In a May 2020 study of palliative care by the Health Committee, the EFC made a 5-page submission
to recommend maintaining the distinction between palliative care and euthanasia, and recommending conscience protection for workers and institutions.
See our special topic page on palliative care
Provinces are developing policies for how they process requests for assisted death under the new legislation. The EFC is a member of the Coalition for HealthCare and Conscience and calls for conscience protection across the country. Conscience legislation could be enacted federally or provincially.
In 2016, Canada legalized euthanasia and assisted suicide under certain circumstances. The Justice Minister announced in early 2020 that more than 13,000 people have ended their lives in Canada through assisted suicide or euthanasia since then.
The Supreme Court of Canada ruled in the Carter
case, in 2015, that there should be an exemption to the blanket ban on physician-assisted dying. In essence, the court allowed patients with a “grievous and irremediable medical condition” to be able to ask a physician to end their lives, without penalty.
The EFC was an intervener in the Carter
case and argued that the court should uphold the sanctity of human life. Respect for life is a core principle in Canadian society. (See the EFC’s summary and commentary on the decision, as well as legal arguments, at TheEFC.ca/Carter
Federal and provincial governments set up hearings on how to respond to the Carter
decision. A provincial-territorial advisory group studying the issues recommended wide access to assisted death, including access for mature minors. The Federal Panel on Legislative Options found widespread support for palliative care, in spite of diverse opinions on physician-assisted dying. A special joint parliamentary committee recommended that Canada allow very expansive access to assisted death.
The federal government introduced Bill C-14 in April 2016. This bill created an exemption to the Criminal Code
’s blanket ban on euthanasia and assisted suicide for competent adults who are 18 years or older; with a serious or incurable illness, disease or disability; in an advanced state of irreversible decline; and for whom death is “reasonably foreseeable.”
The legislation included some safeguards, such as informed consent and a voluntary request made in the presence of witnesses after a palliative care consultation on treatment options.
The EFC argued against legalizing euthanasia and assisted suicide in submissions to both the provincial/territorial and federal consultations, and to the House of Commons and Senate committees. The EFC urged the government, if it was going to go ahead with legislation, to include the strictest limits possible, as well as strong, specific conscience protection for healthcare providers and support for palliative care. Some of the EFC’s recommendations are reflected in the legislation, such as an affirmation of the freedom of conscience and a required palliative care consultation.
The federal government passed Bill C-14, legalizing euthanasia and assisted suicide in June 2016. Quebec’s Medical Aid in Dying Act
, which includes euthanasia for those at the end of life, took effect in December 2015.
Euthanasia and assisted suicide deliberately and intentionally cause a person’s death. Refusing treatment or allowing death to occur from natural causes is not euthanasia. Giving pain medication to ease suffering during a terminal illness, even if the secondary effect is to shorten life, is also not euthanasia. Euthanasia includes the intent to hasten or cause death.
In 2019 a Quebec Superior Court struck down the requirement in federal law that a person’s death be “reasonably foreseeable” to qualify for euthanasia. It also struck down a similar clause in Quebec’s euthanasia law that requires an illness be terminal. See our posts on this issue (Nov. 2019
, Oct. 2019
Quebec implemented these changes in law first. Then Parliament passed Bill C-7
into law March 18, 2021. This bill expanded euthanasia to allow people who are not dying to be considered eligible for hastened death. Bill C-7 also removed some key safeguards for people who are at the end of life, such as the 10-day waiting period and the requirement that a person be able to consent at the time medical assistance in dying (MAID) is provided. This new law also means that, starting in 2023, MAID will become available for people with mental illness alone. It also sets out that a parliamentary committee must be formed soon which will review the MAID regime, including whether to allow mature minors to be eligible and whether to allow advance requests. Learn more at TheEFC.ca/C-7
The mandated parliamentary review committee began its work in spring 2022 and is expected to submit its report at the end of June. Learn more at TheEFC.ca/MAIDreview
How does our faith shape our response to these issues? God calls us to care for our neighbour and to seek the well-being of our country.
