Reprinted with permission from the May/Jun 2016 issue of Faith Today.

Bruce J. Clemenger

Bruce J. Clemenger

We are immersed in a vigorous debate in Canada about how we respond to the pain and suffering of our neighbours, and how we collectively care for people who are walking, as Psalm 23 puts it, in the shadow of death.

We have made many advances in palliative care, in how to offer comfort, compassion, dignity and worth. There are communities coming together to establish hospices, and neighbours who help neighbours provide home hospice care.

Yet we as a society have not made this the priority it deserves to be. Our failure is more pronounced when considered in light of the current debate about legalizing assisted suicide. As we try to come to grips with our failure to adequately care, we are pressed to consider hastening death.

Our country would offer death as a “choice” – while for many the only other “choice” is inadequate care and support. The option of excellent palliative care is not yet available to them.

The timeline set by the Supreme Court does not afford adequate time for us as a society to fully consider the implications of shifting from a system that defaults to caring for people who are dying, that is focused on the promotion of life, to one that sometimes promotes life and sometimes intentionally hastens death.

Medicine and law, argues ethicist Margaret Somerville, are the two key professions that have replaced the Church as the standard bearers that carry the respect for life in our society. These are the two that will be implicated and forever changed should they become the administrators and facilitators of death.

Parliament has the constitutional power to give itself more time, but it is reluctant to do so. Perhaps because some proponents of assisted suicide see an opportunity to pressure the government to act quickly.

Perhaps some parliamentarians want to get the decision over with because it transcends our usual ideological positions. It’s a set of issues that compels us to think about the core of who we are and the principles on which our society is based.

Rather than invoke the notwithstanding clause to give more time, they prefer to be rushed to judgment.

Too many, I fear, both politicians and other Canadians, are taking comfort in the mantra that our courts have decided and we must comply. It makes the decision more palatable if we can wrap it in the Charter and say the Supreme Court made us do it.

Would that we have the same sense of immediacy, a let’s just do it attitude, about palliative care.

But hastening death is easier than building capacity and committing to the investment of resources, as well as investing the time we all must spend caring for each other.

Parliament has a variety of options, as the EFC has stated numerous times. But it’s easier to blame the Supreme Court than take ownership of the life and death decisions that need to be made.

How we engage this issue speaks to the kind of society we actually are.

It is the role of society to promote, protect and defend life. It is not unlawful for someone to take their own life, but society should always and everywhere discourage suicide and offer help and comfort to those in distress, and not death.

To provide assistance to those who want death undermines and compromises society’s commitment to care and nurture.

When we collectively choose to actively hasten the death of some, for whatever reason, our moral authority erodes. What line do we draw to say we will help one and not another that will not be challenged?

Those who work in medicine can no longer commit to doing no harm – they’ll be expected to comply with an individual’s choice without being able to consider familial, communal and societal implications.

Let’s reach out and have these conversations with our politicians and our neighbours. Whatever the politicians decide to do, our response must always be an expression of our respect for life and love for our neighbour.

Bruce J. Clemenger is president of The Evangelical Fellowship of Canada. Please pray for our work. You can follow us on Twitter @theEFC and support us financially at or toll-free 1-866-302-3362.

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