UC Observer logo
UCObserver on SoundCloud UCObserver on YouTube UCObserver on Facebook UCObserver on Twitter UCObserver's RSS Feeds

Dying with dignity?

Faith groups respond to Supreme Court ruling on physician-assisted death

By Dennis Gruending

The Supreme Court of Canada has struck down a law that makes it a crime for physicians to assist in the death of individuals who are grievously ill. While the court’s unanimous decision pleases many Canadians, it alarms many others and leaves religious leaders and politicians in a most delicate position.

The court has ruled that the existing law leaves people suffering from an irredeemable illness with a cruel choice. “[They] cannot seek a physician’s assistance in dying and may be condemned to a life of severe and intolerable suffering,” the court said. The judges added that the law violates the charter rights and is therefore unconstitutional. As such, the court gave the federal government one year to draft a new law, and if Ottawa does not do so, there will be no law in place to regulate physician-assisted death.

Of course, faith groups have long argued that life is a gift from God and that neither people who are ill nor those around them have the right to decide when life should end. They also warn lawmakers of a “slippery slope,” arguing that vulnerable people will come under pressure to choose death rather than burden their loved ones or society at large.


May Court Hospice provides palliative care in Ottawa. Photo by Dennis Gruending
May Court Hospice provides palliative care in Ottawa. Photo by Dennis Gruending
But the trial judge in the initial challenge to the law examined other jurisdictions where assisted death was available and concluded that the risks to vulnerable people were minimal. The Supreme Court judges agreed: “[The evidence] also supports her finding that a properly administered regulatory regime is capable of protecting the vulnerable from abuse or error.” So although judges in Canada don't look at laws based on hermeneutics, the court clearly considered moral and ethical dimensions. “An individual’s response to a grievous and irremediable medical condition is a matter critical to their dignity and autonomy,” they said. “The prohibition [on physician-assisted death] denies people in this situation the right to make decisions concerning their bodily integrity and medical care and thus trenches on their liberty.”

Meanwhile, the Evangelical Fellowship of Canada expressed “deep” disappointment with the judgment and said that the court had decided that in some circumstances, “the killing of a person will be legal.” The Catholic bishops also expressed their dismay, saying that "helping someone to commit suicide is neither an act of justice or mercy, nor it is part of palliative care.” Although the United Church of Canada made no formal statement, Moderator Gary Paterson wrote that “[the law] should change in order to allow physician-assisted dying in circumstances that meet carefully defined criteria.” The Primate of the Anglican Church of Canada, Fred Hilz, also announced that his church is appointing a task force to guide its discussions on physician-assisted death.

Interestingly, all of these faith groups stressed the importance of improved palliative care, too. Although such care will not eliminate the requests for physician-assisted death by some people who are gravely ill, the consensus is that good palliative care makes all the difference in the quality of life during one's final stages. 


Author's photo
Dennis Gruending is an Ottawa-based author, blogger and a former Member of Parliament. His work will appear on the second and fourth Thursday of the month. His Pulpit and Politics blog can be found at www.dennisgruending.ca.
Readers’ advisory: The discussion below is moderated by The UC Observer and facilitated by Intense Debate (ID), an online commentary system. The Observer reserves the right to edit or reject any comment it deems to be inappropriate. Approved comments may be further edited for length, clarity and accuracy, and published in the print edition of the magazine. Please note: readers do not need to sign up with ID to post their comments on ucobserver.org. We require only your user name and e-mail address. Your comments will be posted from Monday to Friday between 9:30 a.m. and 5:30 p.m. Join the discussion today!

Announcement

New Observer editor and CEO, Jocelyn Bell. Photo by Lindsay Palmer

New editor named

by Observer Staff

Promotional Image

Editorials

David Wilson%

Observations

by David Wilson

A perfect send-off

Promotional Image

Video

ObserverDocs: My Year of Living Spiritually

by Observer Staff

Anne Bokma left the Dutch Reformed Church as a young adult and eventually became a member of the United Church and then the Unitarian Universalists. Having long explored the "spiritual but not religious" demographic as a writer, she decided to immerse herself in practices — like hiring a soul coach, secular choir-singing and forest bathing — for 12 months to find both enlightenment and entertainment.

Promotional Image

Society

November 2017

Trump country

by David Macfarlane

A northern Alabama county voted almost unanimously for Donald Trump in 2016. One year later, the writer, together with photographer Nigel Dickson, travels there to try to understand why.

Faith

November 2017

Involuntary pilgrim

by David Giuliano

The return of a tumour sets David Giuliano on a path he calls his ‘Camino de Cancer’

Faith

October 2017

A tale of two cancers

by Catherine Gordon

One year after the writer discovered she had breast cancer, her sister in California received the same diagnosis. They both recovered, but their experiences were worlds apart.

Society

November 2017

Trump country

by David Macfarlane

A northern Alabama county voted almost unanimously for Donald Trump in 2016. One year later, the writer, together with photographer Nigel Dickson, travels there to try to understand why.

Faith

November 2017

Involuntary pilgrim

by David Giuliano

The return of a tumour sets David Giuliano on a path he calls his ‘Camino de Cancer’

Faith

November 2017

Grey matter

by Trisha Elliott

Is consciousness just a function of the brain — or something more?

Promotional Image