Life issues are rarely off the radar

  • May 14, 2010
This year’s March for Life took place against a backdrop of legislative initiatives at both ends of the life spectrum. As this column is being written before the march in Ottawa, there’s no way to know if the event will be covered in the media. But life issues continue to be prominent in the news.

The unborn victims of violence bill in the last parliament and the April 14 private member’s bill aimed at ending the coercion of women into abortions they do not want both received plentiful coverage and sparked strong reaction. The proposals caused a rash of letters to the editor and talk-show panels.

The pro-choice side was strident in its conviction that even the most modest recognition of the presence of human life before birth would be the thin edge of the wedge in eliminating legal abortion, all part of the social conservative “hidden agenda.” Pro-lifers seemed a little more realistic in their assessment that, at best, either proposal would do little to stem the number of abortions, but would help keep the moral issue alive. In the unborn victims of violence bill, it would have provided recognition that there are two victims in any violent crime against a pregnant woman.

Considering that Canada is alone among G8 nations in having no law restricting abortion, it is ironic that the government’s insistence on leaving abortion out of Canada’s part of the G8 maternal health initiative has been such a lightning rod. People with even the mildest pro-life sensibilities found it distasteful when politicians began pointing to other politicians who have pro-life voting records as though it was something to be ashamed of, a reason for disqualification from public office. Everyone suddenly became an expert on foreign aid. But whatever Canada’s contribution consists of in the end, it will have no impact on the tax-funded provision of abortion in Canada.

There is so much to be done in the developing world, particularly for women and children, that it would be scandalous if aid was delayed by domestic squabbles directed more at politicking than quality of life. In all likelihood, this controversy will remain in the news right through the summit.

On the other hand, the failure of the pro-euthanasia Bill C-384 to achieve sufficient votes to continue to third reading received very little media attention. The omission is striking in that there was plenty of coverage of the euthanasia issue leading up to the vote and because the defeat in the House of Commons was resounding (228 to 59). The debate revealed some real concerns Canadians have about end-of-life care, a subject that, unlike abortion, affects  everyone eventually. Therefore it would be wrong to stop the discussion just because one legislative proposal has failed. In an aging society where a significant segment believes that individual choice trumps the religious and conscientious freedom of those who would have to implement that choice doctors, nurses and pharmacists, among others the subject of euthanasia will come up again. Until people have an assurance that good palliative care will be available, and that they will have the right to refuse any treatment they do not want, many will argue for the “right to die” as a needed option.

I have been on a number of media panels about this topic, and two things have struck me consistently. First, unlike abortion, organizations on both sides of the euthanasia question tend to agree on many things, especially the need for a commitment to better end-of-life care — more hospices, improved pain relief and options for home care. Second, there is a belief the Church is trying to impose its will on society, even funnelling big money into organizations that “oppose choice.” I asked one euthanasia advocate, Don Babey of Dying with Dignity Canada, if the Church’s long experience in operating health-care institutions might give it insight into what people want. He agreed that perhaps this is so, but they “shouldn’t impose it” on everyone.

Given the prevalence of anti-Church attitudes when it comes to public policy issues, we should be glad that the March for Life attracts a large and growing following. Regardless of whether the event attracts much notice in the press, life issues themselves will continue to do so. We all have a stake in how the debates play out.

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