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We Don’t Seek to Impose Our Morality

31 March 2016

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Christians seek the best for our land

BRUCE J. CLEMENGER

Faith groups that speak against assisted suicide and euthanasia are commonly accused of trying to impose our morality on others. Canadians understand our opposition is rooted in our faith. Yet they wonder why we are trying to limit access even for others who think such practices are okay.

Why not allow legalization for those who want it, and just live out our beliefs by refusing life-ending actions for ourselves?

The answer requires some background. In Canada attempted suicide was decriminalized decades ago – not because we as a society wanted to encourage suicide, but because we felt the proper response is care and compassion, not criminal charges.

Until now, assisting someone in suicide has remained illegal. But the Supreme Court’s recent Carter decision says exemptions should be allowed.

Our current national debate is about whether we should allow such exceptions and, if so, whether governments should provide the assistance or offer euthanasia. (Assisting can mean providing lethal medication, whereas it becomes euthanasia when the helper actually administers it.)

The reason for the blanket ban on assisted suicide has been twofold – to promote life and protect the vulnerable.

The government has argued the sanctity of human life is a valid goal to promote in Canadian society. Respect for life is integral to our health care system and social welfare programs. It shapes our social policy and is an underlying ethos of our Criminal Code. The harshest penalties are reserved for those who take the life of another.

The Supreme Court has said the "sanctity of life is one of our most fundamental societal values." A few years ago a private member’s bill was passed to develop a federal framework for the prevention of suicide. Many provinces have programs to combat suicide.

The second purpose of the ban is the protection of vulnerable persons. Many people in Canada are vulnerable due to a variety of factors such as poverty, addiction, stresses, lack of community – these are often referred to as the social determinants of health. Other factors include chronic disease, disability and mental illness.

The government has argued legalizing assisted suicide is too risky for people who are "decisionally vulnerable." These include people living with cognitive impairment, depression, coercion, undue influence, psychological manipulation, systemic prejudice and misdiagnosis.

Can safeguards be put in place to mitigate these risks? The Supreme Court argues yes, but frankly the few jurisdictions that permit assisted suicide or euthanasia show no safeguards are completely effective.

Allowing exceptions will place people at risk of wrongful death.

Assisted suicide and euthanasia are not private acts. By definition they involve more than one person, and if the health care system and legal profession are involved, they become very public acts – to the point they are state sponsored and facilitated.

No one community can impose its morality on others. That’s the government’s role.

Such acts affect us all. They compromise the government’s ability to promote – and our society’s commitment to – respect for life. Legalizing them places vulnerable people at risk – at some point, all of us.

These two purposes – promoting respect for life and protecting the vulnerable – are consistent with Christian teaching. Christians base our objections on the belief it’s wrong to kill God’s image bearers. We are called to defend human life and care for the vulnerable and sick among us. Canada’s laws and public policies are shaped by social norms, principles and values which together contribute to a social and political consensus. For a democracy to work well, citizens must contribute to the consensus and at times challenge or defend it.

No one community can impose its morality on others. That’s the government’s role through mechanisms like the Criminal Code. However, we have the freedom, and I believe the responsibility, to participate in the shaping of the consensus.

As Christians we bring the wisdom we find in Scripture to these discussions. We believe adherence to its principles will bless Canada. On the issue of assisted suicide, we do not seek to impose morality, but to champion respect for life and care for the vulnerable.

Our participation shouldn’t end there. These principles mean we must show respect for all human life, treating all with dignity and respect, and demonstrate our love and caring for vulnerable persons, including those suffering and in the shadow of death.

May this be what we are known for.

Bruce J. Clemenger is President of The Evangelical Fellowship of Canada. Please pray for our work. Follow us on Twitter @theEFC and support us financially at www.theEFC.ca/donate or toll-free 1-866-302-3362.

Author: Bruce J. Clemenger


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