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The Joy of Love on Catholic Focus

On April 8, 2016, Pope Francis released the long-awaited post-synodal exhortation, Amoris Laetitia (the Joy of Love), on the family. A few days later, Archbishop Richard Smith of Edmonton joined me to explore various themes from the document, as well as to share his experiences in journeying with families through the many challenges they face. We spoke about the impact of social media, how the economic downturn has affected families in Alberta, family violence, and how the Archbishop sees end-of-life issues affecting the family. I hope you can join us for this insightful conversation about the state of the family in Canada.

Catholic Focus: The Joy of Love will air today,Wednesday, May 4, 2016 at 7:05pm ET / 5:05pm MT with a repeat broadcast at 11:05pm ET / 9:05pm MT.

Archbishop Smith also wrote a statement on Amoris Laetitia:

Amoris Laetitia (On Love In the Family) is not only a beautiful and welcome reflection on marriage and the family; it is also a particular call to pastors, parishes, and Catholic institutions to work in concrete ways to support families and help them grow. In this way Amoris Laetitia underscores the importance of the ministry to families that unfolds daily throughout the Archdiocese of Edmonton.

With this exhortation, the Holy Father has demonstrated a deep understanding of the challenges faced by all families. As a bishop who was privileged to participate in the 2015 Synod on the Family, I can say that my first glimpse into the exhortation confirms my observation that he listened very carefully to the concerns raised by bishops and other Synod participants from all over the world.

Ministry to families is one of the key pastoral concerns that we have identified here in the Edmonton Archdiocese, and so this teaching by Pope Francis will be invaluable to us. We know that many of our social ills stem from unhealthy, often violent, family situations. Here in Alberta, we have one of the highest rates of family violence in Canada. The importance of ministry to the family simply cannot be overstated.

As a Christian community, we are called to share the Gospel message of the beauty and dignity of marriage, the inexpressibly wondrous gift of children, and the home as the place of love, nurture, safety, and identity. Pope Francis illustrates this call in great detail in his exhortation.

This papal document does not change Church teaching or discipline regarding marriage. It does underline the need for pastors to listen attentively and deal sensitively with single people, couples, and families who experience difficult situations.

At more than 260 pages, Amoris Laetitia is lengthy, and I plan to follow the Holy Father’s advice to give it the proper time and attention before giving any more detailed response.

In the meantime, I encourage all Catholics to join me in studying and reflecting on his words. Pope Francis has given us some important and timely teaching on issues that affect us all.

Richard W. Smith
Archbishop of Edmonton 8 April 2016

Deacon-structing: The Voice of Christ

A reflection for the 6th Sunday in Easter, Year C. The readings are Acts 15:1-2, 22-29; Revelation 21:10-14; 22-23 and John 14:23-29.

Whoever loves me will keep my word and my Father will love them and we will come to them and make our home with them… (Jn 14:23) Let’s get this straight: If you love me; you will keep my word. That’s a no-brainer! If you love someone you care about what they think, what they say and what they want. If you love them, you do what they ask you to do. And for Christians who love Jesus, we want to keep his word.

Two weeks ago the readings at Mass told us about the Good Shepherd who says that His sheep know His voice. But Jesus’ voice is but one voice among many: The voice of pleasure and the voice of power; the voices of pride and despair, of fear and doubt. How do we know the voice of Christ? We listen. That’s it. We have to make quiet time for listening so we can tune in to the voice of Jesus. If our prayer time is consumed with speaking: Thanksgiving prayers and petition prayers and asking for forgiveness and offering praise – all the while listening to praise and worship music – then it’s a bit one-sided. We have to be quiet; silent, so we can listen. We need to start this today. Set aside quiet time each day. Be silent and listen. And when you do, how do you know you’re listening to the voice of Jesus so that you can keep his word? How do we discern His voice among all the voices in the world? And how do we recognize his voice when it’s about something that Jesus didn’t speak about? It’s easy to keep His word when it’s about something that Jesus spoke about, but how do we keep His word about stuff that Jesus never spoke about?

Let me make a proposal: The voice of Jesus is the voice of the Church. Or rather, the voice of the Church is the voice of Jesus. Jesus gives His voice to the Church. He gives His voice to the apostles; He gives them His authority and that’s the way it’s been from the beginning of Christianity.

See what’s happening in the Book of Acts (15:1—29): The disciples are doing what Jesus asked them to do: They are keeping His word. They are going to the ends of the earth making disciples. And Paul and Barnabas are disciple-making machines. And most of their converts are gentiles: People of non-Jewish background. But what happens? They’re in Antioch and to Antioch comes a group of Jewish-Christians (converts from Judaism; called the Judaizers) and they tell the gentile-Christians that in order for them to be Christian, they have to follow the Law of Moses: All the Jewish Levitical laws. Remember that the Jewish people had strict laws about what they could eat and not eat, about washing, about rituals and sacrifice and other things. And the main issue was the issue of circumcision. These Judaizers said that in order to be saved you had to be circumcised. But they had a “not small dissent or debate” with Paul and Barnabas. That means they had a big dissent and debate with Paul and Barnabas. They duked it out because Paul and Barnabas are pretty sure that this teaching is wrong. But is it up to Paul and Barnabas to make this decision? No. They are not the Church leadership. They are important but they are not the Church leadership. So they take the matter to Jerusalem to the Church leadership, the Apostles. And we have the first Church council. We call it the Council of Jerusalem. And ever since then, when the Church encounters a matter that needs to be defined or clarified, they gather as a council in order to define doctrine or teaching. We’ve heard of the Council of Trent and the Council of Chalcedon and the two Vatican Councils. Well, in the Book of Acts we have the first council in Jerusalem. They had a problem that had to be solved; a teaching that had to be defined. And it’s something that Jesus never spoke about: Circumcision. Jesus never spoke about what Gentiles should or shouldn’t do if they became Christians. So the Apostles and Church leaders gather and make a decision. And we know that they decide that you do not have to be Jewish, in order to be a Christian.

