New Perspectives: A Senior Moment – ‘Life or Death’?

It is literally a matter of life or death. I refer to the Federal Government’s on-line survey which invites Canadians to respond to a brief questionnaire about the current Medical Assistance In Dying (MAID) legislation.

This government initiative is motivated in part by a September, 2019 decision of the Quebec Superior Court which asserted the need to broaden eligibility for this end-of-life procedure. The Court did recognize concerns raised by those who fear that expansion of the law could ultimately increase vulnerability and risk for those who are mentally ill and already struggling with suicidal thoughts. It also accepted that the “sanctity of life” philosophy is an ethical value held by many citizens. Yet, the Court still made this pronouncement:

We cannot, in the name of protecting certain persons from themselves or of socially affirming the value of life, deny medical assistance in dying to entire groups of people.

Who are these “entire groups of people” currently denied access to MAID? Those advocating for expanded eligibility for end-of-life assistance focus on these three groups currently excluded:

—-mature minors (eg.16 or 17 year olds) who are terminally ill and should have the right to make an informed decision about and request for MAID when their pain cannot be relieved and becomes unbearable.

—those suffering chronic and intractable psychological pain yet who are not terminally ill.

—persons who may have already made a preliminary request for MAID to be affirmed once their condition worsened but now, through deteriorating mental capacity ((eg dementia), can no longer provide that informed consent.

Clergy and church leaders with the Pentecostal Assemblies of Canada received an urgent email on January 22 from their General Superintendent. In his opening statement, The Rev. David Wells commented on the survey:

“We are being asked to clearly communicate the value we put on life—as followers of Jesus, from conception to death.”

Writing for the Canadian Council of Christian Charities on January 21, Deina Warren voiced similar concerns: “—we are talking about the intentional killing of human beings—.”

On January 20, the Evangelical Fellowship of Canada (EFC) which speaks for Canadian Evangelical church denominations weighed in on the debate:

“The Evangelical Fellowship of Canada shares the deep concerns of Canadians with disabilities that they might become vulnerable to pressure to end their lives if critical safeguards are removed.”

These arguments heard from some—but certainly not all—Christian faith communities are based on their belief in a God-given sanctity of life which protects that life from conception to natural death. Abortion is therefore opposed because the “unborn child” has no voice in protecting his or her own life. Others must then articulate that voice by taking pro-life positions. While understanding the rights of women to control their own bodies, they assert that decisions around abortion should not be left exclusively to pregnant-patient and physician. There is a third person who has rights to consider.

In my opinion, that perspective holds less persuasion when it shifts to ethical and moral issues surrounding the end of life. Here, there is no voiceless, unborn third person but only a fully informed and intellectually competent patient and their physician.

When it comes to a person’s decision to “choose to become a practicing Christian,” orthodox theology holds firmly to the doctrine of free will: the individual’s God-given right to self-determination and autonomy. Would the same theology not hold true for an individual’s end of life decisions? While obviously not forcing anyone opposed to MAID to undergo the procedure, is society now ready to support those who choose this end-of-life step? Some will cling to the belief that suffering has a Divine purpose and meaning can be found in enduring those last weeks until “God decides to take me home.” Pain medication will facilitate that endurance as will the expanding availability of palliative care. Choosing to await a “natural death” can always be a personal choice but one not to be mandated for others who do not subscribe to that view of suffering—or of God.

The EFC directs their members on how to respond to the questionnaire. You may prefer to think and decide for yourself. Your initial step would be to find and fill out the brief questionnaire, “Medical Assistance In Dying—an online questionnaire.” Regardless of which position you hold, please take the time to do so. The deadline is the 27th of January. It is really a matter of life and death.