On Feb. 6, 2015, the Supreme Court issued its ruling in the Carter case, striking down our laws protecting Canadians from physician assisted suicide. Although I, along with many others, saw this decision coming from a mile away, it still felt like a punch to the stomach. The ruling knocked the wind out of my sails, leaving me completely powerless, worried that there was nothing anyone could do to stop the coming flood of euthanasia from devastating Canada.
So, I did the only thing my introverted little brain could do: I turtled up and started gathering information. Over the past month, I have spent my time poring over every newspaper column, blog entry and random comment I can find on the subject. I have talked with people about euthanasia and assisted suicide endlessly, and I have pondered, mulled over, and contemplated what we can do next.
I am happy to report that by the grace of God, I think I’m finally starting to understand what the way forward will look like and it can be divided into two not so easy to follow steps.
First, we must remain vocal in our opposition to euthanasia and assisted suicide. The Carter decision challenges Canada’s fundamental commitment to respect human life. This dramatic shift in Canadian values was undertaken by nine unelected officials who unilaterally decided they know what is best for our nation.
However, we still have an opportunity to exercise our voice by asking the government to use the notwithstanding clause to suspend the court’s judgment for five years. This would allow enough time for Canadians to think through the implications of legalizing assisted suicide and to engage in the discussion on how best to protect vulnerable members of our society. Please contact your member of Parliament and ask them to support the notwithstanding clause.
Second, we must remain true to our Christian calling to journey with each other through moments of suffering. In the debate over euthanasia, I find that one of the biggest sources of misunderstanding lies in the use of the word “compassion.” Compassion is often dragged around as a catch-all description of any strong emotional connection we may feel toward another person. It is used to justify killing on the basis of these emotions with little attention given to the broader consequences of assisted suicide.
But compassion means so much more than just an emotional desire to end suffering. The word itself means “to suffer with” and just as we are called to suffer with Christ through his passion, we are also called to suffer with each other throughout life’s challenges. We may not be able to end suffering, but if we are truly committed to acting with compassion, we will be able to stand in solidarity with those who suffer, easing their burden wherever possible and affirming their human dignity.
Proponents of euthanasia claim that killing someone is compassionate. This statement is a direct challenge to those of us who reject euthanasia. It is our responsibility to show the world what true compassion looks like!
We show compassion by being present to others in their suffering. The conversation surrounding euthanasia reveals many situations in which people do not feel supported, most notably as they experience declining autonomy due to disability, illness, disease or the natural progression toward the end of life.
We must be present to these persons, eliminating their pain wherever possible, listening to their fears and acknowledging their dignity, even if they cannot see it themselves.
As much as we have a duty to journey with others in their suffering, we also have a duty to accept compassion from others. The argument for euthanasia assumes that my death is isolated from those around me, but every experience I have ever had with death shows me that this is not the case. Death is lived out in community with those who love us. As challenging as it can be to surrender to love, we are called to accept the compassion of others when we find ourselves in moments of suffering.
As the political situation unfolds in the coming year, we must bravely defend every Canadian’s right to life. We will do our best to warn Canada not to go down the path it is currently lined up to take, but I am aware that there is a chance we will not be successful.
However, our mission as Christians remains the same. We must devote ourselves to true compassion, journeying with those who are suffering and reaching out to others during our times of need.
Deutscher holds an MA in Public Ethics from St. Paul University in Ottawa. She is currently pursuing a PhD in Public Policy at the University of Saskatchewan.