Who can end life?

Medical assistance in dying legalized in Canada

Aug 1, 2016 by

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Canadian Mennonites are getting a chance to dust off their conscientious objection after the Supreme Court of Canada ruled in 2015 that Parliament must enact legislation legalizing medical assistance in dying. Opponents know it by a slightly different name: physician-assisted suicide.

The court ruled that consenting adults have a right to seek medical help to end their lives if they have “grievous and irremediable” medical conditions causing enduring and intolerable suffering.

Typically, Canadians love to needle their neighbours about the state of American medical care and costs. However, Canada’s “right-to-die/death-on-demand” legislation rekindled many Mennonites’ absolute pro-life stance and criticisms. One source of pushback has been nursing homes with religious ties.

Ron Wiens, administrator at United Mennonite Home in Vineland, Ont., told Niagara Falls Review the Christian doctor who serves the facility “will avail himself of the right of conscience not to participate” in such procedures.

Mennonite-operated Salem Home in Winkler, Man., does not allow staff, board members, volunteers or contractors to “express their approval of, participate in, condone or refer residents to physicians who are prepared to carry out physician-assisted suicide.”

The Globe and Mail reports Salem Home serves roughly 150 residents and received about $10 million per year in funding for end-of-life care. Some of the pitfalls of government-sponsored health care are the strings that are so often attached.

The conscientious objector’s argument is elegantly simple. God creates life; God should end life; I should help sustain life. It was good enough for the U.S. Supreme Court in its 2014 ruling that Mennonite-owned Conestoga Wood Specialties in Pennsylvania cannot be compelled by the Affordable Care Act to provide certain contraceptives in employee health plans.

That black-and-white stance adds a few shades of gray when advance directives enter the picture. These days, most facilities require such documentation to guide the withdrawal of medical treatment. The discussion typically focuses on lessening medications, putting the prolonging of life in God’s hands alone.

Canadian Parliament’s new law gives doctors a right to freedom of conscience and notes they are not required to perform or assist in an assisted death. However, some provincial regulations require doctors to give an “effective referral.” There is already a court challenge in Ontario.

Federal implementation of new mandates will fall on a Mennonite, of all people. Health minister Jane Philpott is a member of Community Mennonite Church in Stouffville, Ont. She has cited evidence that only 15 percent of Canadians have access to high-quality palliative care. Improving quality of life may be the best means of discouraging intentional death.


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