Canadian Catholics who want a more fulsome public discussion of the law regarding medically-assisted death are being called to use their faith to move a legislative mountain. But take heart. The first item on the change agenda involves something as simple–and important–as writing letters to your Member of Parliament and key government ministers, says Dr. Peggy Thomson-Gibson.
The catch? With people’s lives at stake, there’s no time to lose.
A Catholic and Calgary physician, Dr. Thomson-Gibson recently addressed MAiD (Medical Assistance in Dying) at a special meeting held at St. Peter’s parish. There, the medical doctor encouraged Catholics to learn how “we can defend our faith without raising our voices.” To do that, Catholics need solid information about their faith–and about what’s at stake, especially with proposed changes to MAiD law, says Thomson-Gibson.
The problem with MAID
Approved in 2016, existing MAiD law allows Canadians to choose a medically-assisted death when their death is “reasonably foreseeable.” Health Canada recorded 7,595 MAiD deaths in 2020, up from 1,108 in 2016. For information about why the Church rejects euthanasia or assisted suicide, visit this page.
Looking ahead, the number of MAiD deaths to date are a fraction of what was expected had proposed amendments come into effect this March. The now-delayed changes expanded MAiD’s accessibility while simultaneously decreasing oversight, says Dr. Thomson-Gibson.
Of primary concern was a change that allowed people with mental illness as their sole criterion to choose a medically-assisted death. People with a severe long-term condition or disability could also access MAiD, opening the door for medically-assisted death to be offered instead of treatment. Opponents say this confuses the notion of a “right” to die with a “duty” to choose death over treatment. This is especially troublesome in a public health system where disabled or mentally-unwell individuals could be made to think they are a financial burden on their families or society.
Information released in 2022 shows the proposed changes also cut a mandated reflection period for those whose death is “reasonably foreseeable” under current law. Instead of a 10-day period, the changes required a single day. Another change drops the legal requirement for two witnesses to one and the sole witness could be a paid health professional.
These amendments were scheduled to come into effect in March 2023. They were delayed in late 2022, and again last week. This provides more time for study and input.
That timeline underscores the opportunity for faith-based outreach, like letters to the Prime Minister and individual Members of Parliament, says Thomson-Gibson. She suggests letter writers model respect in their letters and conversations about MAiD. Catholics looking for more guidance about how “to shed light, not heat” on hot-button topics should check out information from Catholic Voices Canada (https://catholicvoices.ca), adds the doctor.
Catholic Pastoral Centre Staff and Guest Writers