The End of Life—and the End of an Era?

We are approaching an inflection point. In geometry, an inflection point is where a curve starts to change its shape—say, from curving upward to curving downward. The last fifty years feels like a steady series of inflection points in our culture, and we’re about to hit another one.

After more than four weeks of hearings, the case of Truchon and Gladu v. the Attorneys General of Canada and Quebec finally came to an end in Montreal last month. It is the latest challenge to the law regarding medical aid in dying (MAID) as Jean Truchon and Nicole Gladu seek the freedom to receive MAID long before they meet the current criteria of the provincial law, which requires that they be at “the end of life,” and of the federal law, which requires that their imminent natural death be “reasonably foreseeable.”

The governments of Quebec and of Canada are trying to hold the line against the expansion of MAID. Governments throughout the western world have been worrying about rising incidence of suicide, and lawyer Robert Reynolds recently summarized their concern as expressed in this case:

“Experts presented by the federal government argued that if the end of life requirement were removed, many patients currently being treated by psychiatrists to prevent their suicide would become eligible for MAID and suicide rates would increase. This opinion was borne out by expert evidence from Holland, where there is no end of life requirement in the law. In the last ten years in Holland there has been a steady increase in the number of people being euthanized, and during that same period, suicide numbers in the general population have increased at a higher rate than those in neighbouring countries such as Germany.”

Reynolds, a former president of the Christian Legal Fellowship (CLF), argued on CLF’s behalf that “this case represented a clash of values or ideologies: on the one hand, the autonomy of the individual, or self-determination, and on the other hand, the sacred character of human life.” And ay, there’s the rub.

The “sacredness” or “sanctity” of life derives from the concept of being “holy” (Latin sanctus), which means “to be set apart to God.” To begin or end a human life, so Christians (and other believers in a Supreme Being) have maintained, is the purview of God.

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