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!

Interviews

Courtesy of Pixabay

Why this woman is leaving the Catholic Church in her 60s

by Angela Mombourquette

After a lifetime devoted to Catholicism, a Nova Scotia teacher is settling in with the United Church of Canada. Here, she explains why.

Promotional Image

Editorials

Jocelyn Bell%

Observations: It’s a long road toward full equality for women

by Jocelyn Bell

'It’s a wonder that we continue to see male ministers as normative and attach shame to female ministers’ biology and sexuality.'

Promotional Image

Video

ObserverDocs: Playing by Heart

by Observer Staff

United Church music director Kara Shaw was born prematurely, became almost totally blind and was later diagnosed with autism spectrum disorder. Today, the 28-year-old showcases her unique musical ability, performing piano on local and national stages.

Promotional Image

Faith

May 2018

Toronto church builds interfaith friendship

by Vivien Fellegi

Faith

May 2018

This parent found no support for her autistic daughter — and decided to change that

by Kieran Delamont

Suzanne Allen talks about raising a daughter on the autism spectrum and bringing all autistic girls together

Faith

May 2018

Church retreat helps first responders with PTSD

by Joe Martelle

Interviews

May 2018

Why this woman is leaving the Catholic Church in her 60s

by Angela Mombourquette

After a lifetime devoted to Catholicism, a Nova Scotia teacher is settling in with the United Church of Canada. Here, she explains why.

Ethics

May 2018

Pregnant in the pulpit

by Trisha Elliott

Ministers who take a maternity leave still face discrimination in their own congregations

Interviews

May 2018

The two words Rev. Cheri DiNovo wants to hear from the United Church

by Alex Mlynek

The Toronto minister talks about her disappointment over the church’s silence when she officiated the country’s first legalized same-sex marriage 17 years ago – and why she wants an apology.

Promotional Image