Canada and the Right to Die

March 12, 2016 Length: 7:34

Is the "right to die" more important than religious liberty?





Hello and welcome to Human Exceptionalism. Euthanasia poisons everything it touches, including religious freedom. Last year, the Canadian Supreme Court created a right to euthanasia and assisted suicide. The decision went well beyond what we might call “mere legalization.” Rather, the Court manufactured an enforceable legal right for qualified patients to receive what Canadian policy-makers euphemistically calling “medical aid in dying.”

But what about doctors opposed to euthanasia? The Court left the decision of whether and how to accommodate doctors with conscience objections with Parliament and the medical associations, granting a one-year—now extended—period within which to enact laws to govern the practice. Since then, civil liberties groups, provincial medical associations, as well as official government commissions, have urged Parliament to enact laws that would coerce doctors who are religiously or philosophically opposed to euthanasia into active cooperation in mercy killing by forcing them to procure death doctors for their patients. Here’s how the federal panel put it:

Recommendation 10: That the government of Canada work with the provinces and territories and their medical regulatory bodies to establish a process that respects the healthcare practitioner’s freedom of conscience while at the same time respecting the needs of a patient who seeks medical assistance in dying. At a minimum, the objecting practitioner must provide an effective referral for the patient.

That’s gobbledygook! Requiring “effective referral” would materially violate, not respect, a practitioner’s freedom of conscience, trampling their faith under the boot of the state.

All of this proposed coercion would seem to fly in the face of Canada’s 1982 charter of Rights and Freedoms, which states explicitly: “Everyone has the fundamental freedom of conscience and religion.” Illustrating the utter lack of regard, secularized Canada now has for religious liberty the Canadian Civil Liberties Association applauded the Parliamentary committee’s call to stomp upon religious conscience as a “promising step forward.”

Doctors aren’t the only ones threatened with religious persecution under Canada’s looming euthanasia regime. Provincial and federal commissions both recommended that nurses, physicians’ assistants, and other such licensed medical practitioners be allowed to do the actual euthanizing under the direction of a doctor. This is particularly worrying from a medical-conscience perspective, because it leaves no wiggle-room to say no. For example, objecting doctors might be able to defend refusals by claiming that the euthanasia requester was not legally qualified, but nurses would not even have that slim hope, since they would merely be delegated the dirty task of carrying out the homicide. This would leave nurses with religious objections to euthanasia with the stark choice of administering the lethal dose when directed by a doctor or of being insubordinate and facing job termination.

The same conundrum would no doubt apply to religiously dissenting pharmacists when ordered to concoct a deadly brew. Even Catholic and other religious nursing homes and hospices may soon be required—by law— to permit euthanasia on their premises as the federal commission recommended that federal and provincial governments “ensure that all publicly-funded healthcare institutions provide medical assistance in dying.” That is a very encompassing category. Canada has a single-payer socialized healthcare financing system that permits little private-pay medical care outside of nursing homes. Not only that, but as Alex Schadenberg, director of the Canadian-based Euthanasia Prevention Coalition, told me:

Religiously affiliated institutions in Canada have become the primary-care facilities for elderly persons, those requiring psychiatric care, and dying persons. They are now being told that as a condition of providing those services, they will be required to permit doctors to kill these very patients by lethal injection. If they refuse, they will find themselves in a showdown with the government.

That leaves medical professionals who oppose euthanasia in a very tight spot, raising the question of what options would be available to conscientious objectors. Well, they can keep their heads down and pray they are never asked to kill a patient. They can surrender and become part of the death machine, at the risk of the eternal consequences that their faith beliefs portend. They can give up their careers and hand the keys of what are now religious medical institutions to secular ownership. Finally, the difficult but most righteous course would be to engage in a policy of total non-cooperation with the culture of death, forcing the national and provincial governments and medical associations to either turn a blind eye or inflict unjust punishments on doctors for refusing to kill. Perhaps such draconian measures would bring the country to its senses.

Where are the church organizations in all of this? Some notable Canadian bishops and other faith leaders have spoken out strongly against the pending coercion, but in Canada’s highly secularized society, it will probably require louder voices than these, for example, Pope Francis and the Dalai Lama, to turn the tide. But the hour is very late. The embarrassment caused by the wildly popular pope, condemning a nation that considers itself the epitome of reasonableness, might be the only preventative that can save true religious liberty in what used to be the free country of Canada.