Archbishop urges Ottawa Catholics to speak out against assisted dying

"From not only a Catholic perspective but any rational perspective, the intentional, willful act of killing oneself or another human being is clearly morally wrong," says Ottawa Archbishop Terrence Prendergast.

'All human life has value. The law should protect all life,' writes Archbishop Terrence Prendergast

Archbishop Terrence Prendergast is urging Catholics to share concerns about doctor-assisted suicide with their MPs and MPPs. (CBC)

The archbishop of Ottawa calls assisted suicide "morally wrong" and is asking Catholics in Ottawa to voice their concerns about pending doctor-assisted death legislation with federal and provincial politicians. 

"How can a just society permit the state-sanctioned taking of lives by our physicians?" Terrence Prendergast asked in a two-page statement. "When any life is vulnerable and can be taken at will, the dignity of all lives is seriously eroded. Respect for all human life in our society is jeopardized."

"To formally cooperate in the killing of the disabled, frail, sick, or suffering, even if motivated by a misplaced compassion, requires a prior judgement that such lives do not have value and are not worth living," he continued.

"But all human life has value. The law should protect all life."

Priests would find funeral rites 'difficult'

At a recent meeting, Prendergast and area priests also discussed how difficult it would be to perform last rites or a funeral for someone who asked a doctor to help them die.

"You cannot decide to put an end to your life as a Catholic," explained episcopal vicar Daniel Berniquez. "The teaching of the church is to respect life from conception to natural death."

In 20 years as a priest, Berniquez has never never refused to perform a funeral.

Should someone seeking assisted suicide make that request, Berniquez said, a priest would try to get that person not to go through with it.

Archbishop Prendergast clarified that clergy agree to do funeral services for people who commit suicide "for the sake of the grieving family, presuming the person was not in their right mind."

The church might refuse if an individual or a family said such a service validated assisted suicide as morally sound.

Archbishops make case against 'grave threat'

Catholics at churches across the Archdiocese of Ottawa were read Prendergast's statement this past weekend, at the same time that parishioners in Toronto were shown a video of their archbishop giving a similar message.

Both archbishops are concerned about how parliamentarians will interpret the 2015 Supreme Court decision giving people the right to have a doctor help them die, in certain cases.

The church sees medication not as a way to hasten death, but to ease pain, Prendergast wrote.

Prendergast worried "society would abandon people at their most vulnerable stage, rather than provide proper medical care for their suffering and need."

Yet that's what he sees happening after a special committee of MPs and senators took in a report tabled Feb. 25.

It suggested mature minors and people with mental illnesses should have right to doctor-assisted death.

Catholics encouraged to take a stand

Prendergast called on Ottawa Catholics to talk to friends and co-workers about "the grave threat to human dignity and life that assisted suicide and euthanasia pose to our most vulnerable neighbours," and to explain to children and grandchildren about revering life from womb to natural death.

He also called on them to pray for parliamentarians, and to take part in the political process to protect life.

Toronto's archbishop asked those who share his concerns to join the Coalition for HealthCARE and Conscience, an organization he said includes more than 5,000 Canadian doctors with "a common mission to respect the sanctity of human life."