by Rev. Fr. Paul Nwaeze
It is no longer news that Bill C-14 is now before Parliament. What that means is, there will be legislation whether we like it or not. What it will look like? We do not know. However, one thing is clear: Bill C-14 will not resonate with our Christian and African view of the human person. For us Africans, life is sacred from the moment of conception until natural death! Africans respect life, no matter how chequered it might be! They believe that life is a gift from our Creator-God (Chinenyendu) and that we must do everything within our power to guide, preserve and cherish it. The most abominable thing to do in a typically African society is to kill! The African respect for life can be surmised in this Igbo injunction – Onye egbule: “Thou shalt not kill.” Little wonder that the whole issue of euthanasia and physician-assisted suicide is troubling, particularly for Canadians of African descent. It is also worrisome to know that by June 6, the deadline given to Parliament by the Supreme Court of Canada to pass the bill, Canada will have joined countries like Belgium and the Netherlands to allow the direct killing of a patient or the indirect killing of a patient by the prescription of lethal drugs. This is, no doubt, an unfortunate development and one that should be of the gravest concern to any well-meaning Canadian.
The issues at stake here are patients’ needs and rights! Those who support assisted suicide base their argument on the idea of personal autonomy, that is, the inviolable rights of the individual. Nonetheless, they fail to understand that, if it were only a matter of an individual taking his or her own life, there would be no need for a debate. By nature, we live in a relationship with others, hence, assisted suicide, strictly speaking, involves another individual or individuals; it is far from a private decision. It is a decision which will affect those in the medical profession, the patients’ families and, indeed, society as a whole. As Thomas Cardinal Collins of Toronto rightly observed, it is a decision that will have a profound impact on Canadian society for years to come. For that reason, it would be advisable for the Liberal government to have a rethink on this matter, as it is said to be an ill wind that blows no good. If this bill is passed, it will have a highly detrimental effect on Canadian society.
In addition, Bill C-14 is an emerging assault on the freedom of conscience of physicians whose stock-in-trade is to save life rather than to kill. Here, I would like to make recourse to the oath, that is, the Hippocratic Oath that physicians take prior to receiving their licence to practise. I believe that the Hippocratic Oath is the bedrock of medical ethics. This is a solemn oath, which they should be honour-bound never, ever to break. They swore to protect life from the moment of conception until natural death. In the oath, they also swore that they would “…not give a drug that is deadly to anyone if asked, nor…suggest the way to such a counsel.” So, to legalise euthanasia and physician-assisted suicide means that the government is explicitly coercing physicians to break a solemn sworn oath. To do this is to infringe on their freedom of conscience, which, according to the Canadian Charter of Rights, all citizens should enjoy. The same argument is applicable to the families of individuals who may be gravely ill. Legalising euthanasia and assisted suicide would mean creating a horrific environment in which families are made complicit in the death of their loved ones. The least families could do for their loved ones who are sick is to care for them and not kill them!!! If Canada prides itself on being a true and just society, it should prove this not by legalising euthanasia and physician-assisted suicide, but by providing its citizens with all the necessary opportunities to save life rather than destroy it. The fifth commandment, “Thou shalt not kill.” is a foundational value for a just society. God is the giver of life and he is the taker of life. That is his domain and not ours!
The recent suicide crisis in Attawapiskat has not only put Canada in a bad spot globally, but also is a case in point when we consider the bad side of making suicide accessible to people. It is on record that it was in the midst of this suicide crisis, the worst in the history of Canada, that the federal government tabled Bill C-14. What an irony! What a contradiction!! What a crazy world we live in!!!
Undoubtedly, what the federal government, that is, our parliamentarians, should do is to make palliative care more accessible to the sick, vulnerable members of our society. It is estimated that only 16 to 30% of Canadians have access to quality palliative care. However, sadly this type of care is clearly lacking in Canadian society. Therefore, the Liberal government should see palliative-care access as a priority and, in in my opinion, make it much more available instead of making suicide legally accessible to people across Canada. Generations yet unborn will not forgive us should we legalise euthanasia and physician-assisted suicide in this country, which is founded on Christian values and principles, one of them being, “Thou shalt not kill.”
About the writer
Rev.Fr. Paul Nwaeze is a Nigerian-born priest and pastor of Our Lady of the Miraculous Medal parish, Russell, Ontario.