A Canadian archbishop has warned Catholics that they will be barred from receiving the last rites of the Church if they seek to end their lives by euthanasia or assisted suicide under their country’s new law.
Archbishop Terrence Prendergast of Ottawa reminded worshippers that an act of suicide is a “grave sin” which directly contradicted the Fifth Commandment not to kill.
He told Canadian Catholic News that it would be dishonest for the Church to anoint people bent on committing such a sin and also unfair to any priest asked to confer the Sacrament of the Sick in such circumstances.
Any person who seeks to kill themselves “lacks the proper disposition for the anointing of the sick”, he said.
“Asking to be killed is gravely disordered and is a rejection of the hope that the rite calls for and tries to bring into the situation,” he continued.
“Asking your priest to be present to something that is in direct contradiction to our Catholic values is not fair to the pastor,” the archbishop added.
“Of course a pastor will try to dissuade a patient from requesting suicide and will pray with them and their family, but asking him to be present is in effect asking him to condone a serious sin.”
Catholics are permitted the Sacrament of the Sick when they are gravely ill, although not necessarily at the point of the death.
During the rite, the person is anointed on the forehead and hands will oil while the priest says: “Through this holy anointing may the Lord in his love and mercy help you with the grace of the Holy Spirit. May the Lord who frees you from sin help you and raise you up.”
According to the Catechism of the Catholic Church, the sacrament confers on the person gifts of the Holy Spirit that include strength, peace and courage, unity with Christ and His Church, and the forgiveness of his or her sins.
The comments of Archbishop Prendergast represent the latest statement of strong opposition to euthanasia by the Canadian Catholic Church.
Canada has been on course for the creation of one of the world’s most permissive euthanasia regimes since the Supreme Court last year ordered the government to legalise euthanasia and assisted suicide.
Canada’s Liberal government has until June to create a framework for such practices and “suicide courts” have been set up to hear applications for euthanasia and assisted suicide during the interim period.
During the consultation period, the Special Joint Committee on Physician-Assisted Dying heard arguments for the establishment of specialist euthanasia clinics in an attempt to keep euthanasia and assisted suicide out of the mainstream of health care.
But the government’s final report, which was published on February 25, announced that all publicly-funded healthcare institutions would be obliged to provide euthanasia and assisted suicide.
If the recommendations of its report, Medical Assistance in Dying: A Patient-Centred Approach, are accepted by Parliament, they will cover hospitals, hospices and nursing homes run by the Church.
Doctors will also be denied a right to conscientiously object to involvement in the practices since they will be made to refer people seeking death to practitioners who are known to have no objections.
The recommended provisions extend to “mature children” and people suffering from dementia, or who are mentally incapacitated, but who have expressed a death wish in an advanced directive, or living will.
The law will put the Church on a collision course with the State that is likely to result in the closure or loss of Catholic healthcare institutions.
A similar situation is emerging in Belgium, where euthanasia was legalised in 2003, and where a Catholic care home is being sued for refusing to let a doctor give a woman a lethal injection on Church-run premises.
The test case, which will be heard in April, could determine whether Church-run institutions in Belgium have the right to refuse to be involved in acts of euthanasia.
Archbishop Jozef De Kesel of Brussels has said publicly that no Church-run hospital or care home would permit euthanasia under any circumstance.