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Vancouver Archbishop J. Michael Miller

VANCOUVER, August 22, 2016 (LifeSiteNews) — Archbishop Michael Miller has reaffirmed that health care practitioners cannot be “pressured or coerced” into providing assisted suicide or euthanasia, which are now legal in Canada under Bill C-14, passed June 17.

In an August 11 letter to all hospitals and Catholic health care institutions in his diocese of approximately 430,000 Catholics, Miller stated that the “conscience of caregivers, physicians, nurses, and support staff must always be respected” and health care professionals should not be discriminated against for refusing to kill their patients by medical means or refusing to provide a “direct effective referral.”

“We maintain as a fundamental principle that any action or omission which of itself or by intention causes or hastens death is a grave violation of the commandment: ‘You shall not kill’,” he wrote.

Archbishop Miller also clarified the Catholic Church’s teaching on end-of-life care, pointing out that denying a patient food and water to is “a form of euthanasia.”

Nutrition and hydration are to be considered “ordinary” treatment; they can be discontinued only when the body is no longer able to receive or process food and water.  To allow a person to die of starvation or dehydration, rather than of his/her illness, would be a form of euthanasia.

At the same time, Miller said, “occasionally there is the false impression that the Catholic Church teaches that one must sustain and prolong life under all circumstances and at any cost.”

What the Church actually holds is that a person has a “fundamental right to normal care and treatment,” wrote Miller, but added that the right to refuse procedures or treatments is considered ‘extraordinary’ or ‘disproportionate’; that is, overly burdensome, painful, or of dubious effectiveness in restoring health. Likewise, the individual has the right to discontinue treatment under the same conditions.

As a general principle, Miller continued, if a person’s condition was such that it was legitimate to not administer a particular treatment, it would be equally legitimate to discontinue the treatment when it is judged to be futile, even when it is foreseen that death will follow.

He also clarified the licit use of pain medication to alleviate suffering in palliative care.

While acknowledging the human and redemptive value of suffering, we also recognize our common human responsibility to bring relief to suffering wherever possible,” he wrote. “Thus, in palliative care it is always legitimate to administer medication in doses adequate to control the pain, even if it is foreseen that death will be hastened, so long as the intent is to alleviate the pain, and not to hasten death.

Read Archbishop Miller’s full letter here.