TORONTO (CNS) -- The Supreme Court of Canada has ruled, Parliament has legislated and provinces have set up new systems. For most Canadians, the assisted suicide debate is last year's news story. But Cardinal Gerhard Muller, head of the Catholic Church's theological watchdog-agency, begs to differ.
"We shall prevail," Cardinal Muller told an audience of bioethicists, theologians, doctors and nurses at Toronto's St. Michael's Cathedral Basilica May 15.
The prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith called Canada's turn to legalized euthanasia "tragic."
"Euthanasia not only constitutes a grave wrong in itself, but its legalization creates toxic and deadly social pathologies that disproportionately afflict the weakest members of society," Cardinal Muller said.
The cardinal was in Toronto to deliver the keynote address at a Canadian Catholic Bioethics Institute conference dedicated to the conscience rights of health care professionals. He urged members of the institute "to persuade Canadian citizens to take the necessary steps to reverse the dangerous legal error of your Supreme Court and Parliament and, in the meantime, to protect the rights of conscience of health care providers who refuse to take the lives of those that they have sworn to treat and comfort."
Basilian Father Leo Walsh, who heads the institute's branch at Assumption University in Windsor, Ontario, called the cardinal's address "dramatically important."
While it is true that those who oppose physician-assisted death have lost the debate up to this point and the law is unlikely to change soon, that does not mean the debate is over, Father Walsh said.
"We don't give up," he said. "We have to keep pushing it."
In bringing in Cardinal Muller to argue against legalized euthanasia, the Canadian Catholic Bioethics Institute is tapping a deep well of Catholic thinking and the highest authority on Catholic teaching. In a recent book-length interview, the cardinal argues for a brand of theology that is not satisfied with merely internal church arguments. Cardinal Muller believes Catholics have something to say and must say it publicly, whether it is popular or not.
"Amid so much irrationality and frivolity, we must seek out the enemy -- nihilism, agnosticism and skepticism so widespread in our society because of its loss of realism and humanity -- and, with the help of the riches of the magisterium of the church, fight it systematically," Cardinal Muller said in "The Cardinal Muller Report," a 2016 volume from the U.S. Catholic publisher Ignatius Press. "Everything is reinvented, anything goes. In society, we can only expect the wind that blows us this way and that. In society, we can only seek the comfort of being always on the side of the majority and not that of the brave witness we bear by swimming against the current when we must."
The next step for Canadians who oppose medicalized killing must be to legally protect the conscience rights of doctors who refuse to refer their patients on to Medical Aid in Dying (MAID) assessments, Cardinal Muller said.
"No one who trains and takes an oath to care for the sick should be pressed into ending the lives of the very people that they have promised to serve," the cardinal told about 200 people who had gathered at St. Michael's Cathedral.
"Refusal to engage in euthanasia represents basic fidelity to the very medical art that the physician professes," he said. "To compel a doctor to participate in any manner in euthanasia is to force him to cease being a doctor and to betray the very profession to which he has given his life. ...
"Any law that forces a physician to act against what he knows to be the most basic good of the patient -- the preservation of his very life -- either directly or indirectly, is unjust."