Archbishop Gagnon's editorial in the Winnipeg Free Press on St. Boniface Hospital's decision against medical assistance in dying.

July 12, 2017

Archbishop Gagnon's editorial in the Winnipeg Free Press
on St. Boniface Hospital’s decision against medical assistance in dying.
Click here for the Winnipeg Free Press website.

Or read the editorial here:

Published Sat., July 8, 2017

Faith-based health care
rooted in community

By Archbishop Richard Gagnon

The past two years has witnessed an immense shift in Canada relative to our moral view as a nation and how we see and practise medicine. There has been a recent flurry of opinion articles, the majority of which expressed disappointment, if not outrage, over St. Boniface Hospital’s decision to deny the act of medical assistance in dying (MAID) within its facility. Although I am not a member of the St. Boniface Hospital Board, I wish to respond to these articles by addressing the three general objections raised.

First objection

Some reports have falsely said St. Boniface Hospital bans MAID in the name of redemptive suffering, and this is intolerable in a pluralistic society. Several articles describe redemptive suffering as an outdated belief that idealizes suffering as a way of getting close to God and is beneficial for the community — a sort of virtue. Such an interpretation is highly inaccurate and has nothing to do with St. Boniface Hospital’s decision against MAID. In fact, it is a strawman used to advance acceptance of this procedure by falsely characterizing the Catholic health-care position.

To Christians, the only redemptive suffering that counts is the redemptive suffering, death and resurrection of Christ, which brings salvation to the human race. Jesus can rightly be called the "wounded healer" who identifies with all those who suffer.

Christians believe that Christ is encountered in service to the poor and suffering and this has led to a long and faithful history of compassionate health care. Suffering is something to be relieved and healed — to hold that Christians are not compassionate toward the sick because they cannot accept suicide and euthanasia is simply wrong.

Modern person-centred palliative care has its roots in the Christian experience of compassionate care for the dying. If a Christian person believes that because of Christ’s closeness to the sufferer they can spiritually join their own suffering to Christ as a prayer for oneself or others, what relevance is that to MAID or its proponents?

Furthermore, a claim has been made that the Carter decision stated that MAID is no different than palliative sedation. A thorough reading reveals that this, too, is inaccurate. In fact, the Supreme Court made no comment on this in terms of the legal or clinical distinctions between the two. Furthermore, regarding opioids, according to the trial judge, the weight of evidence is that the proper use of opioids in palliative care does not cause death.

Second objection

Some commenters have said no "brick and mortar" institution should be given the same conscience rights as individual doctors.

What is a brick-and-mortar institution? Faith-based health care exists because of the people who founded it and work in it. If there was some sort of societal calamity in which the hospital building was no longer usable, what would happen to faith-based health care? It would probably revert to a field hospital in a tent or some such thing, with the same mission to patients!

If you visit any important gathering of the St. Boniface Hospital community, you will hear not about bricks and mortar but about women — religious women, who brought health care to this province more than 150 years ago and who continue to inspire us as a living legacy. There is a human reality to these institutions that have served people regardless of race or belief, and the new lay structures are still doing the same.

Third objection

Some people have argued faith-based health-care facilities receive government money, and therefore they should compromise on their ethics. Let’s be clear, government money is tax money and a good portion of those taxes come from Christian pockets or pockets of other believers who object to MAID, or pockets of people of no organized faith who find MAID difficult to accept.

Furthermore, there are many private donors who support St. Boniface Hospital with millions of dollars outside of taxes.

Are we saying that in Canada there should only be freedom of worship, and not freedom of religion? The Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms says otherwise. Freedom of religion means the freedom to be a Christian doctor who acts publicly as such or the freedom to operate a health facility based on Christian ethics including the Fifth Commandment (in the Catholic numbering).

In the end, our young country is a plurality of peoples, cultures and beliefs. St. Boniface Hospital is in partnership with other health-care organizations in Manitoba and, as the minister of health recently stated: "It is important to note that not all services are available in all hospitals in Manitoba."

Most Rev. Richard Gagnon is Archbishop of the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Winnipeg.

Read More News