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Death on Demand: The Right to Life Is Becoming a Duty to Die in Post-Christian Culture

Published January 14, 2016

Georgann-Ryan-615x615 Have We Destroyed Our Future Along with Our Foundations?
By Georgann Ryan (Internet Pilgrim)

> In February 2015 the Supreme Court of Canada found a constitutional right to physician-assisted suicide when it struck down that nation’s prohibition against the practice. The Carter v. Canada decision gave Parliament and provincial legislatures a year to craft legislation addressing the issue. By unanimous decision, the Court held that the criminal penalties under review violated the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms, in particular Section 7, by denying individuals the right to control over fundamental life choices, and by causing unnecessary suffering.

In its opinion, the Court stated, “Section 7 is rooted in a deep respect for the value of human life. But s.7 also encompasses life, liberty and security of the person during the passage to death. It is for this reason that the sanctity of life ‘is no longer seen to require that all human life be preserved at all costs.’ (Rodriguez, at p. 595, per Sopinka J.) [Emphasis added] And it is for this reason that the law has come to recognize that, in certain circumstances, an individual’s choice about the end of her life is entitled to respect.”

With these chilling words, the right to life was transformed into a right to death. In finding the prohibition “overbroad” and stating that Parliament still could protect the vulnerable, yet not deprive those seriously ill, suffering and competent of their “rights to life, liberty and the security of the person,” it ruled that the prohibition was “not in accordance with the principles of fundamental justice.” It seems that “justice” also has acquired a new meaning in the progressive wonderland into which we’re venturing.

But the ruling went even farther. It also overturned the portion of the law stating, “No person is entitled to consent to have death inflicted upon him, and such consent does not affect the criminal responsibility of any person by whom death may be inflicted on the person by whom consent is given.” By invalidating this provision, the Court in practical terms, also found the right to active euthanasia in the Charter.

Although it gave Parliament a year to pass legislation, should none be forthcoming, it is commonly believed that physician-assisted suicide would be regulated like other “health care” matters, through provincial laws that apply to those health care matters and through standards of the medical profession.[1]

As the year draws to a close on February 6th, in the absence of legislation that fits the Court’s criteria, physician-assisted suicide will be available to “competent adults who seek such assistance as a result of a grievous and irremediable medical condition that causes enduring and intolerable suffering.” Note that it doesn’t require a terminal illness, but only “intolerable suffering” of any type, including psychological pain. Already one province, Quebec, has attempted to address the issue through a provincial law which defines assisted-suicide as part of the “continuum” of health care.

The law in Quebec is problematic for physicians who have moral objections to ending the lives of their patients. It requires all doctors either to give the requested fatal treatment or to make a referral to another doctor who will. And Saskatchewan’s College of Physicians and Surgeons just published a draft ethics policy requiring any physician with a moral objection to refer patients to another doctor for all “legally permissible and publicly-funded health services” (including euthanasia) and if no other doctor can be found, the policy requires the original doctor to comply, “‘even in circumstances where the provision of health services conflicts with physicians’ deeply held and considered moral or religious beliefs.’ In other words, a willingness to kill patients who want to die may soon become necessary to practice medicine in Canada.”

death-at-workThis decision opens the door to euthanasia as it’s practiced in the Netherlands and Belgium, where psychiatrists can fatally inject those who are mentally ill, and general practitioners can end the lives of those tired of living, or those with disabilities. Here in the U.S. the organization, Compassion and Choices (previously known as the Hemlock Society) has lauded the decision, and although previously they’ve publicly advocated for assisted suicide only in terminal cases, they’ve never criticized the Canadian decision for going too far. Instead, they’ve begun to hint that the right should be expanded to Alzheimer’s patients who cannot decide for themselves. The organization’s head stated that, “it is an issue for another day but is no less compelling” than legalizing euthanasia for the competent terminally ill.

Will a Canadian-style decision be coming to the U.S.? Probably. Cases have been filed in New York, California and New Mexico where state Supreme Courts have found a constitutional right to die in each of their own constitutions. The last time the U.S. Supreme Court looked at the issue, in 1997, they found no such right, in a 9-0 decision. But the Canadian court ruled the same way in 1992. And as national columnist Wesley Smith has noted, “Twenty-two years ago, there was no right to assisted suicide in Canada. Now, with the flip of a judicial switch, there is a right to active euthanasia. The Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms didn’t change during that time. The arrogance of judges did.”[2] That concept is something we’re very familiar with in the United States.

Both the initial decision and the upcoming year deadline have spawned a host of articles and endless discussion in the Canadian media.

