Faith Groups Speak Out Against Assisted Dying, Urge Caution

March 9, 2016 Updated: March 10, 2016
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TORONTO—Opposition to doctor-assisted dying has brought together a number of different religious groups across the country who argue the soon-to-be-legalized practice has far-reaching consequences and needs to be carefully considered by Canadians.

The Supreme Court of Canada ruled a year ago that individuals with unbearable suffering from a grievous and irremediable condition could seek a doctor’s help to die. Ottawa has until June 6 to pass new legislation reflecting the court’s landmark decision.

As that deadline inches closer, certain faith-based groups are cautioning their communities that the practice opens the door to a host of complicated issues while undermining the importance of human life.

“I really don’t think most Canadians understand the conversation that’s happening,” said Julia Beazley, director of policy with the Evangelical Fellowship of Canada.

“Canadians think we’re talking about extending assisted death to individuals who are terminal, who are near death. And they think we’re talking about alleviating suffering for someone who is going to die soon anyway, but the conversation has gotten so much broader than that.”

The national discussion on the issue grew louder in recent days after a parliamentary committee recommended that Canadians with unbearable suffering due to mental illness—not only those with a “grievous and irremediable” physical condition—should be able to seek medical help to die with few obstacles. The committee also recommended that “mature minors” should eventually be included under right-to-die legislation.

The expanding recommendations on the practice have drawn different faith groups together, Beazley said.

“This belief in respect for human life and the sanctity of human life is a unifying thing,” she said. “When we devalue life for some, then I think most of us could agree that devalues life for everybody.”

Cardinal Thomas Collins, the archbishop of Toronto, Canada’s largest diocese, made some of the strongest comments on the issue over the weekend, calling assisted dying “most destructive to the human person” and saying Canadians haven’t given the issue enough thought.

The Canadian Council of Imams has also joined the chorus, firmly opposing the practice.

“We think it is time to have one voice in different faiths on this issue,” said council chairman Imam Mohammad AlNadvi. “A human’s responsibility is to protect life, whatever capacity we have.”

AlNadvi said imams in a number of Canadian communities have been counselling those who might consider medically assisted dying not to lose hope in God, while also urging Muslims in the medical field to focus on saving lives.

If a Muslim did ultimately decide on a physician-assisted death, however, AlNadvi said they would not be censured for it.

The issue has also resulted in some faith-based groups having to grapple with differences of opinion amongst their own.

Jewish Canadians, for instance, have expressed a variety of views on the matter, said Noah Shack, director of policy for the Centre for Israel and Jewish Affairs, which surveyed community members on the issue.

There are, however, certain areas of consensus and that’s where the CIJA is focusing its efforts, Shack said.

“What are the safeguards that are going to be in place to protect vulnerable Canadians? Is the right of a patient going to be balanced with the right of health-care physicians?” he said, citing examples of areas where members agreed.

“There’s a consensus that physician-assisted dying cannot be the default option for people facing an end-of-life choice. We need better home care, hospice care, palliative care.”

From The Canadian Press