Tuesday, February 16, 2016
Assisted Dying in Canada
I became aware just recently that the joint committee of the House of Commons and Senate on assisted dying has as a co-chair a United Church minister who is once again a Liberal member of parliament. I go a long way back with the Rev. Rob Oliphant. He was one of a group of students for the ministry who did their internships in outport Newfoundland thirty five years ago. I was one of several supervisors and while Rob wasn't my student I saw him regularly as part of the group. He is very bright and thoughtful and served the church well through the years. He brings an important perspective to this committee as someone who has worked through end-of-life issues with parishioners. http://ottawacitizen.com/news/politics/interview-with-mp-robert-oliphant-new-co-chair-of-assisted-dying-committee
I contacted Rob to ask how congregations and presbyteries of the United Church might get involved in this discussion. Generally, United Church members support an end to this life which is compassionate and does not insist on physical and emotional distress for the sake of prolonging life at any cost. This change in legislation is important, and reflects a change in the attitudes of society.
At the same time I hope we recognize the complexity of the issues and the need to protect the vulnerable. I have blogged about this several times and I have been open about my concerns that most of us don't realize how challenging these decisions are. We really aren't all that good at palliative care in this country, and many physicians are ambivalent about being asked to assist in terminating lives.
Rob mentions that conservative churches have been very vocal in response to the changed legislation, in the form of hundreds of emails a day, and I can only imagine that they are opposed to loosening restrictions on assisted dying. I observed that I can't recall a single conversation at the presbytery or conference level of the United Church through the years, even though the United Church Observer magazine has discussed assisted dying on a number of occasions. I may have simply missed those conversations, but I do think it's time given that the Supreme Court has given the current government until June to figure this out.
I think that there will be a window to do something creative after our report is released (February 25) and before legislation is finalized (early June). The draft legislation should come by some time in April. It then goes to Committee, then to the Senate. So either before draft legislation (using our report for discussion) or after tabling of legislation (using it).
What do you think? Should we be discussing this more thoughtfully and thoroughly within the United Church? Would you want to participate in this sort of discussion?