Photo by Michael Swan

There has to be a better standard

  • March 10, 2016

While America entertains itself with the likes of Donald Trump and the presidential primaries, Canada is inching towards what’s bound to be a monumental decision with repercussions on both sides of the border. Euthanasia. State-sponsored suicide. And by inching I mean we’re barrelling towards it at breakneck speed.

Canada’s Charter of Rights and Freedoms guarantees individuals protected rights, as interpreted by the courts and which the government must respect and comply. Since its inception in 1982 by the previous Prime Minister named Trudeau, these rights have been slowly and inevitably expanding and have evolved, recently, to include what the Supreme Court ruled last year is the right to die. Or, more specifically, a right in some circumstances to so-called physician-assisted death, also called medically assisted dying.

A recent government panel studying the issue released a report last month that contained several recommendations to create a legal and practical framework for doctors to end the lives of patients. These recommendations, which far exceed the scope of the Supreme Court’s mandate (to allow terminal, suffering patients the right to assisted suicide), have sent shock waves through the Canadian Christian community. The recommendations include the right to seek death for mature minors, mentally handicapped and/or psychologically ill individuals and for non-terminal patients.

Less shocking, perhaps, but no less worrisome is the recommendation that physicians who are unwilling to comply with a patient’s wish to die must refer their patient to another doctor who will kill the patient for them.
Maureen Taylor, a physician assistant and advocate for medically assisted dying, appeals to the Hippocratic Oath to argue that doctors unwilling to participate in assisted suicide or perform euthanasia must reasonably provide a referral. To do otherwise would amount to “patient abandonment,” Taylor said in a recent interview.

I would point out, in fact, that this same Hippocratic Oath explicitly prevents doctors from killing their patients or doing harm to them. What a topsy-turvy world we live in.

Canadian Christians must form a sort of vanguard of society. We must loudly, clearly and with compassion, appeal to something better. Something outside of ourselves. A standard to which we far too frequently fail to rise. It is a standard that should not be determined by our own individual, admittedly faulty, internal compasses.

When a society sanctions the killing of its young, its mentally ill, its elderly and anyone who wishes to die we are not merely stepping onto a slippery slope but, as Cardinal Thomas Collins, archbishop of Toronto, put it, we’re dealing with a slope that has already been “well greased.”

Writing succinctly about physician-assisted suicide the bishops of Alberta said, “it makes legally permissible in some circumstances what is morally wrong in every circumstance.”

So as Christians, as Catholics, we must pray. We must pray for our country until our lips can pray no more. And we must act. We must add our names to petitions. We must write our Members of Parliament. And we must be unafraid to engage others in the tough discussions.

Cardinal Collins writes: “Some people become convinced that, at a certain point, there is no longer any ‘value’ in their life, since they cannot function as they once did. Their concern deserves our compassionate respect, but it is a shaky foundation for social policy. Our value as people comes not from what we can do, but from who we are. It comes from within, from our inherent dignity as human beings.

“Once we make people’s worthiness to live dependent on how well they function, our society has crossed the boundary into dangerous territory in which people are treated as objects that can be discarded as useless.”
For a Christian, deliberately ending another’s life is not a compassionate choice and we must work to explain this distinction. We must, equally, bolster the vocations of those who are already hard at work in the field of palliative care. We must walk with them and alongside the dying and the suffering, to suffer, in faith, together.

Collins, again, writes: “Christians should be guided by these words of Jesus, that for 2,000 years have inspired heroic acts of loving service: ‘Whatever you did for one of these least brothers of mine, you did for me’ (Matthew 25:40).”

(Little is a writer and elementary school teacher in Waterloo, Ont.)

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