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Will the State Hug Me When I Die?

Father Deacon Andrew Bennett, director of the Cardus law program, argues Canadians of religious faith must be left free to choose what procedures their healthcare institutions provide. 

3 minute read
Topics: Health, Faith
Will the State Hug Me When I Die? January 24, 2018  |  By Andrew Bennett
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For 18 months, Canadian governments have legally permitted assisted suicide on demand for patients suffering terminal illness whose condition is “grievous and irremediable.” It’s considered a choice people now have available to them.

For Catholics, Orthodox Jews, and many others from different faith traditions, however, it is not a choice they could ever choose. Why? Because it is a fundamental violation of their understanding of the human person.

Choice is a great byword of today’s culture. To be pro-choice is to be “enlightened” because you are respecting the individual’s right to autonomy, to determine individual destiny.

Many in our society accept that this applies to women who choose to end pregnancy through abortion, or to young people who choose to self-select their gender.

Then why does the power of choice not extend to Canadians who want to choose not to make such choices? Why can they not choose faith-consistent healthcare that rejects abortion, euthanasia, and the fluidity of gender, and instead offers care that recognizes what true dignity and true compassion is: suffering with the human person whose dignity comes from within and is not subject to external propriety?

True, our State-funded system of health care in Canada, including for faith-based institutions, depends heavily on tax dollars. It is subject to statutes that regulate health care provision.

­But by what logic of choice does that mean those who ascribe in all good faith to the dictum “Thou Shalt Not Kill” must subordinate their faith to those who choose to believe otherwise? Surely, if we truly value freedom of choice, never mind freedom of religion and conscience, then those who are guided by faith-based values and beliefs are as entitled any Canadian to have facilities embodying their choices. 

Those who wish to kill themselves by assisted suicide are entirely free to go to a non-faith-based hospital, where someone will be happy to help them. Yet many Canadians of different faith backgrounds value something much more. They value the compassionate care they receive from Catholic, Jewish, and other faith-based facilities that uphold a true understanding of dignity and compassion to which euthanasia is anathema. They know the State will not hug you when you die at the hands of another out of misplaced compassion. For faith-based hospitals, a  hug  at natural death is the minimum. Shouldn’t seeking such comfort be strictly a matter of choice?

I write as a Catholic, with a Christian understanding of suffering. I believe suffering is not meaningless, and does not lack dignity.  As Thomas Cardinal Collins, Archbishop of Toronto has said, “A person who drools has no less dignity than one who does not.”

For Christians, Jesus Christ’s death on the Cross was not the end, but the means by which he conquered sin, suffering, and death. His suffering was redemptive. Is suffering hard? Yes. Is suffering painful? Yes. Is it right to alleviate it as best we can through palliative care? Yes. Is it ever right to end it through assisted suicide? As Catholics, we say never, and never again.

And we, through the institutions that our forebears established and through those established by other faith communities in this country, insist our rights to freedom of religion and freedom of association, i.e., our to right to live out what we choose to to believe,  be upheld

Simply because the State has made something legal does not make it obligatory, much less true. Witness slavery in the British Empire or other horrors of history which were all legalized, yet  remained gravely immoral.

Demanding that faith-based institutions bow before every choice of secular society, however immoral we consider them, is its own form of wrong. For while we live in the State, and pay taxes to it, we do not worship it. We worship God. Denying our full right to do so is when we, as people of faith, must say: “Enough.”

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