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

Editorial: The case for compassion

By David Wilson

The first responses to our reader survey on life-and-death ethical decisions started to trickle in about a week after publication in March. It took only a day or two to spot a trend: the majority of respondents were older, and they were inclined to take a more liberal view of issues such as abortion and physician-assisted suicide than respondents from the general population who had completed the same survey.

As more completed surveys arrived in the mail and online over the next few weeks, it became clear that the most dramatic gap between our churchgoing readers and the general population concerned end-of-life issues. The 904 responses we received showed readers overwhelmingly support medical interventions to end the suffering of people who are so sick or injured that they have no hope of recovering. In some end-of-life scenarios posed by the survey, there was as much as a 40 percent differential between readers and the general public.

Dozens of readers took the time to include a personal note describing their experience of watching a loved one suffer needlessly before passing away. Their stories were heartbreaking and cathartic. A deep and genuine compassion flowed between the lines of every one of them.

It’s possible that the big gap between readers and the general population on issues such as euthanasia and physician-assisted suicide reflected the higher number of older respondents among our readership. Older people have more experience with end-of-life realities, so their responses would skew the comparison. Maybe so, but surely that’s an argument for paying closer attention to what they say, not discounting it. They’ve been there; seen it up close.

Euthanasia (medically terminating a life) and physician-assisted suicide (medically helping someone to end their own life) are both illegal in Canada. Numerous polls have shown growing support for decriminalizing end-of-life interventions. Professional associations such as the Royal Society of Canada and political groups such as the Dying With Dignity Committee of the Quebec National Assembly are calling on governments to change the law or relax enforcement under certain conditions.

End-of-life issues will increasingly dominate the national agenda as the population ages and medical technology advances. These are tough, complex and emotional questions, and Canadians will look for leadership as the national debate heats up. Don’t be surprised if they look to the United Church, because the United Church has a reputation for taking on difficult issues that others would rather ignore. 

Within the church today, though, there is not much in the way of leadership on these issues. The church has been all but silent on euthanasia and assisted suicide for more than 15 years. For the sake of its own aging membership, for the sake of an aging nation whose values it helped to shape, the United Church needs to embrace end-of-life questions as a pastoral and prophetic priority. The compassion that so clearly inspires its members needs to inform the national conversation. This may turn out to be the major ethical debate of our time, and it would be a sin for the church to stay silent when it can offer so much.

Author's photo
David Wilson is the editor-publisher of The Observer.
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!
Promotional Image


David Wilson%


by David Wilson

If statues could talk

Promotional Image


ObserverDocs: Stolen Mother

by Observer Staff

The daughter and adoptive mother of one of the Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women share their story

Promotional Image


July 2017

From far and wide

by Various Writers

Meet 11 immigrants who are putting down new roots


June 2017

A suitcase for Cuba

by Christopher Levan

You’ll find more than giveaway toiletries and hand-me-downs in the writer's luggage. Each carefully chosen gift offers a glimpse into the lives of Cubans today.


June 2017


by Kristy Woudstra

Up to half a million people are living in Canada without official status. The ‘sanctuary city’ movement is growing, but the fear of deportation persists.


June 2017

Resisting genocide

by Sally Armstrong

In August 2014, ISIS attacked Iraq’s Yazidis, slaughtering thousands and forcing women and girls into sexual slavery. Today, the survivors are fighting for their ancient way of life.


April 2017

Dear Grandkids

by Various Writers

Six acclaimed Canadian authors write letters from the heart


March 2017

Called to resist

by Paul Wilson

Liberal Christians in the United States test their faith against a demagogue

Promotional Image