The Christian Reformed Church in Canada made a submission to a parliamentary special joint committee on physician assisted dying (PAD) to press its concern regarding involuntary euthanasia and protection for medical care providers to follow their conscience. The submission was prepared by Darren Roorda, Canadian ministries director of the CRC, with an ad hoc group that included medical practitioners, policy experts, and ethicists.
In 2015, the Supreme Court of Canada (SCC) struck down the law that prohibits PAD in Canada and charged the federal government with drafting new legislation. There are recent indications that the government may be considering expanding the right to PAD beyond people who are gravely ill to also include those with mental illness and minors.
At that time, the CRC urged its members to write to their Members of Parliament to encourage them to craft legislation that emphasizes palliative care and aggressive pain management and strongly protects vulnerable people.
In February, a submission to the joint commission noted that the CRC does not favor medical intervention with the deliberate intent of ending life. “However, we recognize that the SCC Carter decision requires a legislative response,” the submission reads. “Failure to respond to these concerns in new legislation is likely to result in a legal vacuum with unknown consequences.” Since PAD is now deemed a legal right in Canada, the CRC wants it carefully regulated.
Among the regulations, the CRC wants to prevent euthanasia without consent. “This is most certainly a concern for disabled people and other vulnerable communities,” the submission said. The prohibition of administrators, physicians, and family members from overriding the decision-making power of an individual will be critical.
It also wants medical care providers and institutions protected. “Care providers with ethical objections to PAD must not be compelled to provide PAD services. However, conscience bound care providers must not exercise their power in the medical system in a way that restricts the moral agency of a patient to seek PAD services from another practitioner,” the submission said.
The submission also asked that there be a high priority on enhancing palliative care. Given the short time frame given to the government to draft new legislation, the CRC is asking that any new legislation include a formal three-year review.
The Evangelical Fellowship of Canada, of which the CRC is a member, is also engaging in the public debate. Mike Hogeterp of the CRC’s Centre for Public Dialogue said the EFC approach is a little more combative than the CRC’s approach. “Our position is a little more proximate, recognizing the reality that the government has been forced to address this by the court.”
Kathy Vandergrift, president of the CRC’s Board of Trustees, said that EFC is campaigning and mobilizing people but has not appeared before the joint commission. “We chose to engage to make it as positive approach as possible, rather than using it to polarize the public.”