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September 8, 2015
By: Lorna Dueck

A most polarizing issue needing political leadership has yet to make the campaign trail, but last week, Canada’s doctors reminded us that dying awaits a legislative response. This is the grim reaper no party can avoid; a Supreme Court deadline that Parliament must craft a law, by February 2016, that allows for assisted dying upon demand. The court ruling is broad, allowing killing to be done by “persons familiar with end of life decisions”, in situations that are “grievous and irremediable.” The Court ruled that denying assisted suicide infringes on our individual right to “life, liberty and security of person,” section seven of our Charter of Rights. 

Understanding each party’s view on a law to facilitate this ruling is a tricky question to throw into an election sound bite scrum. Canada is turning a new page in responding to a rights-based argument for autonomy over death, and a careful law for our actions is now required. Political silence on death care is not an option. This is a law that will affect every family in the land, and as our doctors have reminded us, the personal morality and conscience rights of medical teams is intimately involved with it. 

In June and July, the Canadian Medical Association polled members on their views for the legislation, and announced the results at their annual CMA meeting: 63% of doctors declared “they would refuse to give medical aid in dying.” As Saskatoon hematologist Sheila Harding told the CBC; "I feel strongly that hastening death is not part of medicine. I think it eviscerates what medicine is intended to be. I think that asking physicians to be killers is contrary to the very core of medicine," she said.

This path to dying on demand is so nuanced through our moral views, I doubt you will see much faith-based activism on this issue on the campaign trail, but certainly, the faith community is engaged for the legislation. Religion has long been a source that helps our interior life face death, a sacred exchange, where the “perishable clothes itself with the imperishable,” we depart with a view of heaven in sight.  

While many Canadians do vote according to our religious values, we also realize when a debate is upon us that requires work other than placard holding. That means the discussion over what to do about death is happening not in courts, but where it always has, in the educational process of what it means to be in relationship with God. That discovery may be in quiet reflection with sacred texts, discussion at a dinner table, learning at places of worship, the religious classroom, or just the honest exchange between friends. Some in the tribe of Christian believers would say earth is a dress rehearsal for heaven, so practice at being decent and talking to your Creator. Frankly, it’s tougher than that, there is too much sin to navigate a solution of simply being nice, the biblical edit to “love your neighbor as yourself” has pitfalls. I have no trouble thinking of examples where my own love has been selective, coercive, and arbitrary. That fickle human tendency to love, or not, is in the mix that is shaping conscience objections to euthanasia in Canada.   

Some, Canadians, like Miriam Toews, in All My Puny Sorrows, have used story to help us understand family members who suffer. Others have taken their experience into activism, for and against assisted death. The accounts of court bound families that brought us to this point, in my view, were families who would have said to their loved one, “I believe you are valuable, I care when you hurt, I desire what is best for you.” What we have before us now is how to express that kind of love, beyond the autonomy of individuals to the well being of a nation. We’re lawmaking for a new future on what it will mean to care.

To read this on the Globe and Mail, click here.

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