June 12, 2016, “euthanasia” and “physician assisted suicide.”

June 12, 2016

Father Shawn J. Hughes


Pope Francis’ has often encouraged each and every person to get involved to combat what he calls the “throw-away culture.”

In a throw-away culture, the Pope tells us, we throw things away — we get rid of them— if they aren’t immediately useful or if they have no value to us. That includes people. The Pharisee in the gospel saw the woman who bathed Jesus’ feet with her tears as a sinner, as having no value…as a throw away.  Pope Francis uses the phrase “throw-away culture” by our behaviours with those people who are a burden or an inconvenience — like the sick and the elderly and the disabled. This mentality of the “throw-away” culture is one of the roots of “euthanasia” and “physician assisted suicide.”  In light of the Senate’s rejection of major parts of the governments restrictive legislation on euthanasia and assisted suicide we need to advocate for all those who seem to be put in to the “throw-away” category.

With euthanasia and assisted suicide, society basically says that some people’s lives just aren’t worth living and they would be better off dead. The decision in favour of assisted suicide and euthanasia is a refusal to see the truth of the sanctity of every human life. Every human life is unconditionally the object of God’s love. Every human person is bestowed with the dignity of being created in God’s image and likeness.  Therefore, we simply cannot – we dare not- presume to judge the worth of another person’s life or pronounce upon its quality.  The truth of human dignity imposes an absolute prohibition against the taking of innocent human life. God alone is the author and arbiter of human life, and God has pronounced every person’s life worthy of being lived to its natural end.

We know from experience that this act of complete trust in God that we are called to make is beyond our weak human capacities. The temptation to self-control remains strong, and confidence in the love of God can be very difficult in times of darkness and uncertain futures. Jesus knows this, so he makes our fidelity, our trust, possible. By the gift of the Holy Spirit bestowed in the Church’s sacraments Jesus unites us to himself, shares his very life with us, and thus enables us to participate in his perfect fidelity to God’s love, his own trust in the Father. Not only this, through our union with Jesus we are enabled to live from the response of the Father, who raises us up from any despair or discouragement to a discovery and embrace of the beauty and dignity of the life he has given us.

The practices of assisted suicide and euthanasia are morally wrong because they violate the inviolable sanctity of human life, whose sole author is God. They are grievous sins against the commandment, “Thou shalt not kill.” As such they can in no circumstance ever be morally justified.  Assisted suicide and euthanasia totally eclipse God in the discussion.  They place choice of the self over choice of God.  Both, assisted suicide and euthanasia, convey an abandonment of trust in God by surrendering to a lie that something, which is very bad…i.e. killing oneself, or allowing oneself to be killed…surrendering to the lie that this is actually something good.

As you know our Supreme Court has struck down the laws prohibiting euthanasia and assisted suicide and has ordered the gov’t to come up with a law to make it legal for a person to kill themselves. The gov’t’s law allowing assisted suicide was sent to the Senate who this past Wednesday indicated that they want the law to be very broad, not only dealing with people who are critically sick or terminally ill.


This totally goes against who we are as followers of Jesus Christ.  Who we are as Catholics.  As Catholics, we have a long tradition of helping people — the poor, the old, the sick. And as Catholics, we need to be people of compassion and people of mercy.

Pope Francis tells us, as have all the popes before him, that “Human life is always sacred, valuable and inviolable. As such it must be loved, defended and cared for.” That’s our duty as Catholics.  That is our duty as human beings…our duty as neighbors…Our duty as family members. We need to treat every life as sacred and important and valuable. We need to love people — especially those who are poor and sick and who can’t take care of themselves. We need to love these people, defend their dignity and take care of them. Assisted suicide — is wrong…it tells us that some lives are not important and not worthy of being cared for.   Assisted Suicide says we should kill patients rather than comfort them and ease their suffering and pain.  We as Catholics say that within the human family, every life finds meaning, every life has purpose, every life is connected, every life matters. We bear a responsibility for one another.

We all know that people in chronic pain and people with terminal illness often feel lonely, depressed and feel that they are a burden to their loved ones and friends. Our reaction can’t be to kill them. And we can’t call that “compassion.” We have to walk with them, accompany them. There are good medical and pastoral solutions available for both chronic pain and depression.

Our duty as neighbors and as Catholics is to promote these solutions and to help people to find those solutions.   We have to help them to get the treatment, the palliative care they need for their pain. Assisted suicide tells anyone who is weak, dependent, vulnerable or poor that they are a burden and that it would be better if they just went away. Legalizing assisted suicide and euthanasia say that death is better than compassion to those who cannot defend themselves.

