A protester from the Euthanasia Prevention Coalition, top, is pictured in a file photo outside the British Columbia Supreme Court. CNS photo/Andy Clark, Reuters

Selling euthanasia as Christian ‘compassion’

By  TERRY O’NEILL, Canadian Catholic News
  • August 18, 2022

A new pro-euthanasia campaign aimed at persuading Christians that compassion should compel them to support expanded access to “medical assistance in dying (MAiD)” is dangerously misleading, say secular and Catholic experts on the issue.

“We can sell killing in many ways,” Alex Schadenberg, executive director of the Euthanasia Prevention Coalition, said in reaction to the campaign, which Dying With Dignity Canada launched in early July. “But defining euthanasia as an act of compassion, in a Christian sense, negates the reality of what it really is — an act of killing.”

Fr. Larry Lynn, the Archdiocese of Vancouver’s pro-life chaplain, said any attempt to replace the centrality of Christ in Christianity with “compassion” must inevitably lead to a spiritual dead end.

“Christianity without Jesus is nothing,” Lynn said. “You might find people ‘compassionately’ doing social work, which on the surface is good, but ultimately is powerless to bring joy and peace to a suffering world.

“That is because without Christ there is no peace, there is no joy, there is no beauty, there is no love. There are none of the transcendentals, the unseen but vastly important elements that make our lives worth living.”

As part of a “MAiD and Spirituality” public-relations push, Dying With Dignity published two statements from pro-euthanasia Christians in July, one of them from a “devout Christian” named Jan Steven. She is quoted as saying, “If someone was to ask me to describe what Christianity is without mentioning Jesus, my answer is compassion.”

Steven, whose hometown and Christian denomination do not appear in the online publication, further explained her position by stating, “We do not have definitive answers for everything, but what I do know for certain is that no one should suffer. If we don’t have a direct answer from the Scripture, then what is the most compassionate response we can possibly give?”

Lynn suggested such an attitude toward suffering is naive and misleading.

“It’s so easy to say that no one should suffer,” he said. “But that is an impossibility because suffering is built into the fabric of life. Birth, life and death are all engaged in pain and suffering. There’s no way around this.”

While the impulse to reduce suffering is a good one, he said one must look deeper to understand the true meaning of suffering.

“The answer to the question of suffering is, in fact, found in Scripture,” he said. “It’s the Cross. Jesus’ suffering on the Cross has a purpose and that purpose is to take our sins upon Himself so that we will suffer less and ultimately be with Him in His kingdom.”

In the final analysis, “We need to ensure that the dying are not encouraged to prematurely end their lives in the mistaken belief that they are escaping suffering,” Lynn said.

Dying With Dignity’s public-relations push comes at a time when Parliament is considering further expanding Canada’s already-liberal assisted-suicide law to allow mature minors and people with mental illness to access euthanasia. Leading opponents of such expansion are Christians, including the Catholic Church.

The Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops issued a statement in May stating, “The legal expansion of eligibility for MAiD will only serve to erode the respect for the essential dignity of the human person and the common good of society, which must be committed to protecting and safeguarding vulnerable individuals and those without a voice.”

The focus on “vulnerable individuals” coincided with news reports of some sick and elderly persons saying they felt they were being forced to choose MAiD because they could not access appropriate medical care. The revelations shocked even euthanasia supporters such as Senator Chantal Petitclerc of Quebec, who while endorsing the right to die also wants to make sure people are not choosing it due to lack of services.

“Medical assistance in dying is not and should never be something that an individual will have access to (simply) because we don’t do enough as a country, as a province, to provide the care, the services, the tools that a person needs,” Petitclerc said.

Dying With Dignity spokesperson Sarah Dobec said the campaign “is an educational piece bringing different perspectives to the concept of end-of-life choice, and the questions some people reflect upon, often because of their religious beliefs, when considering the option to end suffering through an assisted death.”  

She continued, “The overarching theme shared by all the people we interviewed is that we need to show compassion and support people in their health-care choices, and honour their decision to end their suffering.”

Schadenberg said he believes “the euthanasia movement” wants to eliminate opposition to its liberalization plan and “the best way to eliminate opposition to euthanasia is to redefine the act.” He said activists have already succeeded in reframing legally approved medical killing as assisted suicide which, in turn, became MAiD, all intended “to make us feel better about killing” in the name of compassion, he said.

“In the truest sense, compassion is not about killing,” Schadenberg said. “It is about being and journeying with the person, it is about providing relief to the sufferer not death to the sufferer. Sadly, we all have fear of dying a bad death, the answer is not to kill, as euthanasia is, but to care.”

He said true Christian compassion is found in the parable of the good Samaritan. “The good Samaritan doesn’t end a stranger’s suffering by killing him,” Schadenberg said, “but rather he cares for him and uses his own resources to provide for his recovery.”

It’s the second time in months that Dying With Dignity has campaigned to address Christian resistance to assisted suicide amid concerns over the growth of euthanasia in Canada. In May the B.C. chapters of Dying With Dignity Canada launched a public-relations campaign aimed at forcing Catholic and other faith-based health-care facilities to allow patients to undergo MAiD without being transferred to a secular facility.

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