Hiltz: Right-to-die ruling needs church’s serious attention

Archbishop Fred Hiltz, Primate, The Anglican Church of Canada. Mississauga, ON, Canada.

The church remains “deeply committed to the ministry of accompanying people in their lifelong journey,” says the primate, Archbishop Fred Hiltz in a statement on the Supreme Court ruling on doctor-assisted dying.   File photo: General Synod Communications

Archbishop Fred Hiltz, primate of the Anglican Church of Canada, issued a statement Tuesday night on the Supreme Court’s ruling on physician-assisted dying in which he called on Anglicans to “exhibit an unwavering resolve to include those most affected by our deliberations” in conversations around end-of-life issues.

While acknowledging the diverse opinions Anglicans hold on these matters, Hiltz emphasized that the church must listen to those “suffering through intolerable physical pain, emotional anguish and spiritual turmoil” as it engages in conversations about physician-assisted dying.

“We recognize the need to walk in a particular way with those who are suffering debilitating illnesses. We recognize the need to offer people a listening ear and a pastoral heart as in the face of death they ponder the meaning and value of their lives,” he said, adding that the church also recognizes “the importance of a person’s right to dignity in life and death.”

Hiltz noted that both those who see this as “cause for “celebration” and those who see it as “cause for great concern” add important perspectives to the situation. But he said, “whatever one’s perspective, serious attention needs to be given to the court ruling’s intent and application” and conversations must include the church and the Canadian society at large.

Hiltz said Care in Dying, a report produced in 2000 and which the General Synod of the Anglican Church of Canada commended for study throughout the church, remains “a valuable” resource for parishes.

He noted that this document called for a renewal of “the church’s commitment to the provision of the best quality of palliative care in keeping with the dignity and sanctity of human life.” While the Supreme Court ruling has changed the legal situation, Hiltz sees these principles as being in line with those espoused in the Care in Dying report.

That  report also called the church to “sustain the commitment to care even when it is no longer possible to cure,” and suggests that cessation of treatment may be part of that care, but “does not support the idea that care can include an act or omission whose primary intention is to end a person’s life,” arguing that health care delivery should “reflect the desire of Canadians to be a community that sustains the dignity and worth of its members.”

Care in Dying also highlighted concerns over the possible abuse that might come with the legalization of euthanasia, namely that it “could present special risks for those in our society who are already vulnerable.”

The primate also noted that the church has “re-opened the conversation” by appointing a task force on physician-assisted suicide through the Faith, Worship and Ministry committee. The group includes legal and medical experts as well as ethicists and pastors who represent “a declared diversity of opinion over what constitutes appropriate end-of-life care,” and has been asked to “resource and guide us in these discussions.”

The Supreme Court’s unanimous decision last week to strike down the ban on assisted dying came after it was successfully argued that such a ban violated the rights of an individual suffering from a “grievous and irremediable medical condition that causes enduring and intolerable suffering” to “life, liberty, and security of the person,” and was therefore unconstitutional.

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