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Cardinal Thomas Collins of Toronto addresses marchers on the steps of Parliament Hill.Patrick Craine / LifeSiteNews

OTTAWA, February 4, 2016 (LifeSiteNews) — Canada’s government must protect the conscience rights of both individuals and institutions that refuse to either participate in or refer patients for physician-assisted suicide or euthanasia, a Canada’s highest ranking Catholic prelate told the special parliamentary committee on “physician-assisted death” Wednesday.

And Canada has a “moral imperative” to provide “proper palliative care,” stated Cardinal Thomas Collins of the archdiocese of Toronto.

Last February, the Supreme Court struck down Canada’s law prohibiting assisted suicide and euthanasia as unconstitutional, and that ruling comes into force June 6, 2016.

Meanwhile, the all-party special committee of five senators and 11 MPs convened January 18 and has until February 26 to come up with draft legislation to regulate “physician-assisted death.”

“The strong message from the Supreme Court is unmistakeable: some lives are just not worth living. We passionately disagree,” said Collins, who presented on behalf of the Coalition for HealthCare and Conscience.

And that ruling will have “drastic negative effects” in the country, he noted.

Cardinal Collins: “The strong message from the Supreme Court is unmistakeable: some lives are just not worth living. We passionately disagree.”

Liberal-appointed Nova Scotia Senator James Cowan told Collins that although the cardinal “may not wish that there is going to be physician-assisted death in this country,” it is a “constitutional right to those eligible to access it.”

But when Cowan pressed the cardinal to outline “specific precautions” the government should put in place to protect the vulnerable, Collins refused to comply.

“As I have been clear, I don’t believe that this is the direction the country should be going in,” he said. “I’m sure other people will be doing that, but I don’t believe in the thing itself.”

“What I do believe is that the rights of conscience of people who are constantly involved with compassionately caring for those most in need, need to be protected, ” Collins added.

“I also believe that alternatives should be presented, funded very directly, and that would be palliative care.”

Under Canada’s new regime, Collins told the committee, “killing a person will no longer be seen as a crime, but instead will be treated as a form of health care.”

Patients are justified in refusing “burdensome and disproportionate treatment that only prolongs the inevitable process of dying,” he pointed out. “But there is an absolute difference between dying and being killed.”

“It is our moral conviction that it is never justified for a physician to help take a patient’s life, under any circumstances.”

Moreover, the Supreme Court ruling did not limit euthanasia and assisted suicide to those “who are near death,” Collins stated. And the Ontario-organized provincial and territorial advisory panel has since recommended that children be eligible for physician-assisted suicide or euthanasia.

“The right to be put to death will, in practice, become in some cases the duty to be put to death, as subtle pressure is brought to bear on the vulnerable,” the cardinal stated.

“Often, a plea for suicide is a cry for help. Society should respond with care and compassionate support for these vulnerable people, not with death.”

Collins emphasized that, “those called to the noble vocation of healing will instead be engaged in killing.” This will have a “grievous effect both on the integrity of a medical profession committed to do no harm, and upon the trust of patients from whom they seek healing.”

The government must ensure “effective conscience protection” for health care providers, “both institutions and individuals,” Collins said.

Institutions should “not be undermined or attacked,” the cardinal reiterated in response to a question from Tory MP Mark Warawa.

Catholic hospitals, for example, are “not ‘things.’ They’re communities of people,” Collins said. “They have values and that’s why people come to them,” and they are “funded by the government because they do immense good work.”

“If you undermine the institution for what it is, our society would be very, very much harmed,” he cautioned. “Our whole community would be a lot harsher, colder, crueler, without the witness given by community who are on the ground, on the street, day by day, caring for the most needy.”

Individuals and institutions must also have the right to refuse “to refer the action to others, since that is the moral equivalent of participating in the act itself,” Collins told the committee.

“It is simply not right or just to say: you do not have to do what is against your conscience, but you must make sure it happens.”

The committee is expected to wrap up its public hearings Thursday, February 4. For more information or to view recorded hearings, go here.