While an opinion piece in The Vancouver Sun argues that it should be a national standard, not separate provincial ones, and that with the publication of an interim report in British Columbia, it’s clear that confusion has resulted from the decision, now each province (under the guiding hand of euthanasia proponents) is wrongly claiming that the decision turned a corner, and that absent legislation, general euthanasia according to “medical standards” will be the default law. But while the national government was setting up a panel to make recommendations, Ontario, in conjunction with other provinces, jumped the gun and issued its own report, written by a panel who made no pretense of being impartial. They all were die-hard supporters of assisted-suicide and euthanasia. The war on life is being lost by deceptive means and steamroller tactics in the Canadian press.[3]

For instance, a recent, very troubling article in the National Post by Joseph Brean noted that in Canada, the “alien nature of death is changing… sooner or later, death will become a civil servant. He will operate in the open, during business hours, with a budget and a boss. His work will be humanized and bureaucratized. Death will be licensed, regulated and empowered by law to solve a public policy problem — the unacceptability to certain people of certain types of dying.” Yet he neglects to specify who those certain people are, and what constitutes dying, in the strictest sense.

Citing a recent interview with bioethical philosopher Eike-Henner Kluge, Brean notes that, “it is as if a political pendulum is swinging back from a religiously inspired cultural fixation on the sanctity of life no matter what its quality, to the ‘supremacy of the right to self-determination, subject to the equal and competing rights of others.’” If read carefully, these are frightening words; whose competing rights? And in what circumstances? He also noted that Kluge quoted from William Ernest Henley’s famous poem, Invictus, “I am the master of my fate. I am the captain of my soul” as exemplifying the “re-emergence of the principle of autonomy.”

What’s driving this movement in nations across the Western world? The emergence of a post-Christian, paganized culture. In that same interview reference was made to “pre-Christian Greek and Roman cultures” where suicide not only was accepted, but often seen as heroic. Kluge explicitly stated that, “It was recognized there is a right to life but not a duty to life. This notion of life needing protection under all circumstances, even against one’s self, turned the right to life into a duty to live.”[4]

Christian precepts and culture held sway until recently, with the general societal belief that life is a sacred gift from God. Under that belief, the taking of any life, even one’s own, was considered a criminal act. But by 1972 that was beginning to change, and the criminal law against individual suicide was overturned in Canada that year. Notably, it’s also the year that Roe v. Wade was decided in the U.S., with the Court finding a constitutional right to abortion, another decision that single-handedly undermined the value of life. In the decades since, the value placed on life has been on a downward spiral.

Yet those who are quick to denigrate Christian values and beliefs also aren’t hesitant about trying to use them to persuade people about the nobility of embracing a culture of death. Noting that death has had a “triumphant aspect” at least since Jesus’ death on the cross, and comparing that to Socrates’ sacrifice of his own life 400 years earlier by drinking hemlock, proponents argue that the voluntary acceptance of death should be the driving principle for today’s debate. Rather than being seen as a failure or loss, it can be welcomed, planned for, controlled, invited and treated as a source of pride.[5]

Other voices in the debate note that Canada’s palliative (end-of-life) care system is broken and, according to the Canadian Cancer Society’s public issues director, this “dark secret” is resulting in families being forced to play a role in care that the system no longer can provide. According to Gabriel Miller, “There are thousands of terminally ill Canadians who are not getting the right kind of care. That’s causing patients and families unnecessary suffering and it is costing the health-care system precious resources.”[6]

Alongside this new push for the “dignity of death” is an extensive discussion about the overwhelming costs of government-funded medical care. The question is becoming what is medically necessary and reasonable, versus what is elective and for the mere comfort of the patient – in other words, needs versus wants, determined on the basis of cost-effective treatment. A young person with a broken leg obviously falls under the need category, as does a middle-aged man with cancer which can be treated. But elective procedures like cosmetic surgery have a questionable benefit.

Yet there are numerous “gray areas” where treatment doesn’t mean cure or total healing, and where the person requiring treatment isn’t going to resume contributing to the productivity of society, in a monetary sense. In Canada, there is no set definition of what is “medically necessary” since that is decided on a case-by-case basis. In a National Post opinion piece, Brian Rotenberg noted that, “The Choosing Wisely Canada initiative spearheaded by the Canadian Medical Association is just beginning to explore the massive scope of unnecessary care and the impact it has on patients and the health care system… Are patients losing sight of the fact that no province has the funds to provide all care for all people all the time?”[7]

canada-skull-and-crossbones-02With the burden of care acknowledged to be greater than the system can handle and with rising costs for medical care, it’s not surprising that suddenly a new “right to die” is becoming popular. And the move away from Christian culture has given us a society that is more self-absorbed, with the concept of extended family within the home being rare instead of the norm. In fact, with less marriage and more single-parent homes, care for the seriously ill isn’t even possible for many, yet there’s nothing else in place which can provide that care. But the health-care crisis is just one facet of the societal breakdown that’s occurring due to the loss of Christian ethics and faith in the culture.

This can seem like a sterile, political discussion until the subject is brought home on a personal level. Over twenty years ago, as a young lawyer, I represented a rural family which had a mother suffering from advanced multiple sclerosis. She was forced to live on a respirator and have constant care, which her loving husband provided. He had built a large room onto their small dwelling, which functioned both as a bedroom for her, and as a family room for them and their two grade-school aged children. Yet this provided normalcy and stability for those children. I can recall being there one afternoon when the school bus stopped, and the kids came bounding in, along with the family dog. They immediately ran to the king-sized bed where they all could be together and talk about their day.