How do they decide? With the Holy Spirit. The letter they send back to Antioch says, “For it has seemed good to the Holy Spirit and us…” (Acts 15:28) It doesn’t say they decided under the guidance of the Holy Spirit or that the Holy Spirit inspired them to decide. No. They decided together with the Holy Spirit. And that’s the way the Church has been since then. Together with the Holy Spirit, doctrine can be defined because the Church speaks with the authority and the voice of Jesus.

Look at the Gospel (John 14:23-29): Jesus says to the Apostles: “The Father will send you the Holy Spirit in my name and He will teach you everything and will remind you of everything that I have spoken.” What does that mean? It means that of the things Jesus spoke about, the Spirit will remind us; but of the things Jesus didn’t speak about, the Spirit will teach us. So we are guaranteed that the Church leadership will always, together with the Holy Spirit, speak with the authority and voice of Christ, whenever they speak as a whole. Jesus does not give His Spirit to 12 individual people; He gives His Spirit to them as Church and so it’s not whatever an individual Bishop says, but when the Bishops and the Holy Father speak as the College of Bishops or in the context of a Ecumenical Council.

I believe that this happens whenever the Holy Father, together with the College of Bishops speak as a whole. In the last couple of years we’ve all heard of Synods of Bishops. This is another occasion when Bishops come together with the Holy Father and they look at a situation that may need to be defined. Out of the Synod comes an Apostolic Exhortation (the latest one, Amoris Laetitia, the Joy of Love, on the challenges faced by the family). With an Exhortation the Holy Father gives some pastoral advice to the people. This is exactly what the Apostles did at that first council. Interesting that some translations refer to the letter from the Council of Jerusalem as an exhortation; The Apostles exhort the people in Antioch.) We have to trust that to this day, the Bishops who are the successors of the Apostles, together with the successor of Peter, still make decisions together with the Holy Spirit.

Church leadership is important and it’s always been this way. The Book of Revelation (21:10-23) presents us with a beautiful and immense city: The New Jerusalem. And many scholars agree that when the Book of Revelation speaks of the New Jerusalem it refers to the Church. See what this city looks like: It has a wall with 12 gates and over each gate are written the names of the Twelve Tribes of Israel. That’s where we came from. That’s our heritage; the old Jerusalem, the first Covenant. But there are 12 foundations and over each foundation are written the names of the 12 apostles. Jesus said to Peter, you are a rock and on this rock I will build my Church. (Mt 16:18) The foundation of the Church is the 12 apostles and it’s always been that way. That foundation continues today with the successors of the Apostles, the Bishops and our Holy Father, Pope Francis.

So, if we want to love Jesus and keep his word we have to listen to the Church. If we do we will keep His word and the Father will come to us and the Father, Son and Spirit will come to us and make their home with us. (Jn 14:23)

Not entirely unrelated, I want to ask you your opinion on the words “doctrine” and “dogma”. What do they mean? When the Holy Father speaks together with the Bishops and the Holy Spirit to define a particular Church teaching, is that dogma or doctrine? Write to me and tell me what you think. I would say that “doctrine” cannot change because it is absolute; it deals with faith or morals. Perhaps I should be using the word “dogma” to mean that. Not sure. What do you think? I’ll explain better next week.

Photo Credit: Bishops and cardinals attend a session of the Synod of Bishops on the family at the Vatican Oct. 24. (CNS photo/Paul Haring)


Every week, Deacon Pedro takes a particular topic apart, not so much to explore or explain the subject to its fullness, but rather to provide insights that will deepen our understanding of the subject. And don’t worry, at the end of the day he always puts the pieces back together. There are no limits to deaconstructing: Write to him and ask any questions about the faith or Church teaching: pedro@saltandlighttv.org

Deacon-structing end of life issues: Life, liberty and security


As we explore the issues of end of life and medically assisted dying, we can’t ignore the question of freedom and human rights since one of the basic arguments for euthanasia and assisted suicide is that of autonomy: “it’s my body; my choice.”

In Canada we have the Charter of Rights and Freedoms. If you haven’t read it, you should. This is the law in Canada. I am not an expert, nor have a really studied the Charter, but sometimes I think that this is not the best thing to have since it’s vague and open to many interpretations.

As an example, the Supreme Court of British Columbia determined in 1993 that the request made by Sue Rodriguez for assisted death violated Sections 7 (the right to “life, liberty, and security of the person), 12 (protection against “cruel and unusual punishment”), and 15(1) (equality) of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms. Two decades later, using the same Charter, this ruling in Rodriguez was overturned in the 2015 decision in Carter v Canada, by the Supreme Court of Canada.

How is it that 22 years ago Supreme Court judges can look at the Charter and determine that legalized assisted dying is unconstitutional and today, the Supreme Court of Canada can look at the same Charter and determine that to deny assisted dying in fact, violates the Charter? I think that if it was clear, no matter the individual values of the judges making the ruling, the decisions would always be the same.

Section 7 of the Charter says that, “Everyone has the right to life, liberty and security of the person and the right not to be deprived thereof except in accordance with the principles of fundamental justice” but nowhere does it define what those terms, life, liberty and security, mean. Would someone define “life” as a state wherein the person is useful and competent? If your life does not have liberty or security, can it be considered a life? Is a “life” defined by merely as someone who is alive? Who decides? Are these decisions based on the whim of the fleeting societal values of any particular time?

We also get into trouble because sometimes the secular world and Christians use the same words, but we have completely different meanings.

Take the word “Liberty”. What does it mean? Does it mean “freedom”? Archbishop Richard Smith of Edmonton, during the Every Life Matters series made a very clear distinction between the words, “freedom” and “license”.

Archbishop Smith said, “License is refusal of all limit and constraint in order to do what I want. Freedom is liberty within limit to do what I must. This “ought” flows from my pledge of fidelity to the love of God. The limit within which we exercise freedom is truth: the truth of our creaturely dependence upon God, the truth of our relationship of interdependence with others, and the truth that I am not my own.”

