Of course, they were going to do it. Roman Catholic bishops had demanded it, and the Justice Minister Rob Nicholson (Canada) is a Roman Catholic, so it was just a matter of time before they did it, and now they have said that they will do it. They have taken the hopes expressed by Gloria Taylor — who cried with relief when the judgement was proclaimed — and they have dashed them, saying that the Government of Canada will seek a stay on all aspects of the ruling by Madame Justice Lynn Smith. “This decision,” Gloria Taylor said at the time, “allows me to approach my death the same way I tried to live my life — with dignity, independence and grace.” And now the Justice Minister wants to stay even this decision, something so malicious and spiteful that it could only have come from someone suffering from religious delusions.
Federal Justice Minister Rob Nicholson on Friday said Ottawa would seek a stay of all aspects of the lower court decision, saying that “laws surrounding euthanasia and assisted suicide exist to protect all Canadians, including those who are most vulnerable, such as people who are sick or elderly or people with disabilities.”
Of course, the appeal was expected. As Udo Schuklenk comments (in the same article):
If you were the government of Canada, you would not want to have a relatively low-level court to have the final say on such a fundamental matter.
The fact that the Justice Minister’s decision is not about protecting all Canadians is evident in his decision to seek a stay on all aspects of the lower court decision. Gloria Taylor clearly does not need the protection of the law. She not only made a decision to seek assistance in dying when in her estimation staying alive would be more burdensome than dying, she actually took the government to court to win the right to do so. Nicholson may think that he is protecting her against herself, and that, according to one person commenting on the case, Dr Will Johnson, of the Euthanasia Prevention Coalition,
[t]he fact that some people are so dissatisfied that they choose to kill themselves is a tragedy but it’s no reason to remove all of the protections in law for the rest of Canadians.
Now, it certainly is a tragedy when suffering becomes too great to bear, but by what logic does this foolish man claim that it is a tragedy when a person in such a condition chooses to die rather than live through her last moments or days in misery? This is religious logic, the logic of people who feel that suffering is a human task which me must not shirk, and even that it is a humanising process! Johnson thinks it is okay to enslave people at the end of life, and refuse them the right to any assistance in doing what they have judged is best for them to do. He would prescribe how people must die. Your disease prescribes the way, and his god is in charge of the whole process. It is a wholly irrational position, foisted on us by religious believers. And that is an offence against humanity. God is an offence against the human, and will oppose the human until his dying breath, with the death of the last believer, for gods live only in imagination. However, while we await that blessed event, we need no longer listen to the irrationalities uttered by those in whose imaginations gods dwell.
It was Will Johnson, as I recall now, who made the suggestion, after I returned from Switzerland, that Elizabeth had been “bundled onto an airplane,” and that it was necessary to make sure that no one else was so peremptorily carted away in ignominious fashion. The story is still up at the Interim (“Canada’s Life and Family Newspaper”), in which the Euthanasia Prevention Coalition pretended that it never suggested that any particular person had broken the law.
The media began to contact the EPC for comments. The EPC decided to work from a national perspective, by having Dr. Will Johnson and Dr. Margaret Cottle in Vancouver, the EPC’s legal counsel Hugh Scher in Toronto, Mark Pickup in Alberta and myself in London handle the media. The media seemed to be looking for radical comments in order to discredit the EPC and were disappointed when only rational comments were given. The EPC then held a conference call to discuss strategy. It became concerned that the media were attempting to create an issue that didn’t exist.
The media in Nova Scotia turned the issue into that of an Ontario group out to attack a grieving man from Nova Scotia. This tactic was successful and resulted in the EPC receiving a number of e-mails and phone calls attacking its position.
Even some supporters of the EPC were concerned that we had fallen into the media’s campaign against us by actually believing that the EPC had focused its campaign on MacDonald’s husband. In fact, the EPC had never insinuated anyone in particular had broken the law. We simply asked the question: was Elizabeth MacDonald counselled, aided or abetted to commit suicide?
The story is false. The media in Nova Scotia did not turn this into an outsider-insider/Ontario-Nova Scotia affair. What happened was that the Euthanasia Prevention Coalition badly misjudged the degree of support for assisted dying all across the country, and those people felt that the EPC had victimised someone whose grief was much more evident than his guilt. The ”We simply asked the question …” ploy was a deliberate piece of prevarication, since they knew who had accompanied Elizabeth to Switzerland, and so they knew that, in fact, they were suggesting that someone should be punished for what the EPC, along with the rest of the Roman Catholic and fundamentalist Christian crew, still considers to be a heinous crime, although Canadian juries do not. It is beyond reason for them to suggest that they did not want someone to be charged with an offence, for only that would have fully served their purposes, to see Canada’s ridiculous assisted suicide law upheld.
