Embracing Life

Written on 11/01/2023
Elizabeth Duarte

How we can support the vulnerable amid Canada’s changing laws about assisted dying

Written by Elizabeth Duarte

This doctor was my last hope.

A week before, I’d been turned out of an emergency room with a heart rate jumping like a ping pong ball and my skin covered with rashes. A nurse saw my tears and referred me to a physician in a neighbouring town. He was known for compassion, for taking on cases no-one else could.

A shadow passed over his face as I listed symptoms. He told me he’d never take me as a patient and was indignant that I didn’t agree it was “all in my head.”

As we drove home, I sat in the back seat watching the black night blur past. I had no options left; my body couldn’t deteriorate much more.

Not knowing God would begin a series of miracles over the next six months that would bring me doctors, diagnoses, and a new chance at life, I considered whether I wanted to die that night. I thought at the very least, the doctors would finally believe I wasn’t lying.

All of this was 11 years ago, four years before Bill C-14 ushered in the rise of physician-assisted suicide to Canada. It terrifies me to think of what might have happened if I had been encouraged or persuaded to consider euthanasia an option.

Canada has become the easiest country on earth to access what our country calls medical assistance in dying (MAiD). Our country now allows a person’s life to be ended not just if their death is imminent but also for those with disease or disabilities who are not dying. And by March 2024 those with mental illness alone will be eligible for medically assisted death, unless new legislation is passed to stop the expansion.

Protecting life rather than taking it is a key component of Christianity. In affirming the image of God in every human, we have a duty to “rescue those being led away to death” (Proverbs 24:11). We must reject society’s valuation of individuals based on whether they produce or contribute in a particular way. Each person is crafted purposefully in God’s image, and we’re to show no partiality based on ability or another metric for evaluating a life’s worth (James 2:1–13).

The Bible doesn’t shy away from talking about suffering, or the complicated yet valuable ways it can shape us. We can inspire courage in one another and help others embrace life, knowing God works everything for good (Romans 8:28).

Issues like MAiD stir up and expose our privately held beliefs. Words and actions have impacts we don’t always realize. As someone with invisible chronic disabilities, I have heard people unwittingly express they’d rather die than be me—oblivious to my personal battles.

With growing accessibility to medically assisted death, our attitudes and words may unknowingly affect the trajectory of a life. 

This is what Ryerson professor emerita Catherine Frazee argues in a Globe and Mail article, “Assisted Dying Legislation Puts Equality for People with Disabilities at Risk.”

She writes that it’s mistreatment by society, not the underlying conditions themselves, that motivates many disabled persons to seek MAiD. The same principles apply to those experiencing poverty, who are often unable to get adequate housing or other supports, and thus feel MAiD is their best available option.

In response to this injustice, Scripture offers us guidance for how we can resist evil while seeking the peace and flourishing of our country. We can look to individuals like Daniel. Despite being Babylonian captives, Daniel and his friends served Babylon with loyalty and devotion. They disobeyed only decrees that violated God’s direct commandments, and they remained respectful and peaceful even when facing punishment.

Like Daniel, we should pray for our leaders, seeking God’s intervention and timing. In our democratic country, we can also express our beliefs respectfully through voting and petitions. Unfortunately, Bill C-314 (which would stop the expansion for those with mental illness) was defeated in the House of Commons this October, although the vote was close. But we can continue to ask our MPs to support support legislation that protects those who lack the supports to live well and ensures patients receive due assessment before accessing MAiD.

We can demonstrate humanity’s value by tending to aging relatives, those in palliative care, and children without caregivers. We can give caregivers respite and help families find emotional support, spiritual guidance, or financial aid. Every kindness matters.

We can become advocates for those in our circles, protecting them from negative pressures and reaffirming their value regardless of limitations. For example, the Euthanasia Prevention Coalition provides resources such as power of attorney documentation that’s clear and life-protecting, without any ambiguous loopholes. The Delta Hospice Society offers Do Not Euthanize Advance Directive legal documents to their members.

The laws of God compel us to protect the sanctity of life, confront mistreatment, and consider our own words and impact on others, especially people who are vulnerable. Through our prayer, civic engagement, and compassionate action, we must strive to affirm the value of all lives, and ensure each individual receives the care and respect they deserve.