And so, what most people refer to when they speak of freedom or liberty is not freedom at all; it’s license. “I should be able to do whatever I want” is not freedom; it’s chaos. (For more on freedom read Pope Francis’ homily from this morning’s Jubilee for young people.)

But more importantly, if all Canadians are endowed with the inherent rights of life, liberty and security – and those rights are equal – what happens when one of those rights comes up against the other? What happens when your right to liberty or security goes up against your right to life? What happens when my right to life goes up against your right to liberty?

This is where a bit of logic can be of assistance. These three inherent rights are equal, but they are hierarchical in fundament. That means that one is more fundamental than the other two.

Take a house, for example. In order to be a house, a house needs a foundation, it needs walls and it needs a roof. All are equally important. Without a foundation, without a roof, or without walls, the building ceases to be a house. They are equal. But, can you have walls without a foundation? Can you have a roof without walls? Therefore even though all three are equally important, the foundation is more fundamental than the walls and the roof. The walls are also more fundamental than the roof. The roof is the least fundamental of the three because it needs the other two in order to exist.

It’s the same with life, liberty and security: You can’t have security without life and liberty and you can’t have liberty without life. Therefore life is the more fundamental of these three inherent rights. Liberty is more fundamental than security. This means that when security or liberties go up against life, life should always win. If my right to security goes up against my right to liberty, my right to liberty should always win, because it is more fundamental.

Our laws may say this thing or that thing, but that doesn’t make it necessarily right. We have to be clear as to what we believe and have to be able to explain it to others.

Now there may be lawyers among you reading this and there may be some among you who have indeed studied the Charter. I welcome your comments on my little musing for today.

Again, I invite you to watch the Every Life Matters series, presented by Archbishop Richard Smith of the Archdiocese of Edmonton. You can watch all the webcasts at www.caedm.ca. The TV broadcasts began last night, April 23 on Salt + Light TV. Here’s the broadcast schedule if you prefer to watch them on TV.
And again, I invite you to watch my award-winning documentary, Turning the Tide, which deals with Euthanasia and Assisted Suicide in Canada and with its study guide, is perfect for classroom or a parish study.


Every week, Deacon Pedro takes a particular topic apart, not so much to explore or explain the subject to its fullness, but rather to provide insights that will deepen our understanding of the subject. And don’t worry, at the end of the day he always puts the pieces back together. There are no limits to deaconstructing: Write to him and ask any questions about the faith or Church teaching: pedro@saltandlighttv.org

Every Life Matters


Canada is facing the legalization of assisted suicide and euthanasia and for many people, Catholics especially, this raises very serious concerns: About our respect for the principle of the sanctity of human life; what will this mean for the protection of our vulnerable people? How will this affect our healthcare professionals who may be forced to participate in these practices against their conscience? We need to discuss all of this and that is why Archbishop Richard Smith of Edmonton has invited all of us to join him for the series that he’s titled Every Life Matters.

The series included a series of five conversations with Archbishop Smith and several other legal and medical professionals, as well as parents and people suffering from disabilities. These took place all over the Archdiocese of Edmonton and were streamed live on the Internet.

Every Life Matters will begin airing on S+L TV Saturdays and Wednesdays, starting this Saturday, at 9pm ET / 7pm MT.

1. What’s it all About? Airs Saturday, April 23 – 9pm ET / 7pm MT (Repeats: Sunday, April 24  – 1 am ET / Saturday, April 23 – 11 pm MT)

With special guests Kate Faught, a lawyer specializing in estate litigation, and Dr. Anna Voeuk, a physician specializing in palliative care.

2. What’s Wrong with Assisted Suicide and Euthanasia? Airs Wednesday, April 27 – 9pm ET / 7pm MT (Repeats: Thursday, April 28 – 1 am PT / Wednesday, April 27 – 11 pm MT)

With special guests Lisa Daniels, a young mother who tells her own personal story of finding meaning, purpose and happiness in life despite suffering debilitating pain; and Dr. Anna Voeuk, a palliative care physician who speaks about the need for improved access to palliative care for all Canadians. Archbishop Smith explains and illustrates Church teaching around suicide and euthanasia.

3. It’s My Body, My Choice – Airs Saturday, April 30 – 9pm ET / 7pm MT (Repeats: Sunday, May 1 – 1 am PT / Saturday, April 30 – 11 pm MT)

With special guests Father Eamonn McNerney, a hospital chaplain who shares his personal experience with a family whose loved one requested euthanasia, and Dr. Robert Hauptman, a specialist in pain management who maintains that with modern medical care, no patient should have to suffer intolerable pain. Archbishop Smith explains and illustrates Church teaching around freedom, choice, and personal autonomy — concepts that are often used to justify assisted suicide and euthanasia.

4. I Don’t Want to Suffer – Airs Wednesday, May 4 – 9pm ET / 7pm MT (Repeats: Thursday, May 5 – 1 am PT / Wednesday, May 4 – 11 pm MT)

With special guests Jeri and Chuck Marple, who tell us how their disabled daughter Mary has been a blessing in their lives, and Dr. Anna Voeuk, a palliative care physician speaks on caring for the caregivers and families of those with severe illness or disability, or nearing end of life. Archbishop Smith teaches on the Christian understanding of the mystery of suffering.

5. What Must We Do? Airs Saturday, May 7 – 9pm ET / 7pm MT (Repeats: Sunday, May 8 – 11 pm ET / Saturday, May 7 – 11 pm MT)

With special guests Mark Pickup, who tells of a very dark time when he came close to losing the will to live, and Dr. Anna Voeuk, who asks us all to defend doctors, nurses and pharmacists who refuse to participate in assisted suicide or euthanasia. Archbishop Smith offers four concrete ways we as Catholics can defend human life against such attacks.