The key here is that the Euthanasia Prevention Coalition is only one level of the multileveled, hydra-headed network of supposedly “pro-life” organisations supported by the Roman Catholic Church (which includes the EPC, the Catholic Civil Rights League, the Canadian Federation of Catholic Physicians, the Institute of Marriage and Family Canada, Priests for Life (Canada), and a plethora of other such organisations) which is quite happy to support organisations (like Lifesite news, Campaign Life Coalition, the Cardus Centre [h/t Veronica Abbass] and doubtless many others) with relationships to fundamentalist Protestant groups, which act as a front for its supposedly “pro-life” agenda, to make it seem as though the Roman Catholic Church is not at the centre of this web. (This process is well described by Stephen Mumford in his book The Life and Death of NSSM 200, which can be downloaded here.) Then, of course, there are churches like the Anglican Church of Canada, which are not officially linked to these groups, which are prepared to allow other groups, not only to front for them, but to act on their behalf, not willing to get their hands dirty in the dirty business of opposing assisted dying for the suffering, even though their supposed “discussion” document has been in existence now for well over 10 years. It’s about time for the Anglican Church of Canada to get off its perpetual discussion machine, and take a stand one way or another, so that we can know whether Anglicans are friend or foe to the suffering.
According to the Anglican Church of Canada homepage, under Faith, Worship and Ministry, we are told that
[t]he ethics area helps Canadian Anglicans to wrestle prayerfully and thoughtfully with complex moral questions, including developments in biotechnology, homosexuality, euthanasia and assisted suicide.
That “prayerfully and thoughtfully” is code for doing nothing. The fact that the church never comes to a decision about these matters, because they know, presumably, that synods and other councils of the church find these issues “too complex” — a euphemism for “too contentious” – and might come to decisions that would tarnish the image of the church. The Study Guide accompanying the church’s report on assisted dying, which concludes that providing assisted dying is ”a failure of community” – in other words, amounts to abandoning those who are helped to die — has this to say:
In opting to suggest pastoral guidelines rather than a policy statement, the task group sought to recognize both the complexity of the issues at stake in debates around euthanasia and assisted suicide, and the range of opinion that are a part of the life of our church.
In short, the issue is too contentious, and reaching consensus would probably be too difficult, so the church decided simply to present the report and let people make up their own minds, while the church stands firmly on the side of its ancient prejudices, and, while not engaging the issue publicly, allow other Christian organisations do so. That’s what it means, and that is just not good enough.
Take a genuine stand, for Christ’s sake, and then let people decide whether the church is a humane organisation, worthy of support, or one so stifled by its past that it can’t live into a humane future. The discussion paper, “Care in Dying” — where the word ‘care’ is playing a duplicitous role, since nowhere does it express any concern or care for the decisions that people might make about their own dying — is a tissue of religious obfuscations of a serious issue, much of it, of course, pretending to be purely secular, ending with the claim, as I have already said (but it bears repeating), that assisted dying would amount to a failure of community — that is, that it amounts to abandonment. As it says, so clearly:
Christians are called by God to take part in caring communities which make God’s love real for those who are suffering or facing death. It is through these communities that we bear witness to the possibility that human life can have dignity and meaning even in the context of the realities of pain, suffering, and death.
Here is the final paragraph of the Draft Statement on Euthanasia and Assisted Suicide (1998):
Good medical practice sustains the commitment to care even when it is no longer possible to cure. Such care may involve the removal of therapies that are ineffective and /or intolerably burdensome, in favour of palliative measures. We do not support the idea that care can include an act or omission whose primary intention is to end a person’s life. Our underlying commitment is that health care delivery as a whole should reflect the desire of Canadians to be a community which sustains the dignity and worth of all its members.
But they – members of a task group of the Faith, Worship and Ministry Committee – had just said:
The Christian response is always one of hope. From this hope there arises the commitment to give all members of society, especially the most vulnerable, the assurance that they will be supported in all circumstances of their lives, that they will not have dehumanizing medical interventions forced upon them, and that they will not be abandoned in their suffering.
Well, bully for them! The Christian response is always one of hope. And human dignity cannot be served by giving people access to assistance in dying.
