Sister Zoe Bernatsky SSMI, a professor of bioethics at Newman Theological College and one of three panelists at the OLPH discussion, says that euthanasia has become normalized in society “way too quickly” without all the ethical aspects being fully considered.Chris Berthelot, Grandin Media

Euthanasia discussion in Sherwood Park prompts change of heart

MS patient considered euthanasia as a possible way out until he attended OLPH seminar

Ed Bettin has suffered intense pain and depression ever since he was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis (MS) in 2014. He used to consider euthanasia as a possible way out—until he attended a Catholic seminar hoping to find information about euthanasia.

“I knew Catholics were very much against euthanasia,” said Bettin, who says he came back to his Catholic faith after his MS diagnosis. “(But) my pain on a daily basis is about a seven to an eight (out of ten) all day every day, and there were days where being in all that pain, I just wanted that pain to go away,” he said.

“I can understand people’s feelings of like ‘I’ve just had enough’, I completely understand that,” said Bettin. “(But) now I’m at the place where for me, I’m saying ‘I would never, ever, ever do it’ and I don’t think anybody should do it.”

Now that Bettin is convinced that euthanasia isn’t the answer to suffering, he says he wants to share that message with others. “Just because I have some issues going on with me, and some things are hard, does not make it right to just ‘have it over with’ (and be euthanized),” said Bettin.

Ed BettinChris Berthelot, Grandin Media

After attending the presentation, Bettin said he wants to help teach others about the dangers of euthanasia. He hopes to show others the value that their lives have.

“I really feel that the Holy Spirit called out to me, and would like for me to get involved in talking about euthanasia,” said Bettin, who with more than 200 people who attended a screening of The Euthanasia Deception and a panel discussion at Our Lady of Perpetual Help (OLPH) in Sherwood Park.

Part of a new educational series called ‘Timely Topics’ by OLPH, the screening and panel focused on the Catholic view on euthanasia, which has been legal in Canada since Bill C-14 was passed in June 2016.

There were 2,149 medically-assisted deaths in Canada between December 10, 2015 — when Quebec legalized euthanasia — and June 30, 2017, according to the latest federal report on medical-assistance in dying (MAiD), the legal term for euthanasia since doctors and nurses can directly administer MAiD.

According to the report, cancer was the most common reason for requesting euthanasia, representing approximately 63 per cent of all assisted-dying cases reported in Canada.

According to the Catechism of the Catholic Church, euthanasia violates the fifth commandment — “You shall not murder”, Exodus 20:13 — so is a morally wrong act.

“The intentional taking of any human life, be it an elderly person, a child, a vulnerable adult, an embryo, a dying person, is truly a grave and morally unjustifiable act,” said Bishop Douglas Crosby, who was then president of the Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops when MAiD was legalized in 2016.

“True human compassion invites us to share the other’s pain, the other’s journey — it is not meant to do away with the person,” said the CCCB president and Hamilton, Ont. Bishop in a statement released after Bill C-14 was passed.

Sister Zoe Bernatsky, SSMIChris Berthelot, Grandin Media

Sister Zoe Bernatsky, SSMI, a professor of bioethics at Newman Theological College and one of three panelists at the OLPH discussion, says that euthanasia has become normalized in society “way too quickly.”

“All of a sudden people can think ‘Well, if it’s legal, it’s okay’.

But there are so many ethical aspects to this issue that it’s really important for us as Christians to pause, to reflect on how we can respond to this important issue,” said Bernatsky, who has taught at Newman since 2014.

“It’s very sad that decriminalization has happened based on a few, tragic cases where people’s suffering hasn’t been controlled,” she said.

Despite only being legalized since 2016, euthanasia was not an unfamiliar topic for many Canadian health care professionals, says Dr. Martin Owen, a Catholic physician from Red Deer, Alta.

“Even prior to the law being passed, there were often patients or family members in my long-term care practice that would make comments or requests like, ‘How can we speed things up?’,” said Owen, who specializes in pain management.

Owen says that patients usually change their minds, either finding something to live for, or finding that the pain isn’t as severe as they thought it would be.

Each province has developed their own system for MAiD. However, all assisted-deaths in Canada are performed with a lethal drug, which is either swallowed by the patient or injected intravenously by a doctor or ‘nurse practitioner’.

According to Alberta Health Services, any patient over the age of 18 can request MAiD, but they must have “a grievous and irremediable medical condition” and that their death is “reasonably foreseeable” in the future.

In Alberta, MAiD is covered by the provincial government with no cost to patients, said Jennifer Green, the senior communications advisor for AHS. Green adds that there has not been any specific legal issues either.

“The bigger challenge has come from the definition of “reasonably foreseeable” in terms of timing of death, which is subject to interpretation and clinical judgement,” said Green, adding that patients are able to receive the service either at home or at a hospital—provided there is no religious objection.

This is the case for Covenant Health in Alberta, Canada’s largest Catholic health care provider. Covenant Health conscientiously objects to providing MAiD, according to a policy statement released in 2017.

Covenant Health says that while it won’t provide direct referrals for patients considering MAiD, as part of Albertan law, it will provide MAiD contact information to patients as required by Alberta law. Covenant Health also provides a range of options for patients such as counselling and palliative care.

Father Eamon McNerneyChris Berthelot, Grandin Media

Counselling and palliative care — which focuses on pain management — are the most important options for people considering euthanasia, says Father Eamon McNerney, a chaplain at the University of Alberta Hospital, and one of the panelists at OLPH.

“It is available here (in Alberta), especially through Covenant Health, and it’s important to have that discussion before you find yourself in a crisis moment. Most of us don’t operate well in a crisis moment,” said McNerney.