And once again, let me invite you to watch our award-winning documentary, Turning the Tide, which deals with all these issues and questions related to the legalization of euthanasia and assisted suicide. With its study guide, this 28-minute film is perfect for classroom or a parish or home study.


Deacon-structing end of life issues: Palliative Care

Last week I wrote about the law as it stands in Canada and what the changes to allow for physician assisted dying may be. Since then, the Government has tabled a bill which is now going through the proper channels on its way to approval before June 7th, 2016.

You can read the proposed bill: Bill C-14 – First Reading, April 14, 2016

Also – read the statement from Toronto’s Cardinal Collins.

You can also watch all the Every Life Matters webcasts that we just finished doing in Edmonton with Archbishop Richard Smith. The series featured several wonderful speakers, including a lawyer, doctors, parents and people living with disabilities.

When we were working on Turning the Tide, almost 10 years ago now, one of the learning points for me was about palliative care. I kept hearing that what we needed was not assisted dying, but better palliative care. In fact, Turning the Tide features one of Canada’s palliative care pioneers, Jean Echlin.

But most people probably don’t know what palliative care is and many, who have heard about palliative care, are afraid of it because they think it’s for people who are dying.

One of the speakers for the Every Life Matters series was was Dr. Anna Voeuk. She is a palliative care physician. At the second session she said that we shouldn’t be asking “what’s wrong with euthanasia and assisted suicide?” as much as we should be asking, “what’s right about palliative care?” That’s what I’d like to do today.

First, some terminology and a reminder of the definitions:

Euthanasia is the intentional termination of a life of a person, by another person, in order to relieve suffering (with or without that person’s consent).

Voluntary euthanasia is euthanasia performed in accordance with the wishes of a competent individual, whether those wishes have been made known personally or through a valid, written advance directive.

Physician-assisted suicide (PAS) is intentionally killing oneself with the assistance of a medical practitioner or a person acting under the direction of a medical practitioner who provides the knowledge, means or both.

Physician Assisted Dying/Death (PAD) encompasses physician-assisted suicide and voluntary euthanasia that is performed by a medical practitioner or a person acting under the direction of a medical practitioner.

Physician Assisted Dying is also referred to as “Medical Aid in Dying” (MAD) or Medical Assistance in Dying (“MAID”).

Dr. Voeuk prefers to call it Physician Hastened Death (PHD) because the intention of these acts is to bring about death sooner than it would occur through natural causes. This is done by the administration of a lethal dose of a drug.

None of these practices, PAD, MAD, MAID or PHD are part of Palliative Care as palliative care allows for people to be comfortable as they approach death naturally.

Last week I mentioned the Carter v. Canada case. In Section I (1) of the ruling it says that a person facing the prospect of a life of unbearable, irremediable suffering “has two options: she can take her own life prematurely, often by violent or dangerous means, or she can suffer until she dies from natural causes. The choice is cruel.”

Dr. Voeuk says that there are other options. She would say and the Church would agree (and so would a Parliamentary Committee on Palliative Care) that what we need is not medically assisted dying. What we need is better care. We need better mental health resources. We need better spiritual care. We need better social supports and we need better palliative care.

According to Wikipedia, palliative care is a multidisciplinary approach to specialized medical care for people with serious illnesses. It focuses on providing patients with relief from the symptoms, pain, physical stress, and mental stress of a serious illness—whatever the diagnosis.

Better yet, according to the World Health Organization, Palliative Care is:

An approach that improves the quality of life of patients and their families facing the problem associated with life-threatening illness, through the prevention and relief of suffering by means of early identification and impeccable assessment and treatment of pain and other problems, physical, psychosocial and spiritual.

Palliative Care affirms life and regards dying as a normal process. It intends neither to hasten nor postpone death.

Palliative care is not:
• Hastening or prolonging death
• Focused solely on end-of-life care
• Failure/abandonment (“nothing more we can do”)

Some of you may have heard of Dame Cicely Saunders. She is known as the mother of the Modern Hospice Movement. Her approach was revolutionary because she had a total pain approach; it was holistic and team-centered.

The Canadian Society of Palliative Care Physicians has the following key messages:
1. Patients with life limiting conditions, and their families, have a right to high quality palliative care that includes impeccable pain and symptom management.
2. Palliative care does not include physician hastened death
3. Palliative care does not hasten or prolong death
4. Palliative care strives to reduce suffering, not end life

(NOTE: The word “palliative” in medicine refers to relieving pain or alleviating a problem without dealing with the underlying cause. Good end-of-life care is palliative because it doesn’t seek to cure the person.)

At the end of life people may have to deal with many symptoms, conditions or concerns. These may be physical, such as pain, nausea/vomiting, diarrhea/constipation, fatigue, drowsiness, lack of appetite, breathlessness or insomnia.

They could be psychosocial such as pain, anxiety, depression, finances, family issues, fear becoming a “burden” or loss of dignity, to name a few.

They could also be existential. Some of these could be pain (distress/suffering), fear of loss of control, questions about meaning of life/death, spiritual/religious questions.

Good palliative care seeks to address all of these. That’s why you don’t just need one palliative care doctor, but rather all your doctors should have a palliative approach. This includes all of your professional healthcare team: Physicians, Nurses, Social Worker, Chaplain/Pastoral Care, Physiotherapist, Occupational Therapist, Clinical Psychologist, Psychiatrist, Clinical Pharmacist, Respiratory Therapist, Dietician/Nutritionist, Music and, Art Therapist, Recreational Therapist, chaplains and volunteers. I would say that this also includes your family members, friends and loved ones.

At the end of the last Every Life Matters sessions, Disability Rights Advocate, Mark Pickup said that if he ever gets to the point where he is so low that he is asking for death he needs his support group, his family, his community, to tell him that he is loved and valued; that his life still has purpose and meaning. He needs them to hold him and care for him and to validate him as a person. He does not need them to kill him. What he means is that he needs good palliative care.

