In recent decades, papal statements have reminded Catholics the world over that we need to give heightened attention to the environment. On June 18, 2015, the Holy See presented the second Encyclical Letter that Pope Francis has issued since the beginning of his pontificate. Entitled “Praise be to you, my Lord” (Laudato si’), the central question posed by the Holy Father is: “What kind of world do we want to leave to those who come after us, to children who are now growing up?” (no. 160).
Pope Francis continues: “This question not only concerns the environment in isolation; the issue cannot be approached piecemeal.” It leads to questions about the meaning of existence and the values which should be the basis of social life: “What is the purpose of our life in this world? Why are we here? What is the goal of our work and all our efforts? What need does the earth have of us?” The Holy Father adds, “Unless we struggle with these deeper issues, I do not believe that our concern for ecology will produce significant results.”
In Quebec, the law concerning end-of-life care, officially approved in December 2015, defines such end-of-life care as, on the one hand, palliative care, and on the other, medical assistance in dying. Even if the bill avoids saying the word, we must acknowledge, in the second case, that we are dealing with euthanasia: killing someone to put an end to their suffering.
The bishops of Qubec approved the proposals concerning palliative care, since those correspond to Gospel values. But they have added their voices to those of many who are opposed to proposals concerning euthanasia, since Catholic tradition has always seen an act provoking the death of a defenseless being as an assault on human dignity and the sacred dimension of life.
On February 6th, 2015, the Supreme Court of Canada declared invalid the article in the Criminal Code defining euthanasia or assisted dying as a crime. Following this decision, the Government of Canada legislatee on the issue by framing this practice that, for better or for worse, is slowly spreading throughout the world. Thus, Bill C-14, an act concerning medical aid in dying, received royal sanction on June 17, 2016.
While deploring the evolution of this question, Canada's bishops, through the CCCB, have especially expressed their deep concern at the lack of protection of the freedom of conscience of health care workers, as well as the freedom of health institutions opposed to such practices, especially Catholic hospitals. They are offended that this practice might be implemented without first ensuring adequate palliative care throughout the country.
The debate surrounding these questions is particularly fierce since we don’t always agree on the vocabulary to use, or on the social consequences of normalizing a practice that originally sought to respond only to exceptional cases. (Let us think of the present trivialization of abortion that, only a few years ago, was considered only in the most dramatic cases.)
It is important, as citizens and Christians, that we truly understand this issue, the values that are at stake, and the moral tradition of our Church, so that we can better discern how to accompany our loved ones who are facing death.