We are stewards of this life, but it belongs to God.
Christians believe God calls us to live the life He has given us. We do not need to accept medical treatment, but it is not for us to choose the timing of our death.
Fear and despair often fuel a request for assisted death.
Many people who are ill or at the end of life are concerned about being a burden and may be afraid of what lies ahead. The compassionate response is to support and encourage them, to provide high quality palliative care, not to end their lives.
God calls us to care for the vulnerable.
To love our neighbour is the second greatest commandment, after loving God. Jesus’ parable of the Good Samaritan teaches that our neighbour is anyone who is in need.
In both the Old and New Testaments, the people of Israel and followers of Jesus were commanded to care for the foreigner, the widow, the orphan and the poor. Another parable tells us that when we serve the vulnerable in our society, we are serving Christ (Matthew 25:34-36).
We must care for those:
All human life is precious.
- Living with a disability or serious illness
- Struggling to receive proper medical care
- In despair, believing their lives aren’t worth living
- Afraid of losing capacity or afraid they may suffer
- Needing pain control or support, without quality palliative care
Each person’s life has inherent worth and dignity because we are created by God, made in his image and loved by him. Euthanasia and assisted suicide fundamentally devalue human life. They communicate that some lives are not worth living, that people with disabilities or illness are better off dead.
Allowing euthanasia and assisted suicide shifts our medical system from a presumption for life to one in which a patient, amid scarce resources, may feel the need to justify not choosing death. Causing someone to justify their continued care and their very existence denies the dignity we affirm in us all.
We must affirm human worth and dignity with compassion.
The suffering experienced by many living with illness or disability does demand a response. We believe the compassionate response is to support and encourage people who are vulnerable, to provide high quality palliative care, not to end their lives.
- For opportunities to care for and support our neighbours who suffer
- For those who feel life is not worth living and for those who are suffering
- For our culture to be life-affirming
- For all of us to recognize that God is sovereign, and that autonomy is not the ultimate good
- For strength and wisdom for health care providers and institutions
Care for the vulnerable around you:
- Reach out to people who are depressed or struggling, living with a terminal illness or a disability
- Offer practical, tangible help to seniors and those with a terminal illness or disability, and their caregivers, by developing or joining existing programs, such as Meals on Wheels
- Support palliative care and hospice programs with your time and/or resources
Ask for change
- Pray for your Member of Parliament and your MPP/MLA
- Call or write your elected representatives to ask for:
- increased support and funding for palliative care
- the strictest possible limits and safeguards on euthanasia and assisted suicide
- strong, specific conscience protection for healthcare providers and institutions (see TheEFC.ca/C-230)
- you can find sample wording for an email or letter on our website, e.g., TheEFC.ca/C-7
- Share what you’re learning on social media
- See the two calls to action listed on our euthanasia webpage
Related Background: B.C. Challenge (Lamb case)
The EFC was granted intervener status in another case that challenged the “reasonably foreseeable” criteria in British Columbia, the Lamb case
, but in Sept. 2019 that case was adjourned indefinitely.
Related Background: CCA Study 2018
The federal government commissioned an arms-length body, the Canadian Council of Academies, to study extending access to euthanasia and assisted suicide to:
- mature minors
- those for whom mental illness is the sole underlying medical condition, and
- those who wish to use advance directives.
These studies reported back to Parliament in December 2018. The EFC made a submission
Oct. 2, 2017 that argues against expansion (includes a link to the Parliamentary reports).
Related Background: Alberta Bill 207
Bill 207 was an Alberta private member’s bill that aimed to secure conscience protection for health care providers so that they would not be compelled to participate in providing services against their deeply held beliefs. The EFC supports conscience protection for health care professionals and encouraged Alberta residents to support Bill 207
. The bill was voted down on Nov. 21, 2019.