Doctors often report that the “decisions” made by dying patients are not actually their own idea. Often patients are influenced or manipulated by family members, no matter how well meaning.

In Oregon, where assisted suicide is legal, there was a case of a doctor who refused to give suicide pills to a patient. The doctor felt the patient was being pressured into suicide by an aggressive daughter who was tired of taking care of her mother. So this doctor refused. But the daughter just took her mother to another doctor. And he wrote the prescription for the suicide pills. The mother took the pills and was killed.

There are also financial and economic pressures driving assisted suicide. There is another story from Oregon, about a cancer patient named Barbara Wagner. Her insurance company told her it would not pay for the drug she needed to treat her cancer — but said it would pay for the pills she needed for assisted suicide.

This is what it means to legalize assisted suicide.  What do we do?  First:  We need to keep working to stop assisted suicide.  Even though our Supreme Court has ordered it into law we must continually fight against what is so clearly morally wrong.  Making it legal does not make it right.

And second, we have to build a culture of compassion. We have to be more patient, more caring with those who are sick and frail and elderly.  Just because people stop being healthy, or are disabled or have grown old, does not mean they lose their dignity or their rights to be helped.

It is said that suffering diminishes dignity, and that to die with dignity, therefore, one must die without suffering. That is just not so.  Dignity is not something we assign to one another on the basis of health or some other capacity.  Dignity is inherent, rooted in our identity as children of God, beloved of the Father. In Christ we see that suffering in no way diminishes human dignity. On the contrary, when suffering is embraced in faith and offered as a gift to God for the sake of others, that dignity shines forth and the nobility of the human person is made manifest.


As Catholics, we always have to be witnesses to the God of life and the God of creation. We have to love life and take care of life — especially those lives that need special care and attention.

As Pope Francis reminds us: “A society truly welcomes life when it recognizes that it is also precious in old age, in disability, in serious illness and even when it is fading; when it teaches that the call to human fulfillment does not exclude suffering; indeed, when it teaches its members to see in the sick and suffering a gift for the entire community, a presence that summons them to solidarity and responsibility. This is the Gospel of life which … each one of us is called to spread.”

Often we think, what can we do?  Archbishop Richard Smith of Edmonton, whose five part series, is available on the Archdiocese of Edmonton’s website proposes four courses of action, which he summarize as follows: Be Catholic! Be Informed! Be Vocal! Be Inoculated!

We need to Be Catholic:  We need to keep front and centre the wonder and beauty of every human life created in the image and likeness of God. We need to be acutely aware that the consequent responsibility to respect the dignity of human life at each stage and in every circumstance is not honoured in our country and the implications that has for us and for our society as a whole.

We need to Be Informed

Becoming and staying informed helps us face our own situations. It is also helpful – indeed, necessary – if we are to give effective to witness before others.

We need to Be Vocal

We need to reach out to elected officials, both federally and provincially.  The most effective way to speak to government is by direct contact – personally composed letters or emails; phone calls; and even visits to the office.  I encourage all of you to write our Member of Parliament, Mark Gerretson and express not only our opposition to euthanasia and assisted suicide, but our desire to keep it as controlled as possible AND to advocate for our doctors, nurses and health care workers that their consciences be respected when they do not wish to refer or participate in these practices in any way what so ever.

This homily will be at the doors of the Church on cream coloured paper.  Take it home.  Reread it. And use its contents to write to our Member of Parliament and to Senate members.  In situations like this I like to quote the British Statesman and philosopher Edmund Burke, who said:  “The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing.”  Please take this home and write a letter or email or speak to Mark Gerretson and Senators on the phone.

Water cooler conversations, discussions with families are all very important. When we do speak, we need to make known our opposition to these practices as morally wrong; we need to call for the protection of the vulnerable; and we need to stand solidly with healthcare workers and institutions whose rights of conscience are under threat.

We Need to Be Inoculated:  Protect yourself from this way of thinking by prayer and study of this issue.  Know what the Church teaches.  But more importantly know why the Church teaches what she does.  It is very important to be having conversations with family members in order to help one another understand and stay faithful to our Catholic identity. We need to make sure that those to whom we assign power of attorney for personal care understand our wishes well so that they can express them unambiguously if and when called upon to do so.

Four important courses of action demanded by the times in which we find ourselves.  Be Catholic, Be Informed, Be Vocal, Be Inoculated.   It goes without saying that all of this needs to be undergirded by prayer – fervent prayer. Prayer for the protection of all human life; prayer for the transformation of our society into a culture of life.