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The Church’s Role in the Fight Against Assisted Suicide

By Faye Sonier

Parliament clearly expressed its will in 2010 when Members of Parliament voted resoundingly against a bill which sought to decriminalize euthanasia and assisted suicide. The Supreme Court of Canada plainly ruled against the practices in the 1993 Rodriguez case, in which it found Parliament’s jurisdiction and legislation in this area to be sound.

Democratic process and our highest court’s findings seemingly insufficient, a B.C. lower court judge decided to legalize euthanasia and assisted suicide with her 2012 Carter v. Canada decision, which is currently under appeal. The government of Quebec is now arguing that it can permit the practices as well, under its constitutional power to regulate healthcare.

As the Carter case winds its way through the appeal process, Evangelicals will be represented. The Evangelical Fellowship of Canada is intervening at the British Columbia Court of Appeal and has filed its written legal arguments. The EFC is arguing that the sanctity of human life is a valid Parliamentary consideration under the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms and that ethically, morally, and legally, dying and killing are drastically different things. As stated in the factum, “There can be such as a thing as a good death. There is never such a thing as a good killing.”

The case will be heard in March. The lower court decision needs to be overturned not only to ensure the lives of Canada’s most vulnerable citizens and to prevent the abuses that have occurred in jurisdictions where these practices have been legalized, but to affirm Canada’s life respecting ethos.

This is literally a life-or-death legal challenge. The Church needs to be present in the courts, on Parliament Hill and in the public square offering an alternative response to suffering. State-sanctioned patient killing is not the answer. The Church is well-equipped to play a key role, by its history of engagement, its concern for its neighbours, by the Biblical principles it holds to, and by the hope it has in Christ. He has equipped His Body to care for the suffering.

Research from jurisdictions where assisted suicide and euthanasia have been legalized clearly shows that due to advances in palliative care and pain management, most people request an early death not because of physical pain, but because of metaphysical suffering. They’re losing hope. They feel alone. They fear becoming a burden to their loved ones. They don’t believe society values their lives.

The suffering this research describes is heart-breaking. But it also identifies an important opportunity for the Church, and a reason for hope.

The Church knows how to minister to those who are infirm or elderly – it has been doing so for two thousand years. In Church pews is found the expertise, the people and the passion to make a difference. And a number of palliative care specialists are calling the Church to join them on the frontlines.

A few years ago, I attended meetings with some of North America’s leading palliative care experts. They related these research findings. They shared that while medication and mental health care will ease emotional and psychological pain, the suffering and the sick can find a great deal of comfort and symptom reduction through practical expressions of care, love and support by their community – expressions of the “love your neighbour” principle.

These measures can make the difference between a suicidal patient and one who finds meaning in his or her last days. Studies, like the findings from Dr. Harvey Max Chochinov’s Dignity Therapy, prove that the will to live is increased when patients are offered consideration and dignity.

The palliative care specialists I spoke with were hopeful as they set out these facts, because as a community, we can help pull people back from the brink of suicide. To make a significant impact, the Church doesn’t have to spend years raising funds for equipment or training. The Church can make a difference today – by simply being what it was always called to be.

Responding to these cries of desperation may be one of the most important calls for this generation. Our culture is facing fears that it is trying to resolve with laws rather than relationship and truth. As the Church, we have the knowledge, experience and calling to play a culture- and life-saving role. Let’s heed that call and transform our culture, restoring a focus on life rather than debating death.

For more on information, check out this recent FaithToday article.


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