Atlantic bishops' reflection on assisted suicide fails in its approach


Catholic Register, 14 December 2016

Earlier this fall, the bishops of Alberta and the Northwest Territories released guidelines to help priests offer pastoral care to individuals and families contemplating voluntary euthanasia and assisted suicide. The guidelines were fully Catholic, comprehensive, compassionate and courageous, as detailed then by Peter Stockland in these pages.

As a parish priest, I found those guidelines were eminently practical, offering guidance for concrete situations, and underscoring that when eternal salvation or damnation is at stake in a matter of days, a pastor must be moved by the urgency of conversion.

The media caricature that the Alberta bishops were refusing the sacraments and funerals to those who chose assisted suicide was flat out wrong. The guidelines urged pastors to leave no stone unturned — including personal fasting in such cases! — to obtain the grace of conversion for those choosing what is always a grave sin. But the Alberta bishops acknowledged that sacramental absolution cannot be offered to those fully, consciously determined to take their own life in the near future, or that of another.

Ten bishops of the Atlantic Episcopal Assembly have now issued “A Pastoral Reflection on Medical Assistance in Dying.” It is brief — just three pages — and does not offer any practical guidance for concrete situations. It is an exhortation to pastors to accompany the suffering with compassion and dialogue.

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