(CCCB – Ottawa)... The annual Plenary Assembly of the Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops (CCCB) began yesterday and will continue until 30 September 2016 at the Nav Canada Centre, Cornwall, Ontario. The meeting is chaired by the Most Reverend Douglas Crosby, O.M.I., Bishop of Hamilton and CCCB President, who presented his annual report at the opening session. On this first day of the meeting, the Bishops reflected on the impact of Bill C-14 which legalized assisted suicide and euthanasia in Canada. His Eminence Willem Cardinal Eijk, Archbishop of Utrecht, Holland, gave a reflection on the social and cultural impact of legalized assisted suicide and euthanasia in The Netherlands and beyond. The day began with the celebration of the Eucharist presided by Bishop Crosby with the participation of almost 40 members from the Holy Trinity Catholic Secondary School Choir in Cornwall.
A moral theologian, medical ethicist and physician, Cardinal Eijk gave an overview of the experience in his country. He said at first there had been arguments in favour of euthanasia and assisted suicide in 1969, followed by frequent medical practice of euthanasia in the 1970s and then the first law to provide provisional regulation of euthanasia in 1993. Since then, he said, public sentiment permits euthanasia and physician-assisted suicide for people suffering from emotional disorders and psychiatric illness, including depression, as well the termination of infants born with disabilities. At the same time, doctors who used to practise euthanasia frequently now receive fewer demands because of growing accessibility to and awareness of palliative care.
"What can the Dutch experience teach politicians, policy-makers and people working in health care in other countries?" he asked. His answers were that first, there is no need for a "new medical ethics" other than what is provided through palliative care: "to reduce the suffering of people with incurable diseases to bearable proportions and to help them to discover or rediscover the dignity of their lives by giving loving professional care -- humane, medical, socio-psychological and pastoral; in short: it is directed to the whole person." Secondly, the Dutch experience provides empirical evidence that once the door is open a little, it easily opens wider. "Once one allows the termination of life for a certain kind of suffering, why should one not allow it for suffering that is just a little less?" The third lesson to be learned, he said, is palliative care respects how people who are suffering greatly, whether from disease or disabilities, can discover dignity in life and be enabled to continue their lives despite their circumstances.
In his annual report, Bishop Crosby highlighted several initiatives in which the Conference has been involved, including advocating for palliative and home care and mobilizing local support for these, as well as urging federal and provincial politicians to respect freedom of conscience and religion for health-care providers and institutions. The CCCB President also pointed out the initiatives by the CCCB and dioceses over the past year "to focus on relations with Indigenous People, including questions by the Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC)." The CCCB President recalled his letter to the Right Honourable Justin Trudeau the day he was sworn in as Prime Minister. "I highlighted the need for improved Aboriginal access to education, the epidemic of murdered and missing Indigenous women, the need for environments supportive of Indigenous families and communities, and the importance of strengthening the ability of Canadian justice and correctional systems to respond to Aboriginal realities," Bishop Crosby stated.