Sixth Annual COLF Seminar: Challenging End-of-Life Issues

Monday, March 29 2004

(CCCB-Ottawa) The Catholic Organization for Life and Family (COLF) held its sixth annual seminar on biotechnology, in Ottawa, 19 – 20 March 2004. Bishops, physicians, lawyers, ethicists, theologians and lay persons were invited by COLF to discuss complex end-of-life issues.

The 30 participants of this forum discussed the difficult decisions that medical personnel, families and legislators are confronted with when faced with this issue. What are the criteria in determining death? Would a person suffer if deprived of medically assisted nutrition and hydration? Must we respect the wishes of a dying person who refuses treatment? Should a person who received a heart transplant be eligible for a second one if the first transplant failed?

Many intervenors pointed out that moral and ethical reflections are unable to keep up with the new technologies that are continually being developed. As soon as an analysis on important ethical issues is concluded, it is no longer effective since new discoveries have pushed the debate into unexplored areas.

Consequently, experts have indicated that our relationship with technology should be rethought. In Western society, where technological limits are always being advanced, many believe that technology holds the answer to everything. Like any machine, the human body needs “repairs” when it shows signs of weakness.

Enlightenment of Faith

The seminar brought forward various aspects of end-of-life and death issues: medical facts, general moral principles, ethical debates, key legal decisions, the limits of “heroic” medicine and the definition of death. Some presenters raised the question of therapeutic intervention and the wish to extend life at all costs. “Do we not sometimes have an obligation to allow death to follow its natural course? Can we not honour the life of the dying person by simply spending time with them, waiting for death to come?” declared Michael Coughlin, ethics consultant at St. Joseph’s Hospital, Hamilton. He then added: “It can even be considered disrespectful of life to always try to prolong life because death is a part of life!”

Experts also pointed out faith aspects of end-of-life issues. “Is there not a paschal aspect to the end of our lives where this experience can be considered as a passage?” asked Rev. Noël Simard, priest and Director of the Ethics Centre of Saint Paul University, Ottawa.

Doctor Nuala Kenny, a religious sister and pediatrician, believes the Church can play a specific role when faced with moral and ethical challenges at the end of life. She noted that it would be advantageous for the Church to reflect deeply on the meaning of life. “When we fight to prolong the life of a person by using all means possible, is that not an injustice? There exists a paradox on which few people reflect: on the one hand, we save a person’s life, we prolong their life; while on the other hand we do not endeavour to do all that is possible when it comes to social justice, such as eliminating poverty among children,” she added.

The annual forum is organized by COLF to promote debate on ethical and moral challenges resulting from the development of new technologies and to provide an exchange between ethicists and scientists. In previous years, participants engaged in discussions on the production of embryos, stem cells, xenotransplantation, designer babies and the patenting of higher life forms.

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

Forum - Biotechnologie
Some participants at the 2004 Forum (from left to right: Mrs. Marie Cameron, President, Catholic Women’s League (CWL); Dr. Suzanne Scorsone, Archdiocese of Toronto; Archbishop Terrance Prendergast, S.J., Halifax; Archbishop Bertrand Blanchet, Rimouski; and Mrs. Laurette Noble, CWL

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