“Last year, nearly one in 30 deaths recorded in Canada was an assisted suicide death.” Catholic ethicist Charlie Camosy cited this troubling statistic during his recent interview in The Pillar of Amanda Achtman, a human rights advocate who works with Canadian Physicians for Life. Since the 2016 introduction of Canada’s Medical Assistance in Dying (MAID) law, “more than 30,000 Canadians have chosen to end their lives through assisted suicide.” That same year, the Supreme Court of Canada struck down laws against physician-assisted suicide and Canadian legislators passed a law protecting medical professionals from criminal prosecution for facilitating suicide in cases where the death of the patient was “reasonably foreseeable.” But since then, the criteria have been expanded to include Canadians with physical disabilities and those whose sole underlying condition is a mental illness. Disability rights advocates have warned that “legalizing assisted suicide on the basis of disability sends the message that life with a disability may not be worth living.” Citing the principle of equality, however, proponents of expanded access to physician-assisted suicide argued that it was unfair to limit this option only to those suffering terminal illnesses and not to those who suffer in other ways. According to Achtman: “Once assisted suicide became an accepted means to ‘avoiding unwanted suffering,’ it became unclear why anyone would be excluded from having the option.” In fact, a representative of the Quebec College of Physicians recently suggested euthanasia for babies up to a year old who are born with severe deformations or medical syndromes, “whose life expectancy and level of suffering are such that it would make sense to ensure they do not suffer.” There is also growing concern that the “right” to assisted suicide could be extended to minors, a particularly vulnerable group, even without requirement of parental consent.
Achtman believes that advocates are sincere in their claims to be “doing something good.” But human beings don’t do evil things thinking they are evil, but because on some level we mistake them for being good. Indeed, we are capable of doing profoundly immoral and inhumane things to each other in the name of love. We see this dynamic in a slick video recently commissioned by Simons, a Canadian department store chain, that depicts assisted suicide as courageous and empowering – the beautiful culmination of a life well-lived. The far more likely future, however, is one in which assisted suicide and euthanasia are not experienced as beautiful expressions of freedom. Rather, people (mostly poor) will opt for them because of financial pressures, depression, and lack of support. Achtman says that this is something to which we as a society must not resign ourselves. “How much we can learn from the life of Christ, in which the Church’s whole moral vision is anchored. Amidst the greatest suffering of Jesus’ life, His soul was deeply grieved and He implored His friends to stay at His side and remain vigilant.” Saints throughout the centuries have sought to respond to Our Lord’s request through their loving attention to those who suffer, and their refusal to abandon them in their time of need. Their moral heroism is still available to us today, Achtman argues, and we must be courageous and creative in our response to people’s needs. “To care and to be cared for amid the trials of life will always be the more beautiful way. And anyone who has seen someone care for another with tenderness, patience, kindness, and endurance cannot help but be moved by this witness of true presence.” This is the Christian response that re-humanizes a culture and re-civilizes a civilization that finds itself careening down a slippery slope towards barbarism in the name of freedom, dignity, and compassion.