Archdiocese of St. John's

Saturday, 7 March 2015

Letter to parishioners re Supreme Court ruling on Dr. Assisted Suicide

(Published Feb 25)

Dear Brothers and Sisters in Christ,

On February 6, 2015, Canada’s Supreme Court ruled unanimously that competent adults with grievous and irremediable medical conditions have the right to ask a doctor to help them die. This means that the current ban on doctor-assisted suicide will be struck down in 12 months, unless federal and provincial governments amend legislation to respond to the ruling. In 1993, the Supreme Court had ruled that physicians may not assist people to commit suicide. What had changed in the intervening 22 years? Does not life still hold the value that it has always held? Is life any less precious now than it was in 1993?

This issue is on everyone’s tongue and heart and mind, and so it should be, for what is more precious to us than the preservation of life and its dignity, and the protection of our most vulnerable people?

A great deal of the discussion around physician-assisted suicide has focussed on the concepts of compassion and dignity. The way that compassion is being presented by some would lead us to believe that, if someone is seriously ill and will not recover, the only loving, compassionate course of action is to allow a doctor to assist that person to die by administering drugs that will cause death. This is often phrased as “dying with dignity.” But, my friends, compassion is more than alleviating pain and suffering, although this is certainly an element, and dignity is more than the right to decide how one is to die. The word “compassion” comes from a Latin word meaning “to suffer with.” We act with compassion when we feel the pain and suffering of another person, and support them in love by reminding them that they are not alone and that someone does care about them. Compassion has more to do with helping some live in dignity than assisting someone to hasten their own death.

Today, we recognize that effective and compassionate palliative care is a very important element of health care. When we talk about “dying with dignity,” I would encourage each and every one of us to think about effective and meaningful palliative care. Palliative care is about supporting a dying person, relieving pain and giving a dying person the best possible quality of life.

A compassionate person, and a truly compassionate community, will advocate for and ensure that a person who is in the final stages of life receives palliative care. The aim of palliative care is to help people to live well, and so to die with dignity surrounded and supported by a community of faith, informed and assisted by good medical practice.

Dying with dignity is a good that every person would naturally desire; but we recognize that people understand this term differently. Those who support physician-assisted suicide argue that dignity is found in giving people the right to choose life or death. But dignity is not simply about control; it is about care.

It is natural to fear suffering and a loss of dignity. The Catholic Church teaches that people are not obliged to seek treatment or to continue treatment when it is of no benefit, or when the burdens resulting from treatment are clearly disproportionate to the benefits hoped for or obtained.

Today, more than ever, each of us, and we as an entire community of faith, must ask one key question: Are we for life, or for death? We must engage our culture and help them to see that choosing death is never a solution. Death will come to us all, but not by choice. Many of us have had the experience of sitting with dying loved ones, walking with them toward death in the same faith with which they walked through life. This can be a very moving experience, and sometimes an experience that changes us in profound ways. There is something deeply profound in journeying with a terminally ill person as they wait to be called home by our loving Shepherd. We suffer with them and walk with them and often find, to our surprise, that they continue to teach us and minister to us at this moment!

Having a Catholic perspective on life and death means being able to recognize signs of God and God’s abundant love everywhere, in all stages and moments of life, from conception to natural death. Having such a perspective gives us a guide to help us walk through the many complex end-of life-issues we face today. All life is sacred and that it is never permissible to take a person’s life or to assist them in taking their own life.

Therefore, rather than support a right to die, let us support a right to care for each and every person—particularly those who are seriously or terminally ill- in ways that bring meaning, joy, love and life. Only in this way will people die with dignity. Only in this way will we all live with dignity.

Yours in Christ, who is Compassion,

+ Martin

Archbishop of St. John’s

Share Lent 2015

Dear Brothers and Sisters in Christ,

“I invite all of the institutions of the world, the Church, each of us, as one single human family, to give a voice to all of those who suffer silently from hunger, so that this voice becomes a roar which can shake the world,” – Pope Francis at the launch of “One Human Family, Food for All” December 2013

The Season of Lent is a 40-day retreat. During this retreat-- through prayer, fasting and giving aid, money and service to the poor—we face our own sinfulness, are called to conversion, and are made ready to celebrate the great feast of Easter with joy. The new life of Easter can be the hope offered to a starving person with the offer of a meal. New life can look like a pair of socks offered on a cold March day. New life can look like a candle lit to remember a teen who has run away. New life can look like support offered to the Canadian Catholic Organization for Development and Peace.

As you may be aware, Development and Peace is the Canadian member of Caritas Internationalis. This is the official international solidarity and aid organization for the Catholic Church around the world.

Through Caritas Internationalis, we are involved in a campaign to end hunger by 2015. The name of this campaign is “ONE HUMAN FAMILY, FOOD FOR ALL.” We think of Canada as a wealthy country, and Newfoundland and Labrador as a “have” province. And yet, thousands of children, and their parents, go to bed hungry each night. Thousands of parents lie awake, troubled by their inability to provide the necessities of life for the children they brought into the world. Across the world, this problem is magnified.

This year, during our SHARE LENT campaign, we will reflect and act on the theme, “SOW MUCH LOVE TO GIVE.” We will reflect on how, when we sow solidarity, justice, generosity and giving to our sisters and brothers who cannot afford to feed their families or their communities, “One Human Family, Food for All” becomes possible. Share Lent benefits over 100 partner agencies in over 30 countries in the world.

On Solidarity Sunday, March 22, we will be taking up a collection in aid of the work of Caritas Internationalis, through Development and Peace, to assist small family farmers to put food on the tables of people in more than 30 less developed nations. We will pray for those who struggle to feed their loved ones and grow healthy bodies, minds, spirits, people and communities.

On Solidarity Sunday, I encourage you to give from the heart. Newfoundlanders and Labradorians know what it is to have little, and we also know what it means to have more. I wish you a Lent filled with the spirit of generosity, of love and of conversion. May you experience the glory of Easter and continue the work of making the Reign of God ever more present in our world today.

In Christ,

+ Martin