On Wednesday, June 1, 2016, I became a public political protester for the first time. Four of us hopped into a rented mini-van and made the 5 1/2 hour trek to Ottawa where the protest was organized on Parliament Hill. The issue was simple yet mind-boggling. The Canadian government wants to give all medical doctors, nurses and pharmacists a licence to kill people who say they want to die. The goal is give people the right to end their suffering, something for which any compassionate person can have sympathy. However, the risks to those of us who want to live are real and dangerous.
Firstly, I accept that people have always wanted to die by their own hand. I think many people would admit that dying by suicide has crossed their mind at low points in their lives – financially destitute, dumped by a lover, or devastated by the death of a close family member. The pain from these alone can be overwhelming and none involve physical health losses like cancer, ALS or quadriplegia.
Deciding to kill yourself is in itself a difficult moral question. If you believe there is life after death, the consequences of suicide could be very severe. If you believe there is nothing after death, like an animal or a tree, then you may feel there is nothing to worry about. The only problem is that believing it does not make it the truth. None of us know in human terms, with video evidence, what happens after we die. Therefore you and I each need to come to terms with that ourselves.
The bigger moral question for society is the consequences of giving medical professionals the right to assist a person who wants to die. For the last many centuries, the law has been crystal clear – anyone who kills another person commits murder. The only exceptions are police, military and self-defense. All are related to violence and attacks that illegally endanger human life. Making euthanasia and assisted suicide legal opens up a wide and vast new field of justified killings of human beings.
The most striking insight to me on this whole topic is the erroneous judgments being made about suffering. Those who want to license doctors to kill justify it based on eliminating suffering. A friend told me that his mother suffered greatly in her last year of life from cancer. Despite having a morphine button to control her pain, he said that it was insufficient. She begged to die and for this reason, he said his entire family would support legalizing euthanasia and assisted suicide no matter what. Watching her suffer was too much.
The logical counter-argument to legalizing euthanasia is to say that suffering is actually good. If you are a person without faith, you will reject that argument immediately. But if you are a person of faith, then suffering actually has major advantages. Suffering makes one cry out to a power greater than oneself for relief. In so doing, something spiritually mysterious happens. The apostle Paul described it this way:
“…we also glory in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope. And hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured out into our hearts through the Holy Spirit, who has been given to us.” (Romans 5:3-5)
God’s love pours into us in part through suffering. Indeed, we cannot ever have the “peace of God that transcends all understanding,” without suffering. (Phil 4:7) St. Paul actually goes on to say,
“That is why, for Christ’s sake, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties. For when I am weak, then I am strong.”
Suffering makes us strong. I personally have suffered many losses, yet none compare to those of this great apostle. Nonetheless, I have learned that on the other side of my suffering lies God’s bottomless peace. I have learned that what once mattered so much to me, did not really matter at all. My suffering was of the flesh, not of the spirit. Indeed, as the flesh dies to self, the spirit comes to life within you. The money, the position, the house, the carefully nurtured reputation, the marriage – all of these are worldly attachments whose losses hurt for a time. I once judged their worth to me based on ‘appearances’, blind to the right judgement that suffering leads to peace.
I have also experienced severe physical pain. When I was 18, I experienced second degree burns to my arms, shoulders and face. I lost a finger to a wood splitter when I was 45. I broke a leg at 30 and wrecked my knee at 17. Yes, I’ve even had nasty tooth aches. Those and the burn were the only ones where I experienced excruciating pain. I don’t deny that if that level of pain remained for weeks or months, I would probably want to die. Fortunately, modern medicine eased my physical suffering rather quickly, though never quick enough.
Suffering is also good for those giving care to the patient. Jesus gave a brilliant insight into this in the gospel of John, chapter 9:1-3.
As he went along, he saw a man blind from birth. His disciples asked him, “Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?” “Neither this man nor his parents sinned,” said Jesus, “but this happened so that the works of God might be displayed in him.
How are the works of God displayed in a blind man? By the good works done by those who care for him. I witnessed this personally by the testimonies of the workers who cared for my severely mentally handicapped brother at his funeral. He died at 48, knowing no one, not even my parents. Yet, the love they felt for him was overwhelming to me at the time. John 9 was the only way I could make sense of his otherwise meaningless life. In fact, his life dramatically affected me, my parents and my next youngest sister.
What troubles me the most is the effect that killing people will have on the doctors, nurses and pharmacists who do it. One only needs to look to times of war, whether it be Nazi Germany or Iraq, to see that something inside changes for people who kill people for a living. A numbness sets in that hardens the heart. I saw this in a 35 year old woman who had committed three abortions. She lost her soul and she knew it and was trying to find healing at the time. To kill is to play God and that kind of power is dangerously addictive.
Dr. Moira McQueen gave a talk recently at a local church educating a packed room about the dangers of legalizing euthanasia. A lawyer and theologian at the University of Toronto, she showed how the law in Holland and Belgium quickly evolved from an “end of life” exit from suffering into a no-holds barred exit for any reason if you are of sound mind, at any age. Furthermore, other people will have control over your life if they have power of attorney. With inheritances and costly healthcare at stake, ending an incapacitated person’s life early has some evil attractions that will cause some to fall to temptation. Even worse will be the doctor or nurse who decides on their own to “do the patient a favour,” without anyone asking for it, especially the patient him or herself.
Someone you know and love will kill themselves and you will only find out after they are dead. This is the one chilling new reality facing all of us who live in countries such as Canada, Holland and Belgium. The shock of suicide, already devastating when it happens now, will dramatically increase. Your depressed son or daughter could in any weak moment, push their own kill button. Only this time, the law and our society will delude them into thinking this is an acceptable and easy way to end their suffering.
The silver lining in all of this is that people are now talking about death and what it means for them personally. My hope and prayer is that they will come to see what I see – that there is a God who loves them deeply, who wants to have a personal relationship through his son Jesus and for whom suffering leads not only to peace in this life but eternal peace in the next one.
This law will pass. All we can do is preach the Good News and be diligent about rigorous enforcement within its limits. Strong lobby groups actually want this law to be far wider in scope, including letting children decide for themselves if they have life long illnesses as well as anyone who simply wants out. Please support those on the front lines like the Euthanasia Prevention Coalition by subscribing to their updates so you remain informed. Also, verify where your doctor stands on this issue and support the right of medical professionals to opt out for conscience reasons. http://www.canadiansforconscience.ca/
Finally, take four minutes to watch this video of Belgians who have been irreversibly harmed by this law in their country, losing healthy grandparents and young people.