I would add that this approach to dealing with pain is not to be reserved only to end-of-life care. We need to support all people who suffer pain whether it is physical, emotional, psychological or social.

Another of our Every Life Matters speakers was pain management specialist, Dr. Robert Hauptman. Dr. Hauptman said that in this day and age, most pain can be managed. In fact he added that in 30 years of practice, he has never seen anyone die in intolerable pain. If your pain cannot be managed what you need is another doctor, not assisted death.

One common confusion that people have with palliative care revolves around issues of withholding or withdrawal of life-prolonging treatment. Let me be clear: Palliative Care is not considered physician hastened death. And so, refusing treatment and allowing life to take its course is not assisted dying or euthanasia. Good palliative care would not simply leave that patient to be after they’ve refused treatment. That patient would still be cared for in a palliative way; which may not involve life-prolonging treatment.

Regarding someone who is on life-support; a respirator or ventilator without which that person cannot survive (normally referred to as extra-ordinary care): In essence that person is already dead. Removing the life-prolonging treatment does not kill them, because without the machine, they are not alive. [This is different than removing a feeding tube, for example from someone who is breathing on his/her own and whose heart is beating on its own. Removing this “basic care” would be starving that patient to death. That is euthanasia.]

Another question we had was regarding the refusal of resuscitation or CPR. Again, if someone needs resuscitating or CPR, they are already dead. Not “treating” them is not euthanasia.

The Catholic Church supports the palliative approach which does not hasten death through artificial means; rather, it allows for life to take its natural course and for death to occur naturally. Of course, we always seek to make the person comfortable and at peace.

When people ask for death and they say things like, “I want to end it all” what they mean is that they want the suffering and the pain to end. That is why we need to try to get at the root of the suffering and help them manage their pain. Good palliative care does this.

But good palliative care is not available everywhere in Canada. In fact, the Parliamentary Report mentioned above says that only about 30% of Canadians have access to good palliative care. Shouldn’t we be talking about improving palliative care instead of legalizing physician assisted dying?

“You matter because you are you, and you matter to the end of your life. We will do all we can not only to help you die peacefully, but to live until you die.”
— Dame Cicely Saunders

As we move towards this new Canada, I invite you to watch the Every Life Matters series, presented by Archbishop Richard Smith of the Archdiocese of Edmonton. You can watch all the webcasts at www.caedm.ca and also, starting on April 23 on Salt + Light TV. You may also be interested in watching a series of interviews I did for Catholic Focus on End–of-Life Issues, which will air in May. More details on all these broadcasts as we approach those dates.

And, I can’t leave without inviting you to watch our award-winning documentary, Turning the Tide, which deals with Euthanasia and Assisted Suicide in Canada and with its study guide, is perfect for classroom or a parish study.

Photo credit: CNS photo/Rick Musacchio, Tennessee Register.


Every week, Deacon Pedro takes a particular topic apart, not so much to explore or explain the subject to its fullness, but rather to provide insights that will deepen our understanding of the subject. And don’t worry, at the end of the day he always puts the pieces back together. There are no limits to deaconstructing: Write to him and ask any questions about the faith or Church teaching:pedro@saltandlighttv.org

Feeding the hungry on Perspectives Weekly tonight

In this special Jubilee Year, we are invited to remember the corporal works of mercy. One of them is to feed the hungry. Every day, all over the world, people have been doing this and the Church has been doing it for 2000 years. In Toronto, Sr. Margaret Patterson of the Congregation of Notre Dame runs a breakfast club for elementary school children. Join me, Deacon Pedro tonight, as we speak about her vocation, about mercy and the challenges and joys of caring for the hungry.

Friday, April 15th at 7pm & 11pm ET / 4pm & 8pm PT
If you miss it, watch it Sunday, April 17 at 7pm & 11pm ET / 4pm & 8pm PT

Deacon-structing end-of-life issues: The Law


You may know that I am currently in Edmonton taking part in the Every Life Matters series. This is an initiative by Archbishop Richard Smith to begin conversations on an important topic that is bound to touch all of us at some point in time.

What precipitated the series is the fact that our legal landscape in Canada is changing. As of June 7, 2016, it will no longer be a criminal offence for medical practitioners to assist people in dying if three conditions are met – well, at least if three conditions are met – the law is not yet written and there may be other conditions. There may be other allowances.

As we approach the June 6 deadline, I hope to unpack some topics related to these issues. If you are interested in learning more, please read my blog series titled Deacon-structing End of Life (Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, Part 4 and Part 5)

When I wrote that series I did not look specifically at the legal questions. I’d like to do that today, but first, a few definitions:

Euthanasia is the intentional termination of a life of a person, by another person, in order to relieve suffering (with or without that person’s consent).

Voluntary euthanasia is euthanasia performed in accordance with the wishes of a competent individual, whether those wishes have been made known personally OR through a valid, written advance directive.

Assisted suicide is intentionally killing oneself with the assistance of another person who provides the knowledge, means or both.

Physician-assisted suicide is intentionally killing oneself with the assistance of a medical practitioner OR a person acting under the direction of a medical practitioner who provides the knowledge, means or both.

Physician-assisted death encompasses physician-assisted suicide and voluntary euthanasia that is performed by a medical practitioner OR a person acting under the direction of a medical practitioner.

And now, the Law: There are two sections in the Criminal Code that are being changed. They are:

Criminal Code s. 241(b) – everyone who aids or abets a person to commit suicide, whether suicide ensues or not, is guilty of an indictable offense and liable to imprisonment for a term not exceeding 14 years.

Criminal Code s. 14 – no person may consent to death being inflicted on them, and such consent does not affect the criminal responsibility of any person by whom death may be inflicted on the person by whom consent is given.

The way I understand it, is that in Canada, the Charter of Rights and Freedoms, allows us to challenge any law. The Charter says in Section 7 : “Everyone has the right to life, liberty and security of the person, and the right not to be deprived thereof except in accordance with the principles of fundamental justice.”

