Canada and autonomy with no moral law

McGill University Professor of Christian Thought Douglas Farrow looks at the relationship of Canada’s legal regime to any underlying moral law now that Canada’s Parliament has passed a euthanasia and assisted suicide law.   The whole piece is worth reading and sharing.  Here’s an excerpt from First Things in a piece entitled “Is there no moral law?”:

There are many things, to be sure, both morally and theologically, that the state does well to leave to civil society, neither legislating nor making the basis for legislation. Unfortunately, assisted suicide and euthanasia are not among them. They were criminalized for good reason, as things repugnant to respect for the God-given sanctity of human life, and they ought to remain criminal. They were criminalized out of respect for the link between the rule of law and the supremacy of God, a link that is broken the moment we officially approve of taking (innocent) human life into our own hands, determining its boundaries for ourselves.

Truth be told, in Canada we broke that link back in 1969 with C-150, and though we gave lip service to it in the Charter we are again acting in denial of it with C-14. But the rule of law detached from the supremacy of God is a rule grounded in what, exactly? Certainly not the moral law. No, it is a “rule” grounded in nothing more than our whims, or in some perverse notion of autonomy that sets the human will on a par with the divine, indeed, above the divine.

Here there is no moral law to constrain the human will. And if there is no moral law to constrain the human will, there is no moral law to constrain the state either. When the state promises its assistance to those who wish to end their own lives, it necessarily commits its own agents to complicity. Where will this end? It will end with the state—emulating those citizens who are already doing this to family members—killing those whom it chooses to kill. Such will be its philanthropy, justified by prudential concerns related to the populace as a whole, and by sober determinations that those being killed are either in agreement or insufficiently autonomous to make any valid objection.

I had the misfortune of listening to then writing about the final debate in the Senate on the euthanasia and assisted suicide bill, which is euphemistically called “medical aid in dying” or “MAID” for short.  The language is deliberately confusing because of course all of us want medical aid while we are dying if we are in pain or have trouble breathing and so on.  It is confused with palliative care and killing patients is being called medical treatment.

So many of the Senators argued the bill is too narrow because it excludes classes of suffering people whose death is not “reasonably foreseeable.”

Some trotted out anecdote after anecdote of individuals suffering themselves from painful chronic conditions or caring for family members with them, as if killing the patient or assisting their suicide is the only solution to human suffering.  As advocates for people living with disabilities have argued, so many disabled people who already face societal views that their frailty and dependency make their lives not worth living, will see this euthanasia/assisted suicide law as an inducement.  Couple that with the lack of societal supports and services for many of them and the the fact their underlying depression will go untreated while a non-disabled person’s depression is more likely to be addressed, the advent of this bill spells doom for many vulnerable people.

In a few days, this bill will receive Royal Assent and become law.  Canada will join the nine jurisdictions in the world that allow euthanasia and or assisted suicide.  Six of those jurisdictions restrict access to those who are at end of life, or terminally ill.  Canada’s eligibility requirement is, as one doctor put it, more “elastic” than that, but it is better than the wide open access a majority of Senators had called for.

What’s saddening and sobering is this bill, while modest, is viewed as an incremental step, a cautious entry into the brave new world of state sponsored killing of patients, but one that promises further study on such issues as euthanasia for “mature minors” aka children under 18 and for advanced directives so people can say they wish to be killed by the state at some time in the future when they no longer have mental capacity to ask for the deed due to Alzheimer’s or some other form of dementia.

And conscience rights?  Only a feeble nod to their existence in the bill.  The actual regulation of health professionals is being left to the provinces or respective physicians’, nurses’ and pharmacists’ colleges, most of whom require an effective referral.

As one constitutional lawyer told me, when we were expressing mutual dismay over the lack of regard given to conscientious objection:   What’s going to happen if there’s a war and a draft?   Will those who conscientiously object to killing people be lined up in front of a firing squad?


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