Seventh annual COLF Seminar: Euthanasia and assisted suicide pose great ethical challenges

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(CCCB – Ottawa)… The Catholic Organization for Life and Family (COLF) held its seventh Seminar on Bioethics, in Ottawa, on March 23 and 24, 2006. For the second time in the past several years, bishops, physicians, lawyers, ethicists, theologians and historians were invited by COLF to discuss end-of-life issues.

Two participants at the seminar: Alex Schadenberg, Executive Director of the "Euthanasia Prevention Coalition", and Suzanne Philips-Nootens, Vice-Dean of Research and Higher Education and Director of the Law and Health Policy Programs at the University of Sherbrooke
After reviewing the actual situation regarding euthanasia and assisted suicide in Canada and in other countries, the 35 participants heard presentations by experts in the field and were able to exchange thoughts and ideas in workshop discussions. On several occasions, respect for human dignity was the main theme of the discussions.

Undertaking the question of palliative care, Doctor Joseph Ayoub, oncologist at Notre-Dame Hospital of the University of Montreal Hospital Centre, highlighted the hope patients have when facing extreme physical and existential distress. According to him, the goal of palliative care is to offer medical care by a multidisciplinary team and to surround terminal patients with human warmth. The doctor affirms that at the center of the philosophy, that underlies this movement, is attentive listening and a respect that testifies to the patients’ dignity at a time when they are perceived as a burden. “The voice of palliative care represents in our modern society one of the best ways to express compassion toward patients at the end of their life”, he added. 

For her part, Doctor Suzanne Philips-Nootens, vice-president of research and higher studies and director of the Program on Law and Politics of Health at the University of Sherbrooke, supported the view that dignity cannot be reduced to the exercise of autonomy, as important as it may be. Otherwise, what becomes of the dying patient, the unconscious patient, the person who is mentally disabled? “It is necessary for us to be constantly visible in this crucial debate and to fight relentlessly against the desire for easy solutions and simplistic speeches”, she declared. 

Throughout the seminar, other speakers spoke of the role of faith at the end-of-life; of the confrontation of technological promises and economic pressures; of advance directives regarding end-of-life issues addressed to medical personnel, etc. 

Doctor Margaret Somerville, professor in the Faculty of Law and Medicine at McGill University in Montreal, suggested that the question of euthanasia can be thought of as a test balloon for rival values in Canadian society. 

Three bishops participated in the seminar: Most Reverend Bertrand Blanchet, Archbishop of Rimouski and a biologist by training, Most Reverend Ronald Fabbro, C.S.B, Bishop of London and President of COLF, and Most Reverend Jean Gagnon, Bishop of Gaspé and Member of COLF’s Board of Directors. 

The annual Seminar on Bioethics allows COLF to better address ethical and moral issues in the public square. Over the last few years, participants have tackled subjects such as the production of embryos, stem cells, xenotransplantation, designer babies and the patentability of higher life forms. 

The Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops and the Knights of Columbus jointly founded the Catholic Organization for Life and Family. Its purpose is to promote respect for life, human dignity and the essential role of the family.


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Last Updated on Thursday, April 27 2006  
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On January 13th 2010, Most Reverend Vincent Nguyen became Canada’s first Catholic Bishop of East Asian descent. He is the great-grandson of a Vietnamese Martyr.