Based on section 7 of the Charter, during the Carter v. Canada case of February 2015, Criminal Code sections 14 and 241 have been challenged as unconstitutional.  In that case, which involved several parties, including the family of Kay Carter, a woman suffering from degenerative spinal stenosis, and Gloria Taylor, a woman suffering from ALS, the Supreme Court unanimously ruled that these two sections of the Criminal Code are unconstitutional. I other words they ruled that not allowing people the right to assistance in dying violated their right to life, liberty and security. They gave the government until June 6, 2016 to re-write the law.

The Supreme Court of Canada said:  “We conclude that the prohibition on physician-assisted dying is void insofar as it deprives a competent adult of such assistance where 1) the person affected clearly consents to the termination of life and 2) the person has a grievous and irremediable medical condition (including an illness, disease or disability) that causes enduring suffering that is intolerable to the individual in the circumstances of his or her condition.”

 The ruling goes  on to say that “Criminal Code s. 214(b) and s. 14 infringe Canadian’s rights to life, liberty and security of the person, and do not do so in accordance with the principles of fundamental justice.” The request is subject to three conditions:

  1. Has to be made by a competent adult
  2. who is suffering from a grievous and irremediable medical condition that
  3. causes enduring and intolerable suffering.

The Supreme Court also added that nothing in their decision will compel a doctor to provide a physician-assisted death and that physician-assisted death is not available to minors, people with minor medical conditions or to people with psychiatric disorders.

Following this ruling, the federal government struck a joint committee to re-write the law and made 21 recommendations to the House of Commons. These recommendations are not yet law – they are recommendations, but they considerably expand the scope of physician-assisted death beyond what the Supreme Court decided was necessary to fit within the Charter.

For example the Joint Committee recommends that:

  • physician-assisted death be available to patients with psychiatric condition
  • physician-assisted death be made available to “mature minors” within 3 years
  • there be an allowance for the use of advanced directives once a patient is diagnosed, but before the suffering becomes intolerable
  • an objecting doctor be required to provide an effective referral for the requesting patient
  • All publicly funded health care institutions should provide physician-assisted death
  • Two doctors must agree that patient meets eligibility criteria for physician-assisted death

You may have noticed that the words “Euthanasia” and “Assisted suicide” are not to be found anywhere in any of these proposals, recommendations or suggestions. The term that is being used is “medically assisted dying” which is a term that avoids catch phrases like “suicide” and keep the proposed changes in the realm of health care services rather than the criminal courts. The term “medically assisted dying” includes both voluntary euthanasia and assisted suicide as per the definitions presented above.

Another complication is that even though the Criminal Code is under Federal jurisdiction, this will affect how medical services are delivered and that is under Provincial jurisdiction and so the new law will affect both levels of government. It will also affect all Medical Associations as they try to make sense of what that will mean for their members.

This is where we are now. There is no doubt that the law will change and that medically assisted dying is now a reality in Canada, but we don’t know exactly what the law will say or what limitations or safeguards will be in place. However, it’s likely that, in order to meet the June 6 deadline, as early as next week, the proposed law will be presented to the House of Commons and voting process will begin.

According to the Canadian Press, the new bill will not be as permissive as these recommendations suggest. Namely, the government will not adopt some of the most controversial recommendations from the special parliamentary committee. These include allowing mature minors the right to request assistance in dying; allowing advance requests for people who would like assistance if they get to the point where they have no competence; and allowing the request to be made by people suffering from psychiatric conditions or mental illness that impairs their competent ability to make the request. In rejecting these recommendations, the government would be creating a law that is very close to the Supreme Court parameters and would be trying to put safeguards in place so that the law cannot be abused.

On Friday, Prime Minister, Justin Trudeau said that, “As Liberals, we stand to defend individuals’ rights, but also need to make sure we’re protecting the most vulnerable.” Experts say that a restrictive bill would be open to many future Charter Challenges. Some say that a vague bill would also be subject to Charter Challenges, which is why many believe that safeguards don’t work. This is what would is referred to as ‘the slippery slope’.

As we move towards this new Canada it’s important that we have these conversations and that we inform ourselves as much as possible about these issues. More importantly, have these conversations with your family and loved ones. I invite you to watch the Every Life Matters series, presented by Archbishop Richard Smith of the Archdiocese of Edmonton. You can watch all the webcasts at www.caedm.ca and also, starting on April 23 on Salt + Light TV. You may also be interested in watching a series of interviews I am doing for our series Catholic Focus on End–of-Life Issues, which will air in May. More details on all these broadcasts as we approach those dates.

I can’t leave without inviting you to watch our award-winning documentary, Turning the Tide, which deals with Euthanasia and Assisted Suicide in Canada. It is a great documentary that presents all these themes very clearly and with its study guide, is perfect for classroom or for a parish event.


Every week, Deacon Pedro takes a particular topic apart, not so much to explore or explain the subject to its fullness, but rather to provide insights that will deepen our understanding of the subject. And don’t worry, at the end of the day he always puts the pieces back together. There are no limits to deaconstructing: Write to him and ask any questions about the faith or Church teaching:pedro@saltandlighttv.org

Perspectives Weekly: Can you baptise an extraterrestrial?


I’ve always been interested in matters of science and of faith. Growing up, it never occured to me that there would be a conflict between faith and science or faith and reason, but as a young adult, these conversations became more and more common – and the consensus among some of my friends was that there is a conflict between faith and science. This is partly because this is what is promoted in the media. What we see in the media (think Dan Brown) about the Church is never really representative of the Church and what we see in media about science (think Star Trek or CSI) is also not truly representative of science. Add to that confusion about creationism, evolution and what really happened to Galileo, among other things.

It was in the last 10 years that I’ve been giving this much more thought. Certainly while working on our six-part series Creation, issues of faith, reason and science came up regularly. This is why I am very excited about our Perspectives Weekly guest this week: Brother Guy Consolmagno.

