Charles Lewis: Faith shouldn’t have to bend to survive

  • August 6, 2019

In the spring I took a course to become a hospice volunteer. After spending 12 years railing against euthanasia, both in newspaper articles and through talks, I thought it was time to put my beliefs into concrete action. 

In the winter, I met with a volunteer co-ordinator at a facility in Toronto. It is a beautiful facility that offers long-term care and hospice care. It was agreed that after an intensive training course, classroom and online, I would work with a Catholic chaplain.

The people there do a world of good. They not only train people to work in their own facility but also those who work for such groups as Hospice Toronto, which sends volunteers into people’s homes, and Journey Home, a hospice facility for the homeless. 

But ethical problems arose for me that eventually became insurmountable. 

The first alarm bells rang for me in the class on ethics. The guest speaker told us he was instrumental in writing the 2016 bill that made the killing of patients legal. He did not use the word “killing” or “euthanasia.” Instead he called it by its bureaucratic name, MAiD, or medical aid in dying. An utter obfuscation of the truth if there ever was one.

I thought: What in the world does euthanasia have to do with ethics? What would euthanasia have to do with hospice care? I thought the entire point of hospice care was providing a good death without dispatching the patient.

I soon found out that the facility uses euthanasia on those who request it. It does not impose it on its patients, and staff who are uncomfortable with the “procedure” are never forced to take part. Still, having it on the menu to me was troubling enough.

During a later panel discussion led by three veteran volunteers, one of them mentioned MAiD. I could not resist: “Oh, you mean euthanasia.” The woman in charge of the program made it clear, “We do not use that word.” 

I pointed out that MAiD is not a real word and euthanasia is. You can look it up in the dictionary. “We don’t call it that,” I was reminded in no uncertain terms. God only knows what would have happened if had I called it killing.

Still, I thought I could do some good here. Especially working with a Catholic chaplain. Perhaps there was a chance to deter those who wanted to die by the needle.

On another night, we were shown a film on gender fluidity. I never understood why this bit of social propaganda was necessary. I thought that if I were to visit someone who was very sick and in need of spiritual care the last thing I would ask them is about their gender identity or whether they were gay or straight. Why would anyone who had an ounce of compassion ask that? 

I think the point was to drive home the need for the respect of differences. Another way could have been to say that we are all children of God, which makes us all worthy of respect. But God is not in vogue these days.

The end for me was when I learned that there was no Catholic chaplain. The chaplain was a female Anglican priest. I am not sure how this mistake happened but I will venture a guess: To be kind, so little is known about religion today many now believe a Catholic priest, a mindfulness practitioner, a spiritual healer or a Wicca priestess are all interchangeable. 

When I decided to leave the place behind, I wrote this to the volunteer co-ordinator: “You must understand as a devout Roman Catholic, which I emphasized over and over during class and discussion, this is an issue that is morally problematic. I too am deserving of respect for my beliefs.”

I have found a spot working with a Catholic chaplain at a local hospital. Much of what I learned in the course will be helpful. So I write all this not to shame the place that trained me but to relay an experience that is indicative of just how secularized our society has become.

To get along is to compromise our faith and personally I am sick and tired of compromise. 

None of us should have to but it is getting harder every day.

(Lewis is Toronto writer and regular contributor to The Register.)

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