A Dutch cardinal warned Canadian bishops about the “slippery slope” of euthanasia, which has been legal in the Netherlands since 2002.
At first, only those at end of life with unbearable physical illness
had access to euthanasia at their request, said Cardinal Willem Eijk of
Then people with mental illness had access. Then people with dementia
who had made an advanced request could be euthanised; then people who
had not made requests were euthanised, he explained.
The Dutch also have allowed euthanasia of children, though most of
the time handicapped children are killed in utero through abortion, he
“When you leave the door ajar, it will always open more,” he told
members of the Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops on September 26,
the first day of their five-day meeting.
Canada recently legalised euthanasia.
The bishops heard a report from the lay-run Development and Peace,
which the bishops founded nearly 50 years ago, and were to look at
church relations with native peoples and a new document for safeguarding
In the Netherlands, the debate over euthanasia and assisted suicide began 50 years ago, Cardinal Eijk said.
People argued that physicians needed a new set of ethics because
medical advances gave doctors too much power to force treatments on
people to prolong life at any cost.
The ethics of refusing medical treatment that resulted in a patient’s
natural death became conflated with a physician killing a patient in
order to remove his suffering.
“No new ethics (are) needed,” Cardinal Eijk said, noting that
euthanasia and assisted suicide are both intrinsically wrong, and they
are not the same as the removal of medical treatment in most cases.
In an interview with Canadian Catholic News, Cardinal Eijk said
Canada’s circumstances are different because euthanasia and assisted
suicide have happened so quickly and it is “hard to put on the brakes.”
He said the Canadian bishops must continue to make moral arguments
against euthanasia in the public square and continue advocating for
Palliative care in the Netherlands was only considered in the late
1990s, he said, but the politician who introduced it said palliative
care should include requests for euthanasia.
Cardinal Eijk also urged Canadians to fight for conscience rights. He
noted the Council of Europe tried to pass a law forcing physicians to
perform abortions, but repeated interventions by European bishops
In the Netherlands, only about 15 percent of physicians refuse to
perform euthanasia, he said. He has not heard of anyone who has lost a
job for refusing to take part in euthanasia, but finding a job may be
difficult for such a person.
The Permanent Council of the Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops
has been working on what pastoral advice to give to clergy, pastors and
laypeople regarding euthanasia and assisted suicide, said Bishop Douglas
Crosby of Hamilton, Ontario, conference president.
In the annual president’s address, he called assisted suicide “a major pastoral challenge.”
He also discussed the ongoing work of reconciliation with Canada’s
native peoples, pointing out that while the CCCB never had a role in
running Indian Residential Schools, the care of indigenous peoples has
been a major focus of many dioceses and religious orders.
“Later this week, you will receive a progress report on the proposal
for the CCCB to be part of an ongoing ‘circle’ of Catholic parties to
continue to focus on indigenous relations,” Bishop Crosby said.
He said the bishops also would be “invited to approve in principle,” a
new document to assist dioceses and eparchies in “protecting minors,
safeguarding pastoral environments and responding to sexual abuse.”
The document is scheduled for release early in 2017 and will replace the 1992 document, “From Pain to Hope.”
Bishop Crosby noted Development and Peace, the lay-run overseas
development agency founded by the Canadian bishops, will celebrate its
50th anniversary in 2017.
The bishops heard an update on the organisation’s activities by
Deacon Jean-Denis Lampron, president of Development and Peace’s National