Brother Guy is the director of the Vatican Observatory. ‘Why does the Vatican have an observatory?’ and ‘Why do astronomers work for the vatican?’ are probably the first questions you may have. But, can you baptise an extraterrestrial? Was there really a Star of Bethlehem? How do we figure out the date of Easter? are also questions that regularly come to the inbox of Brother Guy and other Vatican Astronomners. And this Friday, we will be addressing them all on Perspectives: The Weekly Edition.

Join me as I speak with Brother Guy Consolmagno about these and many other questions related to the intersection of faith and reason, this Friday April 8th, at 7pm & 11pm ET / 4pm & 8pm PT. If you miss it, it will be back on on Sunday, April 10 also at 7pm & 11pm ET / 4pm & 8pm PT.

To learn more, be sure to watch all six episodes of Creation.
and for another interview with Brother Guy, listen to the November 15, 2014 edition of the SLHour.

On This Night – an Easter series

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Referring to the night of the Easter Vigil, in the Easter Proclamation (the Exsutet) we pray that “This is the night, when once you led our forebears, Israel’s children, from slavery in Egypt.” The Easter Proclamation also says that “This is the night, when Christ broke the prison-bars of death and rose victorious from the underworld.” It is the Easter Proclamation, referring to Easter, but also referring to Passover. It even says, “These, then, are the feasts of Passover, in which is slain the Lamb, the one true Lamb, whose Blood anoints the doorposts of believers.”

We can’t ignore the connection between the Jewish feast of Passover and the Christian feast of Easter. It is not just because Jesus was likely eating the Passover meal with his disciples on the night before he died. The very word for Easter in Latin and in Greek, “Pascha” is pretty much the same word for Passover in Hebrew: “Pesach”.

And so, this Easter season, I wanted to explore a bit more some of these Easter themes. What is the significance of Exodus and of Egypt? What is the meaning of Passover and how do Jews celebrate it? What is Passover today and how has it evolved over the centuries? How did early Christians interpret the meaning of Passover? In order to find out answers to these questions I turned to my good friend, Rabbi Aaron Flanzraich, who once again, agreed to share his thoughts with all of you, through the medium of television.

Please join me and Rabbi Aaron for our mini three-part series on Easter and Passover titled, On This Night, for the next three Sundays at 8:30pm ET and together let us grow deeper on the understanding of that night, the night when God led our forebears out of Egypt and when Jesus broke the prison-bars of death.

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On This Night

Ep 1: Exodus | April 10, 8:30pm ET
Ep 2: Pesach | April 17, 8:30pm ET
Ep 3: Passover | April 24, 8:30pm ET




Are you interested in more programs about our Jewish heritage or with Rabbi Aaron Flanzraich?
Watch our Advent series, In the Beginning.

You may also be interested in watching the following episodes of Perspectives: The Weekly Edition:
Perspectives Weekly: Hanukkah.
Perspectives Weekly: Interfaith Dialogue
Perspectives on Marriage: Aaron and Melanie Kohn

Deacon-structing: We walk by faith

A reflection for the second Sunday in Easter, year C:
Acts 5:12-16: Revelation 1:9-11, 12-13, 17-19; John 20:19-31

Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have come to believe… I don’t know about you, but when I imagine this scene, I don’t think Jesus is giving Thomas a hard time. I think he’s encouraging him; consoling him. Think about it: Your friend, the man you loved, your teacher, has just been arrested, tortured and killed. This just happened. Today is Sunday. He was arrested on Thursday, killed on Friday. It just happened. You’re devastated. On top of that, you’re terrified because the people who killed him will probably come and kill you next. The Gospel tells us that the disciples were hiding with the doors locked for fear of the Jewish authorities. They were terrified. So, you’re devastated, sad, and terrified, and on top of that, this guy who you thought was the Messiah, the Christ – you staked your life on that – turns out that he wasn’t. He’s dead. You left everything to follow him and now what? You just wasted the last three years of your life. How are you going to go back home now? What are you going to tell your wife and family? You feel like an idiot, like a loser, like you’ve been taken for a ride. Imagine the shame. And now these women (women were not considered credible witnesses at the time) say that the tomb is open and the body is gone. They’ve stolen his body. That’s not un-belief or cynicism. That’s reality. All of us would come to the same conclusion. There’s nothing wrong with Thomas not believing. In fact, none of the disciples believed without seeing.

In the Gospel of Matthew, it says that even after they had seen Jesus (Mt.28:17), some worshiped him but some doubted. After they had seen him; they doubted. In the Gospel of Mark it says that no one believed Mary Magdalene when she said she has seen Jesus. They would not believe it (Mk 16:11). When Jesus appears to them he “upbraids them for their lack of faith and stubbornness” (Mk. 16:14). In the Gospel of Luke; same thing. The women say they saw angels and that Jesus is alive. But “to the disciples this seemed like an idle tale and they did not believe them.” (Lk 24:11). Then it says that Peter got up and went to the tomb and it doesn’t say that he believed. It only says that he was amazed. (Lk 24:12). Did he believe? I don’t know but when Jesus appears to them they thought they were seeing a ghost. Jesus says, “Why are you frightened and why do doubts arise in your hearts? (Lk. 24:37). And in John’s Gospel Peter and John (or the beloved disciple) run to the tomb and it says that John “saw and believed” (Jn. 20:8). It doesn’t say that Peter believed. You know what? None of them believed without seeing. Why do we pick on poor Thomas for not believing? He was just like everyone else. They saw and touched and then believed. Maybe there’s nothing wrong with wanting to understand.

A few years ago, I was at a faith and science event and was speaking to a physicist and astronomer who works with the Hubble Telescope – he’s a Catholic and he said that he believed in the resurrection because of evidence. Evidence? Really? What evidence? He said that we had the evidence of the first-hand testimony of credible witnesses.