Does this mean that you can’t be a Christian if you’ve lost hope? Does it mean that the choice to die is inconsistent with hope? Paul said that he would prefer to leave and be with Christ. Indeed, he said in his letter to the Philippians that he was torn between staying and leaving, and that the latter was far better. (Whether this means that Paul had contemplated suicide is contentious, but by no means beyond belief.) Was that a statement of despair? Pope Wojtyła claimed that what people are asking for when they ask for assistance in dying is for someone else to hope for them when they are no longer able to hope. But this is simply a lie. As we know, lots of people ask for, and a few humane jurisdictions allow them to receive, help to die, and when they ask for it, they are not asking for someone else to hope for them. So Christians betray their own scriptures, and even lie, in order to uphold an interdiction that seems to survive all attempts to bring humanity and compassion to bear on the sufferings of those living in misery who want assistance to die. Indeed, my wife Elizabeth had to shorten her life, which still had value, because she did not dare to end up without any choice, trapped in her body, forced to endure a life which would then have been, she believed, worse than death. That the Anglican Church of Canada has not revisited this report in the light of abundant evidence that the fears expressed in the report are not borne out by the facts is a telling reminder that the church is more concerned with dogma than with mercy.
The Christian response is always one of hope, says the Anglican Church of Canada. The Archbishop of Canterbury said something very similar to this in his 2006 speech in the House of Lords on the assisted dying bill. Here are his words, to which I took such great exception:
All religious believers hold that there is no stage of human life, and no level of human experience, that is intrinsically incapable of being lived through in some kind of trust and hope.
This is the kind of nuisance universal claim that the suffering are being held hostage to. If the archbishop wants to claim this for himself, that’s fine. He should be permitted to suffer as much as he thinks it his duty to suffer, but he has no right to bind others to ridiculous sentiments like this. How does he know, and why should we believe, that there is no level of human experience intrinsically incapable of being lived through in some kind of trust and hope? Even the pope recognised that there are occasions when people are in danger of losing the thread of their lives and can no longer express hopefulness within it, and ask for help to die. Then, he said, lyingly, that what they are doing is asking someone else to hope for them when all hope is gone. But at least he recognised that people sometimes lose hope, and that there may be levels of human experience which cannot be lived through in hope. In any event, this is a matter for individual human beings. This may be what all religious people hold — although it isn’t – but there is no evidence that it is true in fact, and he provides none. What right has he to say that no level of human experience is incapable of being lived through “in some kind of trust and hope.” Elizabeth did not think so, and the archbishop’s statement, and it alone, was enough for me to say, finally:
Basta! Enough! I’ve had my fill of Christian mythmaking — mythmaking which would betray the one person I loved more than all the rest! There is always someone who will be victimised by religious myth, and I can no longer, as a human being, accept a religious lens as an acceptable way of looking at life and the world. It is a corrupting influence, and needs to be defeated.
And so I do say it.
Any way of looking at the world which would have forced Elizabeth to live through years of misery, refusing to permit her to make a decision that was so central to her sense of being the person she was – a decision, by the way, which now defines her, and makes of her, not a pitiable victim, stretching out her last days trapped in a body which no longer obeyed her commands, but an agent, who, through an act of courage, ended her life as she had determined it should end – is neither humane nor human, and cannot deserve the allegiance of any thinking, moral person.
Religion’s shelf life is well beyond its “sell-by” date. It’s time we started to say this more clearly, so that religious people, who still want to live their lives cabined and confined by iron or bronze age prescriptions can do so, but the rest of us can begin the process of developing a more humane ethic, fit for people who have at long last begun to make the first, halting steps towards looking at a world uncoloured by ancient delusions.
I end on this note. A few days ago I put up, in remembrance of Elizabeth, my 2008 address to Dying with Dignity (Canada). The address was entitled “Dying in Exile,” and you can access it here. Rob Nicholson, the Justice Minister, wants to maintain the law in Canada which forced Elizabeth into exile, and which leaves me with a very tenuous relationship with the land in which I was born. Canada betrayed me, and it betrayed Elizabeth, and I have no particular love or allegiance for it, on that account. It was doubtless inevitable that government should do this, to make sure that Justice Lynn Smith’s judgement would be tested the full extent provided by the Canadian justice system. But this does not diminish the sense in this instance that we have here a case of parti pris, because the Justice Minister is a Roman Catholic Christian, and he has the support in cabinet of a number of other religiously motivated politicians, who want to see religion play a higher profile role in public decision-making. We should have a clear delimitation between the role of government and the role of religion in this country, and the blurring of lines that is taking place in the case of the present Conservative government is a serious infringement of the rights of all Canadians. It does not speak for me, and in my view there are two essential things that must be done: (i) get rid of any reference to God in the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms; (ii) sever Canada’s diplomatic links with the Vatican. The Roman Catholic Church is a religious denomination. The fiction that it is a state, conferred upon it by Mussolini, should be recognised for what it is. People are free to practice their religion, but no religion should have diplomatic relationships with the government of Canada. There is another thing that should be done. We should show, in detail, the extent to which religious organisations are involved, against the majority will of Canadians, in interference in the political affairs of this country.
Veronica Abbass has written about this over at Canadian Atheist: “Registering Amusement and Amazement.”