The archbishop of Toronto is given to deprecating himself as “just a simple country cardinal.” In my experience, though, Cardinal Thomas Collins is one of the premier leaders of the Catholic Church today. He’s a bishop of the New Evangelization who does a lot of his evangelical work retail: like treating potential seminarians to early morning pancakes at a greasy spoon—“but it’s a good greasy spoon”—a couple of blocks from his residence. Now that retail approach is being applied to another urgent matter, as Cardinal Collins works one-by-one with members of the Ontario Provincial Parliament to ensure that the conscience rights of Catholic health care providers are not compromised by Canada’s recent embrace of euthanasia.
In Ontario today, doctors who decline to euthanize their patients are required to provide what is termed, in the Orwellian vocabulary of the culture of death, an “effective referral”: They are obliged, on pain of losing their license to practice, to send a troubled patient to a doctor of lighter conscience who will kill that patient. Cardinal Collins is fighting this abomination, as he is fighting at the federal level to make palliative care, currently available to only 30 percent of Canadians in end-of-life situations, universally available. (The Canadian government pays lip service to extending palliative care, but in a single-payer system like Canada’s, euthanasia is the cheaper option—which ought to give pause to the proponents of single-payer health care below the 49th parallel.)
Some bears of little brain would likely dismiss Cardinal Collins’s efforts to resist the further encroachments of the culture of death as examples of the kind of “culture warrior” activity Pope Francis allegedly frowns upon among bishops. That’s nonsense on stilts, as Thomas Collins made eloquently clear in addressing the 37th Annual Cardinal’s Dinner in Toronto:
As we conclude the Year of Mercy, we look to the parable of the Good Samaritan … [and] we recall the constant urging of Pope Francis that we notice and care for those who are on the edges of life, who are cast aside, and whose plight is often treated with indifference. The Holy Father has spoken of the “globalization of indifference.” We need to be like the Good Samaritan who cared and took action to help the wounded man, and not be like those who were indifferent to his suffering and walked by on the other side. …
A merciful life is one in which we recognize the fundamental fact that the people around us are brothers and sisters to be loved, not things to be used, and once no longer useful, to be disposed of. Mercy calls us to recognize the dignity of the human person and to acknowledge that each person we encounter is a “who,” not a “what.” Each of us has dignity, worthiness, which is inherent in us, despite any superficial weakness or inadequacy. …
We have been made more aware recently of the merciless assault on human dignity which is sometimes falsely called “mercy killing,” and even more falsely “medical assistance in dying,” and most falsely of all “death with dignity.” When we are dying, especially if it is the result of a long illness, we may well not have … [the] wholeness of mind and body we had when we were young and in good health. But everyone dies with dignity, and it is not right to hasten death in the mistaken belief that doing that is what is needed to allow a person to die with dignity.
It is essential that … we show the mercy of the Good Samaritan not only to the homeless, to the sick, to those suffering or in prison, to any victims of violence, and to refugees, but especially to those who are dying. We do that through true palliative care, by using the best medical expertise available to control pain, and by surrounding the one who is dying with the love that we all hope to sustain us as we come to that crucial moment which we Catholics mention in our most frequent prayer, “the hour of our death.”
That is the authentic voice of the shepherd who is always “in mission.” It issues from a man of God whose service to the Church might not end on the shores of Lake Ontario.
George Weigel is Distinguished Senior Fellow of Washington, D.C.’s Ethics and Public Policy Center, where he holds the William E. Simon Chair in Catholic Studies.