Tuesday, March 03, 2020

Where do we go with MAID?

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A few weeks ago Canadians were invited to comment on the existing legislation for what is called Medical Assistance in Dying through an online survey. More than 300,000 of us chose to offer opinions, an unprecedented response to any federal questionnaire. 

It appears that a strong majority of us support the existing legislation which allows individuals to choose the time of their death if they are suffering from illness which can't be cured. And we feel that the circumstances under which medically assisted death can take place should be expanded.

This is not without controversy, as you are probably aware. There are concerns that supportive palliative care is simply not available to a degree which might mitigate the desire for an immediate death. While the greatest support for expanding MAID seems to be in the area of advanced directives for those who may end up with dementia, there are ethical concerns for those who will obviously be vulnerable because of reduced mental capacity.

The deepest reservations are around providing MAID for those with mental illness. We appreciate that severe and mental illness is a real form of suffering but is this the same as a life-ending physical illness and the pain that illness may produce? 

The national questionnaire was a federal response to a superior court ruling in the province of Quebec. It has been the federal Department of Justice which has sought our response as citizens and I have expressed my concerns that this is far more than a legal issue. This week we heard that the Quebec court has granted a four-month extension to mid-July for the federal response and we can only hope that this allows the feds consult widely with ethicists and the medical community, including psychiatrists.

I also hope that faith communities will respond, although we have yet to hear what the actual proposals will be for changes to this legislation. I am perplexed that the United Church of Canada has been essentially silent in this discussion, not even encouraging members to respond to the questionnaire. While I led a discussion in the congregation where we worship I don't think this has happened widely.

Again, I am personally supportive of some opportunities for MAID because the medical technology for keeping people alive can result in unnecessary suffering. I still feel that we must be extremely cautious about how we expand the legislation. There are issues of compassionate and practical support in the face of suffering which we haven't addressed well in our society. 

I encourage you to stay informed about what will unfold in the next few months and I'll continue to blog about this, I'm sure. We can be prayerful as individuals and in our congregations because this is a matter of life and death. 

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