Peter Stockland: Homicide debate is long overdue

  • February 25, 2021

Sean Murphy was a Mountie for 37 years and a local coroner for years after that. Yet even he is astonished at how quickly Canadians have become comfortable with obliging health-care workers to perform medically-assisted homicide.

“We’ve all suddenly become blasé about compelling people to be parties to killing other people,” Murphy says from his home in Powell River, B.C. “Polite society doesn’t want to talk about it.”

The silence, he says, is following the exact pattern established around abortion from the 1969 change to the Criminal Code through the 1988 Morgentaler decision, and then the campaign beginning in 2006 to compel doctors to refer for the procedure.

“Nothing has surprised me about the direction things have gone in terms of discussions around freedom of conscience and so on,” he says. “What surprises me is the velocity.”

The hell-fire pace of MAiD, he contends, follows from the ability of its proponents to efface the fact that MAiD remains homicide despite its legalization in 2016. It does so in spite of the imminent expansion of medically-administered death through the Liberal government’s Bill C-7. 

At this writing, that bill sits in no man’s land between the House of Commons and the Senate, which passed radical amendments to the legislation before sending it back to become law. How radical? The amended bill will allow MAiD for the mentally ill after an 18-month phase in period. It will also allow for advanced directives so Canadians can cast their demands for MAiD into some undetermined future.

Opponents of medically-delivered death are currently mounting massive pressure to have them pushed back. Paradoxically, the group that Murphy now administers is not, directly at least, part of that effort.

The Conscience Project, which he oversees, doesn’t take positions on contentious moral matters. Its advocacy is about seeking conscience protections for all who object to performing acts contrary to their foundational beliefs. Murphy disputes the efficacy of federally legislated conscience protection vis-a-vis MAiD anyway.

The reason, he points out, is that Canada’s constitutional separation of powers makes health care a provincial responsibility. The moment what used to be called euthanasia and assisted suicide were — hey! presto! — transformed into the anodyne act euphemistically called medical aid in dying, they became health care. Conscience rights related to the old Criminal Code prohibitions became the province of the provinces.

What does remain squarely under federal dominion, he notes, is homicide in its criminal and non-criminal forms.

“Homicide is simply deliberately causing the death of another human being. It’s defined in the Criminal Code. There is culpable homicide, which includes murder and manslaughter, and there is non-culpable homicide,” Murphy explains.

The bank robber who kills has committed culpable homicide. The policeman who lawfully kills the robber has committed non-culpable homicide. The 2015 Supreme Court Carter decision turned euthanasia and assisted suicide from culpable to non-culpable homicides.

The terminology is no language game. Calling MAiD homicide reminds people of its true nature: it is killing. It also puts a very different cast on the efforts to force health care professionals to participate in the practice, Murphy says.

“It’s a matter of common sense, and ought to be a matter of public policy, that in a liberal democracy, we don’t compel people to participate in the killing of other people. Period.”

Given the growing pressure on health-care workers to participate against their will in mushrooming MAiD, he says the time is now to have the homicide conversation.

“If some MP puts it into a bill in the Commons, it must be debated, and people might decide it’s worth talking about.” 

Hmmm. There are lots of good Catholic MPs on all sides of the Commons. Ladies? Gentlemen? What in Heaven’s name are you waiting for?

(Stockland is publisher and a senior fellow with Cardus.)

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