But his dedication in giving loving care to his wife meant that the husband no longer could work outside of the home to provide finances for the family. As a result, they became dependent on government assistance, through SSI disability payments, food stamps and a medical card. Yet by living simply, they were surviving and maintaining as normal a family life as possible. The crisis came when her care needs grew more substantial and costs began to outpace the lifestyle possible on their meager income.

Bureaucratic rules allowed payment for more serious care, but they required that it be done in an “approved setting” which meant a nursing home. Although able to prove that he was competent to provide that care if more finances were available, the request was denied. A lengthy suit resulted, even though the solution of keeping the mother at home was far cheaper than moving her to a skilled nursing facility. And it certainly was better for the family as a whole, especially the children. Yet that post-Christian mindset already was growing and the idea of a family struggling together to provide a certain quality of life despite obstacles and costs, both personal and financial, was becoming an anachronism.[8]

Today such a solution is nearly unthinkable, yet with rising costs, that bureaucratic mindset which only would approve institutional care also is fading in the face of rising costs. When both of these alternatives are off the table, what’s left? ”Death with dignity,” that is, doing away with the problem altogether by doing away with the person responsible for those costs and that inconvenience. A hard-hearted utility has replaced both that love, and the idea that suffering can be noble. In this new political and cultural environment, it’s death which is seen as noble, not struggle and suffering, even though we know that those two things create people with character.

The Christian duty to life is becoming a duty to die in our post-Christian, neo-pagan culture. How long will it be before, not just the terminally ill, but any whose care is too burdensome, feel societal pressure to accept assisted-suicide? And for those who won’t make that choice, how long until society decides just to take their lives for the sake of convenience, seeing them as impediments to the good of the whole? Proponents have argued that in European nations where this is the norm, there has been no slippery slope from assisted-suicide to active euthanasia. But that’s because they started at the bottom of the slope in the beginning. It all was legalized at once.

That’s why we must resist any attempt to bring this standard to the U.S. What’s at stake is a worldview, not merely a law. What we’re fighting for is a true culture of life, only possible in a Christian context, where there’s consensus about what life means and from whence it comes.

That fight will be a difficult, because there isn’t any compromise possible. We either value life or we don’t. The left has been incrementally chipping away at our Christian foundations for decades, and with each step we take toward “compromise” we surrender our moral values and our position of maintaining the spiritual high ground. As Wesley Smith also noted, “Give-and-take is possible when the subject is something technocratic, like tax rates or the proper speed limit, or when the debaters agree on ends. But for matters involving bitter differences over fundamental values… abortion, religious liberty, sexual and gender controversies…terrorism and war—‘compromise’ is unachievable, because accord would require one side to surrender its moral views to the other.”

He correctly assesses the situation as one in which “society will have to choose between contesting and incompatible worldviews. As Lincoln put it so well about the slavery crisis that roiled his time: ‘I do not expect the house to fall—but I do expect it will cease to be divided. It will become all one thing or all the other.’”[9] It’s up to us to fall on our faces before God in both individual and collective repentance for what we’ve allowed to occur, and then to get up renewed, and return to the fight. Accommodation will not bring anything but further spiritual bankruptcy, growing coldness, less character, and increased death. We must fight for what really matters, and that is for life on God’s terms.

Otherwise, what we’re becoming is a society filled with numerous incarnations of Theodore Hickman, drowning in the nihilism and insanity of Eugene O’Neill’s protagonist in his masterpiece, “The Iceman Cometh.” In the midst of our own illusions and guilt, driven by the base need to make life easier and more tolerable for ourselves, we destroy those closest to us because they cause us pain or discomfort. It’s a bleak vision, but it’s where we’re going in this new reality. We can’t let that happen; we can’t allow our humanity to be destroyed for the sake of convenience or loss of faith, because the end result is a type of personal and cultural insanity caused by denying what really matters most, merely for a temporary sense of ease. May that fate not be ours.


  1. Pastine, Grace “The death with dignity decision explained” (February 6, 2015).
  2. Smith, Wesley J. “Euthanasia Comes to Canada” (February 23, 2015).
  3. Penninga, Mark “Opinion: Parliament, not the provinces, must lead on euthanasia legislation” (December 27, 2015).
  4. Brean, Joseph “A major shift is happening in the meaning of death: From ineffable destiny to legislated human right” (December 4, 2015).
  5. Ibid.
  6. Kirkup, Kristy “Assisted-dying debate exposes ‘dark secret’ of Canada’s palliative care system: advocates” (January 6, 2016).
  7. Rotenberg, Brian W. “We need to reexamine what medical services are paid for by government” (December 30, 2015).
  8. While the fight lasted, the mother with MS remained at home. A final health crisis led to her death in a local hospital at age 34, which rendered the suit irrelevant. But she never was subjected to separation from her family in a nursing home, due to the faithfulness and love of her husband.
  9. Smith, Wesley J. “Why We Cannot Reach Compromise” (December 12, 2015).

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