Can we talk about MAID?

Family Ties

January 30, 2019 | Opinion | Volume 23 Issue 3
Melissa Miller | Columnist
“I wondered if pacifist Christians, who hold a strong commitment to preserving life, had the capacity to consider the possible merits, even mercy, in assisting someone to die. I wondered about how a theology of suffering, redemptive suffering even, so basic to Christianity, would inform the choices we make.”—Melissa Miller

In June 2016, the government of Canada enacted legislation that enabled eligible adults to seek medical assistance in dying (MAID). At the time, I followed some of the debate with many questions and a mixture of hope and dread. My questions included the incongruity of lodging the matter with healthcare professionals, who are committed to saving and serving life. I also wondered how Christians would integrate their faith with MAID.

I wondered if pacifist Christians, who hold a strong commitment to preserving life, had the capacity to consider the possible merits, even mercy, in assisting someone to die. I wondered about how a theology of suffering, redemptive suffering even, so basic to Christianity, would inform the choices we make.

Like many Canadians, I hoped the law would provide relief for individuals whose suffering seemed unbearable. I had enough awareness of others’ chronic pain and terminal illness to know a little about the excruciating grey areas. I hoped that pressure would be eased for doctors and nurses, and for family members. It seemed beneficial, if risky, not to criminally charge those who were helping to ease suffering.

At the same time, I feared we were taking the first steps onto a slippery slope, where the sacredness of life is diminished and where humans attempt to take for themselves authority that belongs to God. It seemed then, and it seems now, as if MAID exists in tension between Christian values to alleviate suffering and to affirm the absoluteness of God’s power to extend and withdraw life.

I saw clearly that the boat was well down the river; the trend towards acceptance of assisted death had momentum. Whatever my views, I would soon be living with MAID as a legal option. Now, here we are, some two-and-a-half years later. As of the end of 2017, 3,714 people had accessed MAID in Canada.

I continue to live in hope and fear, and with unanswered questions. I am mindful that many of us are on the boat in the river trying to determine what route to take, or to assist others. People like healthcare professionals and pastors, and, of course, anyone with a loved one who is experiencing great suffering and seeking release from that suffering.

Call for volunteers

Seeking information does help with the struggle. (Information on MAID is readily accessible online at canada.ca.) I have gained a certain respect for the strict criteria in place. Many view the criteria as too restrictive. Author Lawrence Hill’s account of his mother’s death, in the June 2, 2018, issue of the Globe and Mail, was particularly heartbreaking. I am open to learning from those with direct experience, like that found in Memory’s Last Breath, Gerda Saunders’ astonishing account of her life with dementia.

Getting information from a variety of sources helps. “Family perspectives: Death and dying in Canada” by Katherine Arnup (available at vanierinstitute.ca) is an excellent, thoughtful and thorough treatment of death and various options for end-of-life care. Virtualhospice.ca is another resource.

As Arnup says, “Death is a natural part of life, but many Canadians are hesitant to have essential conversations about the end of their lives.”

This brief column is my small way to encourage you to have the big, essential, if difficult, conversations about death and dying. A conversation suggests community. We have each other to talk with, listen to, and pray with about the hard parts of life, including that our life will someday end. Might we use the opportunity provided by MAID to more deeply explore Christian faith and to seek the means to have hope-filled lives and the capacity to die with trusting hearts?

Melissa Miller (familyties@mymts.net) has a passion for helping people develop healthy, vibrant relationships with God, self and others. 

See other columns in Melissa Miller’s series on difficult conversations:
Can we talk about death? 
Can we talk politics? 
Can we talk? 

“I wondered if pacifist Christians, who hold a strong commitment to preserving life, had the capacity to consider the possible merits, even mercy, in assisting someone to die. I wondered about how a theology of suffering, redemptive suffering even, so basic to Christianity, would inform the choices we make.”—Melissa Miller

Share this page:

Comments

I appreciate your trying to stimulate conversations around death amongst families and congregations. As a retired physician, I have seen families who cannot agree on care in these stages, and do not realize it is up to them to express their family member's wishes, not their own regarding end of life care. As far as MAID is concerned, the slippery slope is in place and those stringent regulations you refer to are being ignored often. A great concern for health care professionals is the attempts to force them to participate against their moral codes and religious convictions, even if it only requires referral it is unacceptable to some. This in turn may cause some very compassionate, capable candidates to reject careers in medicine and advanced nursing and even pharmacy. Do we want to take the compassion of believers out of our practice of medicine and its planning across our country?

As Christians, whom should we look to as the ultimate authority over issues associated with MAID? The government? Fallible church leaders? Or God our Creator, Who gives and takes life? Choosing any authority other than God turns this issue of debate into a subjective matter that easily results in indecision or wrong decisions. But in seeking God and His ways, questions regarding the morality of directly and deliberately causing another person’s death are answered simply and decisively in Exodus 20:13—“You shall not murder” (NKJV).

We are living in perilous times, when good is often portrayed as evil and evil as good, as with MAID. Isaiah has some hard-hitting things to say about those who seek to override God’s values and principles: “Woe to those who call evil good, and good evil;…” (Isaiah 5:20) and “Woe to the one who quarrels with his Maker…” (Isaiah 45:9) The quotes are brief snippets of those verses and we do well to read them in entirety.

One of Satan’s ploys is to whitewash immorality with terms that make something that is evil, appear as a good and viable option, as in the case of MAID. The term “helping to ease suffering” used in the context of this article really amounts to “legalized murder”. So let’s use honest terminology and call it what it really is—murder. This helps to expose the seriousness of the consequences of MAID, because as God’s Word so aptly warns us, the eternal destination of murderers is the lake of fire. (Rev. 21:8) I thank God for every pastor and Bible teacher who has the courage to stand up and teach the hard truths on such matters. This is a time when many do not endure sound doctrine, as prophesied in 2 Timothy 4:3.

I also appreciate Linda Swab’s comments on how this issue has created a demand for what must be heartrending decisions on the part of medical professionals. Because our government has taken the low road with MAID, medical personnel find themselves in unenviable moral dilemmas. There is a glimmer of hope though in Bill C-418. If passed, Bill C-418 will make it an offence to compel medical personnel to take part in various forms of the killing of patients. It will also protect the jobs of medical professionals who refuse to deliberately take lives, directly or indirectly. For us as Christians, let’s make this issue a priority in our prayer lives and contact our members of parliament to urge them to support Bill C-418.

Add new comment

Canadian Mennonite invites comments and encourages constructive discussion about our content. Actual full names (first and last) are required. Comments are moderated and may be edited. They will not appear online until approved and will be posted during business hours. Some comments may be reproduced in print.