On June 17th, Bill C-14, the Liberal’s physician-assisted death bill passed.  This situation, with its rejection of the very case which initiated the legislation, should be interpreted as a stand of faith-based dogma against individual secular human rights.

While there is ample coverage of the implications and meaning of the passage of the bill from media outlets and human rights organization (such as Dying With Dignity Canada), a leading focus of attention appears to be on the political power dynamics between the Senate and the House of Commons (Toronto Star,  National Post) rather than the effects on human rights law in Canada or on the vulnerable and suffering individuals who have just witnessed the federal government place options out of their reach.  Even further from public analysis, of course, is any mention of the influence of religion on the language of Bill C-14, or of the motivations of religious organizations who lobbied against human rights advances in this country.  Even The Catholic Register avoided mention of the Catholic position or actions on C-14.

It is shameful that one of the major effects of this new law, beyond the extension of unnecessary suffering for many Canadians, will be the need for further human rights challenges – more legal fights by individuals who are least able to undertake them.  On the GlobalNews website, Joan Bryden stated that,

Some other senators, who are morally opposed to assisted dying and would have preferred an even more restrictive law, also voted for the bill in the belief that a law governing assisted death is better than no law at all.

and it is indeed this situation which Canadian secularists, atheists, agnostics, humanists and human rights activists should be concerned with.  Kay Carter’s family (News 1130) warned Canadians that Bill C-14 would not even have helped her – the individual whose case demanded the advancement of law.   When human rights advances do not even include the class of cases which forced the government to change, it should be clear that others will be forced to repeat the fight that was already won.  It is a situation that defies reason.  Despite the risk of asserting un-substantiated claims,  it is my opinion that unreasonable blockage to  human rights advances may reliably be traced to faith-based dogma and religious lobbying.

Try to hide it as they may under terms such as “morally opposed” or pretenses of protecting vulnerable people – the outcome is not that religious opponents to physician-assisted death have protected their right to faithfully endure every miserable moment of illness and injury.  They would have retained their right to a miserable death if they wanted one.  Instead, they have continued to try to assure that everyone else must endure a miserable death as well – in other words that their religious perspectives will continue to have the effect of law on others who do not share them.

Already in Ontario, a coalition of Christian physicians has launched objections to the physician-assisted death referral system adopted in Ontario; Ewan Goligher, a physician from Toronto’s Mount Sinai was quoted by the Globe and Mail as claiming to be a conscientious objector to physician-assisted death,  “I think the patient is of greater value than their preference, and I cannot lift my hand to destroy that which is of fundamental value,”

Goligher demonstrates the lengths to which faith-based ideologues will go to force the implications of their chosen religions on others – even those who may not share their perspectives.   Goligher extends his ethics argument, and his fundamental objection to physician assisted death when he says, “If I knowingly refer my patient to anyone who does things that are unethical, I need to be held to account.” Goligher’s argument is, of course,  an appeal to an ethics he considers to be higher than Canadian law – his faith-based ethics.  It seems that the passing of this weak bill C-14  will also provide opportunities for petty procedural roadblocks by religious objectors – for what else is the insistence on a intermediary office to handle referrals than a petty roadblock?  And indeed, even if such an intermediary office were to be established, it is entirely predictable that  physicians who object to referring to other physicians will also object to referring to an administrative procedure.

What is Goligher’s ethical and clinical prescription for irremediable illness and un-ceasing misery? “.… the underlying issues need to be explored and treated.”   The underlying issue is not whether the patient is suffering and will die suffering – that’s been established both clinically and legally.  That’s a certainty.  The underlying issue is whether the patient has the right to choose the manner and time of the end to that suffering.  That, too has been established in law – but the passing of C-14 failed to live up to that human rights decision.

Eric Adriaans

National Executive Director

CFI Canada