The Catholic Bishops of Alberta released a statement Thursday condemning physician-assisted death, in advance of its pending legalization in Canada.
"Killing is not medicine," reads the statement, which is signed by six Alberta Catholic leaders, including Calgary Bishop Fred Henry and Edmonton Archbishop Richard Smith.
"We are convinced that excellent palliative care, understood to exclude physician assisted suicide and euthanasia, is the ethical way to ensure that all Albertans can die in a manner that respects their true human dignity."
The statement outlines three key demands the bishops have for the Alberta government.
First, the bishops request the provincial government undergo a consultation process with all Albertans on the issue of physician-assisted death.
Second, the bishops call for stronger protections and supports for vulnerable persons, especially seniors, people with mental illness and people with disabilities. The statement outlines concerns that euthanasia could take place without clear consent from vulnerable individuals.
Third, the group states that doctors should be allowed to uphold "conscience rights" — that is, the right for Catholic doctors to choose not to assist with a patient's death.
"Killing is not medicine."
"The decision of the Supreme Court of Canada makes legally permissible in some circumstances what is morally wrong in every circumstance: the taking of innocent human life. This is unacceptable in a truly just and ethical society," the bishops said.
Debates over physician-assisted death have been contentious ever since Canada's Supreme Court ruled in February 2015 that banning assisted suicide is unconstitutional. The court gave the federal government until June to establish new legislation around the practice.
Archbishop Richard Smith told media Thursday morning that the statement has been sent to Alberta Premier Rachel Notley and Minister of Health Sarah Hoffman.
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Here's a look at the state of Euthanasia laws in Canada and their history.
Suicide hasn't been a crime in Canada since 1972. (Shutterstock)
Doctor-assisted suicide is illegal, although the ruling of the B.C. Supreme Court will force Parliament to alter the law within one year. The Criminal Code of Canada states in section 241 that: "Every one who (a) counsels a person to commit suicide, or (b) aids or abets a person to commit suicide, whether suicide ensues or not, is guilty of an indictable offence and liable to imprisonment for a term not exceeding fourteen years." (Alamy)
Passive euthanasia involves letting a patient die instead of prolonging life with medical measures. Passive euthanasia is legal in Canada. The decision is left in the hands of family or a designated proxy. Written wishes, including those found in living wills, do not have to be followed by family or a proxy. (Alamy)
Sue Rodriguez, who suffered from amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (also known as Lou Gehrig's disease), launched a case asking the Supreme Court of Canada to allow her to end her own life on the grounds that the current law discriminated against her disability. Because suicide is legal in Canada and Rodriguez was unable to end her life because of a lack of mobility, she argued it was discriminatory to prevent her from ending her own life with the aid of another. The court refused her request in 1993, but one year later she ended her life anyway with the help of an unnamed doctor. (CP)
Robert Latimer was convicted of second-degree murder in the 1993 death of his severely disabled daughter Tracy. A lack of oxygen during Tracy's birth led to cerebral palsy and serious mental and physical disabilities, including seizures and the inability to walk or talk. Her father ended Tracy's life by placing her in his truck and connecting a hose to the vehicle's exhaust.The case led to a heated debate over euthanasia in Canada and two Supreme Court challenges. Latimer was granted day parole in 2008 and full parole in 2010. (CP)
Former Bloc Québécois MP Francine Lalonde tried repeatedly to get legislation legalizing euthanasia in Canada passed. Bill C-407 and Bill C-384 were both aimed at making assisted suicide legal. C-384 was defeated in the House 228 to 59, with many Bloc MPs and a handful of members from all other parties voting for the legislation. Tetraplegic Tory MP Steven Fletcher, pictured, made the following statement after C-384 was defeated: "I would like to be recorded as abstaining on this bill. The reason is I believe end of life issues need to be debated more in our country. I believe that life should be the first choice but not the only choice and that we have to ensure that resources and supports are provided to Canadians so that choice is free. I believe, when all is said and done, the individual is ultimately responsible. I want to make this decision for myself, and if I cannot, I want my family to make the decision. I believe most Canadians, or many Canadians, feel the same. As William Henley said in his poem Invictus, "I am the master of my fate: I am the captain of my soul."(CP)