Opinion

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- by Mark Fearnall

In my work I have had the honour of sitting with numerous people as they approach death. I recall well the first time I sat with someone who was dying. I ended up staying over six hours with this person, holding their hand, talking with them when they were conscious. The hospital couldn’t get a hold of their partner, and so I was there as they took their last breath.

After they died, I left the room and was met by a nurse. She thanked me and asked if I was ok. I said I was, and then she explained that this person’s death was one of the worst she had seen. Having never experienced death this personally before, I had nothing to judge it by.

Many years later, after more experience, I realized the nurse was right. It was a terrible death. But I was glad to be there with that person, and I think that death had meaning, in spite of the anguish. Sometimes there is purpose in suffering.

The CBC reported (March 10, 2019) about a man who threw a party as he underwent medically assisted death or, as I would call it, doctor assisted suicide. A friend posted this article on Facebook. The majority of those who responded expressed some form of endorsement for this man’s party and the taking of his own life. I was the only person to express a contrary sentiment. I thought it was sad and disturbing.

I found it sad because my experience is that most people have not truly thought (philosophically and morally) about death and dying. I am sad to think people have been fooled into thinking suicide is a moral act. Of course, many disagree with my opinion, but I am expressing why it saddens me.

However, worse than the sadness I feel is what disturbs me about this issue, it is the way it is enforced.

Often those who argue in favor of medically assisted death do so based on self-autonomy, their right to choose their destiny, to live and die as they please. The problem is that those rights may, and in this case do, infringe on the rights of others, specifically the rights of medical doctors.

It is true that a doctor is not required by this law (MAiD) to participate in what they understand to be killing another human being. However, in Ontario this is not true in practice. The College of Physicians and Surgeons of Ontario has required all doctors to participate in a medical assisted death by forcing them to refer patients to someone who will perform this act, an act they believe to be morally wrong. (See https://www.cpso.on.ca/Policies-Publications/Policy/Physician-Assisted-Death). That is a denial of a doctor’s constitutional right to freedom of conscience.

What’s more is that there is no need to have the medical profession involved at all. Why not “death doulas,” those who are trained to provide death to a person? I think the act is still immoral, but at least it would be between consenting adults and it wouldn’t involve those whose purpose should be to save life or relieve pain, but never to cause harm or to take life.

I am saddened by the law which allows medically assisted death, but that is the law, and I will respect those who choose this, though I will also express my disagreement. But it is disturbing that we live in a province which does not respect freedom of conscience and the choice of those who disagree, and instead forces them to participate in what they perceive to be evil.

I may never be happy with medical assistance in death, but none of us should be happy that the religious and moral freedoms enshrined in our constitution are being violated against those in the medical profession.

History shows us that when governments and institutions violate the freedoms of some these violations eventually affect us all.


Mark is a minister with the United Church of Canada, serving in Campbellford, ON.

Note: this article was edited in order to be more precise as to the author’s reference to medical assistance in death.


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