What Pope John Paul II called ‘the culture of death’ is steadily working its way through our societies and healthcare systems. Yet another example comes from Canada, now the world’s leading exponent of so-called ‘assisted dying’. It involves a Catholic hospital in the city of Vancouver, in British Columbia, which refused to permit a patient to be killed by lethal substance. This has resulted in pressure being heaped on the local government to end the exemption pro-life hospitals currently enjoy from the ‘assisted dying’ law.
The hospital in question is called St Paul’s and earlier this year a patient there, 34-year-old Sam O’Neill, who was suffering from advanced cervical cancer and undergoing palliative care, had been approved for ‘Medical Assistance in Dying’.
The hospital could not agree to carry out the procedure because it goes so strongly against its ethos which forbids ever deliberately killing a patient.
Instead, she was transferred under sedation to another facility which was willing to end her life. The case caused uproar and what St Paul’s did was depicted as cruel.
British Columbia’s health minister said that Catholic health centres should be willing to provide assisted suicide/euthanasia despite their ethos.
It is easy to envisage British Columbia and other parts of Canada now going down the path already followed by Queensland in Australia which requires Catholic hospitals to conduct assisted suicide on their premises.
The spread of ‘assisted dying’ inevitably creates this kind of pressure. For obvious reasons, many people die in hospitals and palliative care settings. Where assisted suicide is permitted, some people will apply to avail of it. When a patient does so, pro-life health centres will not agree to it, but the patient might still have their application for assisted suicide authorised by doctors from elsewhere.
What happens then? As in the case of Sam O’Neill, a dying patient will be sent to another facility and there will likely be political, media and public uproar at the ‘cruelty’ of it. You can easily imagine this scenario unfolding in Ireland if and when we allowed ‘assisted dying’.
This will result in one of two things. The first is that laws will be passed, as in Queensland, forcing all health care facilities to carry out assisted suicide on-site regardless of ethos. (In Ireland, this might run into constitutional difficulties).
The second is that pro-life hospitals and hospices will have to make clear to all patients in advance that they cannot facilitate assisted suicide and therefore they will have to seek treatment elsewhere.
But pro-euthanasia health centres will then complain that their patient load is becoming unfair and political pressure on the pro-life facilities to give up their ethos will increase further. This is how the culture of death advances. Eventually it seeks to envelop everything.