End-of-life care, current legislation and faith were the focus of an online panel discussion about medical assistance in dying (MAID) that Canadian Mennonite hosted last month.
The event included Lisa Heinrichs, a Master of Divinity student at Anabaptist Mennonite Biblical Seminary who is specializing in chaplaincy; and Rhonda Wiebe, who has advocated as a member of the disability community for more than three decades.
Here are 10 insights from the October 25 discussion:
“Each person’s situation [is unique]. In my second unit of [clinical psychospiritual education], I had a patient look me in the eyes and tell me that dying was the hardest thing he ever had to do. I realized in that moment that his experience was completely foreign to anything I’d ever known.” –Lisa
“Right now, palliative care exists as a program, but it is not legislated. And we know in times of medical scarcity that programs only anchored by policy change in a blink. Why is there nothing legally enshrining the right to palliative care but there’s legislation enshrining the right to MAID?” –Rhonda
“The topic of MAID feels uncomfortable, and it should. As a pacifist, I don’t think we should take the intentional ending of life lightly.” –Lisa
“Many of us in the disability community . . . are already eligible for MAID. That means every morning when we wake up, we must make a choice because it’s out there, just ready to be grasped. And when we experience shortages of life-sustaining medicine, lack of access to specialists and medical procedures, tremendous social devaluation, unsafe housing, poor or no community living supports, and other forms of explicit discrimination, you think about that choice. People with disabilities face much higher rates of poverty, unemployment, inadequate education, [lack of] accessible housing, [lack of] appropriate healthcare, and violence than non-disabled Canadians. Wouldn’t that make anyone think about suicide via MAID?” –Rhonda
“My starting point tends to be: MAID is law. This is the reality we’re facing. Where do we go from here? To put this theologically, as we experience the now and not yet of God’s kingdom, how do we extend Christ’s love and compassion while also advocating for justice in a broken world?” –Lisa
“At the foundation of disability rights is this: nothing about us without us.” –Rhonda
“Adjusting to disability is hard. It’s a pivot like no other, period. If you want to . . . be an inclusive community where people can work out those pivots together, look around you to see what’s blocking people’s access to appropriate healthcare or safe housing or pain control or safety or understanding social valuation and dignity. Otherwise, I would contend that MAID becomes the cheap thing rather than the right thing to do.” –Rhonda
“I recently led an adult Sunday school class at my church where we looked at multiple Bible verses about Jesus’s response to those who suffer. Because after all, at the cornerstone of eligibility for MAID is the experience of unbearable suffering. So how does Jesus deal with those who suffer? And these were some of the themes we saw: He went and saw their pain. He had compassion. He moved toward their suffering. He stayed with them. He listened to them. He didn’t judge. He touched them. He prayed. And he met their spiritual, emotional and physical needs. . . . These are things that I think we as a church can keep in mind as we discuss MAID, as we discuss suffering and as we look to following Jesus in this world.” –Lisa
“We have come from the mindset that your decisions are your own. It’s up to you to make them. You have the right to make the decisions on your own. . . . In Indigenous cultures—and I wish I had an Indigenous friend to speak with us here tonight—you have the notion of the seven generations. The decision you make is a decision that honors your ancestors from seven generations back. And will it be a decision that can be understood and [be] helpful for people seven generations in front of you?” –Rhonda
“I’ll mention one resource. The Anglican Church has released . . . In Sure and Certain Hope. I found that was a really well-balanced examination of the topic. . . . Talking to people and hearing stories is really the best starting point. Putting faces to MAID, because it’s more than just an issue; it’s about people.” –Lisa
Watch a recording of the discussion at vimeo.com/canadianmennonite.