Letter from the CCCB to the Prime Minister, Jean Chrétien, about Doctor-Assisted Suicide for the Terminally Ill

Thursday, October 10 1996

The Right Honourable Jean Chrétien
Prime Minister
Government of Canada
Ottawa, ON
K1A 0A6

Dear Prime Minister,

We were deeply disturbed to hear that the Liberal Party of Canada has adopted as official policy doctor-assisted suicide for the terminally ill.

As pastoral leaders of a Church that has made a significant contribution to health care in this country and is committed to social justice, we reiterate our opposition to any legislative changes that would open the door to assisted suicide or euthanasia. We are opposed as a matter of principle because of the basic tenets of our Christian faith which recognize the intrinsic and relational value of human life and the importance of our life together in community.

The policy adopted at your recent convention assumes that if enough affidavits are required in just the right words and enough lawyers and doctors involved that the interests of the vulnerable will be safeguarded. But even the most conservative interpretation of The Netherlands experience has shown that abuses cannot be prevented by regulation.

Other consequences of legitimating assisted suicide that concern us are:

  • The diminishment of respect for human life and the erosion of the trust essential to any society that human life will be protected.
  • The pressure that those who are frail, poor or elderly will feel or be subject to, especially in a time of decreasing resources.
  • The undermining of the trust between the doctor and patient.
  • The inevitable extension of the law beyond the terminally ill to those who are suffering for other reasons or are considered “unwanted” or “burdensome”.

This new policy of the Liberal Party is all the more surprising, given that the first recommendation made by the Senate Committee on Euthanasia and Assisted Suicide was that governments make palliative care programs a top priority in the restructuring of the health care system.

Palliative care responds to the most profound physical, social, emotional and spiritual human needs. It is a wonderful way of affirming the life and dignity of the person who is dying. The Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops renews its request that governments and health care professionals support the Committee’s recommendation by providing more education, funding, and facilities for palliative care.

While we assume that the people who supported this policy at the convention are sincerely attempting to respond to compelling individual cases, these cases cannot be the only basis for public policy that has such broad implications. Suffering in all its forms, be it physical, emotional or spiritual, challenges the very core of human life and society as a whole. Can we not respond in more compassionate and caring ways than ending the life of the patient?

We note from media reports that you have indicated that this new policy is not a priority for your Government. While we are encouraged by that report, we will be watching very carefully to see what develops because of our profound apprehension about the impact of this policy on individual life, personal and social relationships and the ethical sensibility of our society.

Yours sincerely,

† Francis J. Spence
Archbishop of Kingston
President of the Canadian
Conference of Catholic Bishops

c.c. The Honourable Allan Rock, Minister of Justice
Senator Dan Hays, President of the Liberal Party