PRINCE ALBERT — The Prince Albert Seniors Advocacy Centre held their monthly workshop May 12 at Abbeyfield House. Speakers included Bishop Albert Thévenot, M. Afr., lawyer Philip Fourie, family physician Noeline Le Roux and law student Thomas Coertze. They spoke on multiple issues, including advanced medical directives, Bill C-14, and living and legal wills.
First to present was Thévenot, who related the story of creation in which God created the form of a body out of mud and called it man. “God gave his breath to us. Giving us that gift is a responsibility; we are stewards of the life within us. Therefore, we must protect, respect and love that life, because that breath is divine and makes us a spiritual person.
“God would say the only power we have is to love and be loved. How do we live together? We create moral laws. For the last 100 years, man has reasoned that our discoveries and technologies are in control. Slowly our society has started slipping to where we only understand individualism: me, myself and I. The more we discover, the less we need of God. He has been set aside.”
He linked the disposable society to the concept of life being a commodity.
“Pope Francis calls this the throwaway society. We are seeing that who we are as human beings is that as long as I am useful, I’m good for society.”
He agreed people don’t like to see others suffer. When children are sick, no one feels they are useless. Parents and family offer comfort and presence. “Yet in our society, we don’t always see it that way. Suffering is something we have tried to eliminate. Aches and pains are got rid of through lotions and pills.”
Having had polio at a young age, Thevenot explained his leg doesn’t always do what he wants. Sometimes, he said, he has to keep it moving.
“I say to myself, isn’t that an opportunity for me to realize I’m human? I should respect myself even in my pain or discouragement. So what if we can’t do like others? We are a bouquet of flowers with different colours and petals that make the bouquet worthwhile to look at. I see that we have lost this understanding of pain as being a contribution, an occasion of being able to express and receive love.”
When Noeline Le Roux sees patients on their deathbeds, she believes there is a grace given by God in that suffering. As a Christian, she believes that we are to go when our story is done.
“At the end, there is always a moment of clarity. Sometimes it can be minutes, hours or days. After what seems to be the end comes a renewal. Families are sometimes hopeful the family member will get better.”
After many years of practice and witnessing, she believes it is a moment to make amends, to deal with whatever needs to be dealt with, in order for that person to pass into heaven.
“I believe God provides an opportunity for us to give our lives to him, if at that time the person has not yet taken that step. God is gracious, loving and kind. He wants to see all the people he has given life to a chance to go to heaven to have another life there. When this whole issue with assisted suicide occurred, I was mortified and shocked.”
The first thing she shared with her husband, lawyer Philip Fourie, was her concern that the people that intervene on behalf of the ill and the unconscious might not know they may be taking that time of God’s grace away.
“They will take the time of grace away from that person. A commodity we use and dispose of — life is not like that. Life is sanctity.”
When bodies fail, people have the feeling they don’t contribute, they don’t belong. “That’s the wrong perception. God’s perception is you have life and purpose.”
Recently, a friend whose father had terminal cancer was in horrible pain. The father begged his son to do something; he couldn’t stand the pain. The son called Le Roux and her husband to ask them how he could help his father end his life.
The doctor’s advice was that, through his father’s suffering, God’s grace was given to him and his family.
“We need to believe that God, in that time, will provide whatever they need. ‘God is not done with your father yet,’ I told him. “As he is a believer, his suffering is his testimony on his belief in God. Medicine is to minimize the pain. Sometimes we cannot stop it, but wait for God to finish what he has started.’’
Fourie shared that the same family friend had personally thanked him and his wife for the advice they gave. The friend said that what Le Roux explained would happen, did in fact happen. In that time, he was able to make amends.
“I’m really thankful for Christian doctors with respect with this issue, that they acknowledge that we need God. A prevailing attitude is that we are trying to take God’s position. People are saying there are moral laws. The question arises: what if someone in a position of power, someone like Hitler, says he doesn’t like a certain group of people? It seems to be that if society deems something to be right and it is the fashion, we should make a law and see if it works.”
Fourie spoke of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms, where it says, “Whereas Canada is founded upon principles that recognize the supremacy of God and the rule of law.”
“There is a reason it says that. The moment we don’t recognize that, it’s us determining what’s right and wrong. The moment we say there’s such thing as a moral law, we also have to acknowledge that there is a moral law giver. The question is, who is that?”
On the surface, Bill C-14 is not all bad. However, there are definitely a number of legal concerns. Prior to the bill being tabled, the Special Joint Committee on Physician-Assisted Dying made concerning recommendations in regard to the bill.
As indicated in the recommendations, the medical option for physical or psychological suffering included the non-terminally ill, minors and people with mental illness. Theoretically, Fourie said, someone with severe depression could go to a physician and request to have their life ended.
Other ways of treating that person, such as counselling, could be set aside and the physician could say, “I will respect your wishes. Let’s help you administrate assisted suicide.”
Fourie is involved with Christian Legal Fellowship (CLF), an organization founded in the mid 1970s that is fuelled by the conviction that, for the Christian lawyer, the practice of law is a vocation.
The organization consists of Christian lawyers represented by more than 30 denominations, and has put together recommendations on Bill C-14. A letter addressing their concerns was submitted to the Standing Committee on Justice and Human Rights during the first week in May 2016.
Among the concerns listed was that the bill does not affirm that suicide prevention and sanctity of life are important policy goals.
“Once Parliament legalizes assisted suicide, professional regulators, other bodies and societies at large may come to view it as a social good. I think the way it’s unfortunately presented is that assisted suicide seems to be a legal right, which is not what the Supreme Court decision set in motion at all. It’s important that in the new Act, the government should state that it is still an important policy goal to prevent assisted suicide.”
He also emphasized that it is not contrary to the public’s interest to express the view that participating in a person’s death is morally and legally wrong.
He believes that medically assisted suicide, referred to by Bill C-14 as “medical assistance in dying,” should be considered a last resort and not a measure to be presented as just another treatment option.
“It should be the last resort, after someone has been informed of the options, and there are many other options with respect to pain relief. Currently, the Act doesn’t necessarily require the doctor to inform the patient about these other options.”
Advice on possible strategies for advance medical directives and living and legal wills was also presented. The talk was hosted as part of Celebrate Life Week.