it is immoral and not permissible.
Here is an important distinction. A patient may request not to have treatment or to withdraw treatment when the burdens it brings outweigh any benefits. A doctor may honour this. These decisions are acceptable from a moral viewpoint. Also, medication may be administered to relieve pain and suffering, even when it might shorten the patient’s life. On the condition that this medication is given solely to relieve pain, and not with the intention of ending life, it is morally permissible.
Assisted suicide is collaboration given by another party to a person to kill himself or herself. It is cooperation in an action that is objectively wrong and is, therefore, an immoral act.
Many will try to argue that either euthanasia or assisted suicide is a “compassionate” response to suffering. Such misuse of language must not blind us to the fact that these practices are the deliberate killing of a person.
True compassion calls us to stand with our suffering brothers and sisters and affirm that they are always a gift and never a burden. Their lives are at every moment worthwhile and meaningful. As life nears its natural end, the compassionate response to any pain and hardship is good palliative care, not the killing of the patient.
Quality palliative care is the appropriate way to aid our loved ones at the end of their lives. The Bruyère Centre, one of tonight’s beneficiaries, does this in exemplary fashion.
Palliative care surrounds a person with the spiritual, medical, psychological, and social supports necessary to affirm and uphold their dignity. It assures the best quality of life possible as the patient approaches natural death.
The request for euthanasia or assisted suicide is in direct contradiction to the baptismal call of the dying believer to proclaim at all times, especially at the approach of death, that “it is no longer I who live but Christ who lives in me” (Galatians 2.20).
The Catholic Church is resolutely committed to honouring and protecting human life at every stage from conception to natural death. That is practically the motto of Action Life, our other worthy beneficiary tonight. God alone is the author of life and we are but stewards. From the earliest days of the Church, she has opposed the killing of innocents.
The Scriptures led Justin Martyr, among others, to oppose suicide and the “mercy killing” of infants by exposure in the early second century, when the law of the land had long permitted them. This kind of true progressive thinking led to the legal protection of the lives of innocents across the Roman Empire. On euthanasia and assisted suicide, the Catechism is clear about “the nature of this murderous act, which must always be forbidden and excluded” (CCC 2277).
For Christians, death is not the end, but rather the beginning of a new, resurrected life with God almighty. The catechism teaches that our fate after death ultimately hinges on the state of our souls when we die (CCC 1021).
The solicitude of the Church for her children does not end with death. She continues to intercede for the deceased person and minister to the departed soul’s loved ones. Our funeral liturgies do both.
In Halifax’s St. Mary’s Cathedral Basilica, there is a lovely stained-glass representation of the death of St. Joseph, watched over by his spouse, the Blessed Virgin Mary, and his foster-son, Jesus Christ. It depicts an ideal of loved ones surrounding the deathbed of a believer.
Catholic chaplains in palliative care tell of the beauty and dignity in the unhastened passing of a soul. There are family reconciliations, deep expressions of love, and, yes, conversions to Christ. These experiences cannot compare with the distressing, guilt-inducing taking of a life that is euthanasia.
Please join me in expressing a resolve to affirm life. If we accompany our loved ones in their old age and final illnesses, the forces prompting people to seek suicide and euthanasia will vanish. Bless them with your presence, affection, and prayers as they make the journey to their Creator and Saviour.