And if you think about it, it makes perfect sense. When there is a trial – we watch them on Law and Order all the time– if there’s been a murder, for example, there’s physical evidence: DNA evidence or the murder weapon. Then there’s circumstantial evidence; evidence that we can deduce by logic, motive; and then there are witnesses. If someone actually witnessed the crime, “I saw the man pull the trigger; and it’s that man sitting right there,” that’s considered evidence. And then it’s up to the Defense and the Crown to show whether these witnesses are credible or not.

Well, we have the credible first-hand testimony of witnesses to the resurrection. Listen to today’s first reading from the Book of Acts: The disciples were looked upon with high esteem and they were baptising new Christians by the thousands. Why? Because they were authentic, credible witnesses. And what was their testimony? This man was dead, and now he’s alive. That was the first confession of our Faith. If you read the Book of Acts, every time someone is professing the Faith, that’s what they say, “Jesus was dead; he died, he was crucified; and God raised him from the dead; He is alive.” It was only later that the longer creed was developed. All the early professions of Faith were simply that.

And we profess that at every Mass too: Christ has died; Christ is risen; Christ will come again. In fact, it’s called the Profession of Faith. The priest says, “The mystery of Faith” and we all respond, “We proclaim your death, oh Lord and profess your resurrection, until you come again.” That’s the earliest profession of Faith.

Pope Francis’ first homily was very short – he spoke about three words: walking, building and confessing – a whole theology of life right there in those three words: walking, building and confessing. And that word “confessing” left me thinking: What does that mean? What does it mean to confess our faith? Most of us are OK with learning about our Faith, living our Faith, and even sharing our Faith – but do we confess our Faith? Do we profess that Jesus was dead and now he’s alive? We’re OK professing at Mass, but do we profess it when we leave the church building?

We can make that profession of Faith because we have evidence. We have witnesses like Thomas. So why does it sound like Jesus is giving Thomas a hard time for not believing? “Blessed are those who have not seen, and still believe.” It’s because that statement is not for Thomas. It’s for us. It’s for all the people who were reading the Gospel when it was first written. Remember that the Gospel of John was written about 70 years after the resurrection. All the first-hand witnesses had already died. And the early Christians were persecuted. The gospels were written to encourage them, to give them hope. That’s why Jesus gives them peace. In other Gospels he says, “Don’t be afraid.” In the second reading, from the Book of Revelation we hear the same thing. The Book of Revelation was written to seven Christian communities that were having problems, some suffering persecution. Jesus says to them, “Don’t be afraid.” And then He gives them the profession of Faith, “I was dead and now I am alive. And I hold the keys of death.” That message is for us today: If you’re afraid, if you’re struggling with doubt, have peace, don’t be afraid. Jesus is alive. He has triumphed over death. Have faith.

And it is not a blind faith. There’s a saying that says that Faith isn’t believing that God can do something; it’s knowing that He will. There’s a certainty in Faith. This may seem a bit strange to you because we’re always hearing about how Faith has to be blind or that we have to believe without seeing, but think about it, we actually live by this kind of Faith every day. Do you believe that there is a $1000 bill? Have you ever seen one? Do you believe that there are black holes in space? Do you believe that there is dark matter? Do you believe that pi is 3.14159? Do you believe that climate change is a problem, or that it isn’t a problem? If you trust the news source, you’re going to believe the news. We do this all the time. Believing in things that people that we trust tell us.

Do we believe that the Church is a credible witness? Do we have a relationship with the Church that shows us that the Church is a credible witness, so we can believe everything that the Church teaches: That Jesus is present in the Eucharist; that Mary was conceived without original sin; that our sins are forgiven at Confession; that Marriage is a free, faithful, fruitful, total, covenantal union between one man and one woman? Do we believe that the Church is a credible witness, or do we need physical evidence?

The Catechism of the Catholic Church says that: “Believing is not contrary to human freedom nor to human reason” (n. 154). And Pope Benedict in the document that kicked-off the Year of Faith, Porta Fidei, says that we have to understand Faith. If we can understand Faith, it means that it can’t be completely blind.

Thomas and the disciples believe because they saw and touched. The apostle John says, “We declare to you what was from the beginning, what we have heard, what we have seen with our eyes, what we have looked at and touched with our hands” (1 Jn. 1:1). Thomas believed that Jesus was alive because he saw and touched him.The disciples saw and believed so that you and I can believe without seeing.

But Thomas is blessed for believing something without seeing: When he sees Jesus, he says, “My Lord and my God.” This is the only time in all of Scripture that someone calls Jesus God. He can see Jesus and so believes in the resurrection, but he cannot see God, but still, he believes that Jesus is God. And that’s his confession of Faith.

Do you know that during the Consecration when the priest raises the host and the chalice and says, “Do this in memory of me,” we should respond with the words of Thomas, “My Lord and my God.” In fact, at that moment, the priest genuflects and he says that silent prayer, “My Lord and my God.” And that’s also the appropriate response for us. And it doesn’t have to be quiet. I don’t know if you learned to do this, but if not, starting today, this is what you will respond, “My Lord and my God.” And today, let’s do something else. When you receive the Eucharist, when you drink from the Cup, make your confession of Faith. Respond with the words of Thomas, “My Lord and my God.” Make that your profession of Faith, so that we can go out there and be credible witnesses so that others can come to believe too.

If you are interested in the intersection of Faith and Reason, tune in this Friday, 7/11pm ET for my conversation with the Director of the Vatican Observatory, Br. Guy Consolmagno, SJ on Perspectives: The Weekly Edition.

You should also watch all six episodes of Creation.


Every week, Deacon Pedro takes a particular topic apart, not so much to explore or explain the subject to its fullness, but rather to provide insights that will deepen our understanding of the subject. And don’t worry, at the end of the day he always puts the pieces back together. There are no limits to deaconstructing: Write to him and ask any questions about the faith or Church teaching:pedro@saltandlighttv.org