People in our communities are asking for assisted death. What can we do?

12 July 2016

Now that the law has changed, people in our communities are asking for assisted death. Although the federal government hasn’t put in place regulations on collecting the statistics yet, the media reports that in Quebec there have been about 12 assisted deaths per month since provincial legislation was passed last December.

Photo by Ron Nickel,

The State of Oregon’s Death with Dignity statistics indicate that a common end-of-life concern for people requesting death is being a burden to their family and caregivers.

The EFC opposed the legalization of euthanasia and assisted suicide in the courts and in the legislature. Life is a gift from God that we promote and protect throughout all its stages. We believe the proper response to suffering, and particularly to those who are nearing the end of life, is to respond with care and compassion, and to journey with those who are walking in the shadow of death.

As we stated in our submission to the Special Joint Committee on Physician-Assisted Dying:

The question of suffering is beyond the scope of medicine alone. Pain is a physical question, which medical professionals are qualified to respond to and treat. But suffering is a broader human question, involving emotional, psychological, spiritual, social dimensions, and is beyond the expertise of medicine alone to address. The solution proposed by the Court to the problem of suffering not only fails to address the suffering, but eliminates the one who suffers. Suffering is properly addressed by good quality palliative care that considers the whole person and includes a range of supports.

Jesus’ teaching about loving our neighbour and caring for the sick has always been part of our calling. Especially now that euthanasia and assisted suicide are legal, we need to actively look for tangible ways to show love to vulnerable people. They need to know that their lives have value and inherent dignity, regardless of illness, injury or disability. They need to know that they are not alone. They need to know that they are loved.

Palliative care is one way to show that kind of tangible love. It is support and care for the person who has a terminal illness and for their caregivers. Palliative care provides pain control, as well as spiritual, emotional, and social support.

Some churches are starting to connect their members to hospices and local palliative care organizations. Others are co-ordinating volunteers to visit and serve as part of home-based palliative care. The Canadian Hospice Palliative Care Association has a directory of palliative care services across the country.

The EFC is working with other faith groups to call attention to the critical need for increased palliative care across the country. As the Interfaith Statement on Palliative Care, issued on June 14, states: “Visiting those who are sick, and caring for those who are dying, are core tenets of our respective faiths and reflect our shared values as Canadians.”

Check out the EFC’s free booklet with discussion questions, Euthanasia + Palliative Care, as you think through the issues, either alone or with a small group.

Let’s love and support those who are at the end of life.

Author: Beth Hiemstra, EFC Centre for Faith and Public Life