United Church opts for a balanced, case-by-case approach to medical assistance in dying

Published On: May 8, 2017

At its May 6–7, 2017, meeting, after reviewing a report submitted by The United Church of Canada’s Theology and Inter-Church Inter-Faith Committee, the Executive of the General Council adopted the report as an official statement of the United Church on the subject of medical assistance in dying.

In the report, the committee acknowledges there are likely a range of views within the United Church community on this matter. Their challenge in making a statement on behalf of the church, after holding a consultation that included health care professionals, chaplains, ethicists, ministry personnel, and persons with disabilities, was to take into account the range and complexity of the issues raised by both the current federal legislation and the subject of medical assistance in dying itself.

We are not opposed in principle to the legislation allowing assistance in dying and to such assistance being the informed, free choice of terminally ill patients. There are occasions where unrelenting suffering and what we know about the effect of pain on the human body can make Medical Assistance in Dying a preferable option. However, we urge a cautious approach by legislators and medical professionals implementing these laws, as well as by individuals, families and communities of faith who are considering making use of this new legislative option. To this end, we advocate community-focused and theologically robust discernment on a case-by-case basis that also ensures the protection and care of those potentially made vulnerable by this new law and others like it.

In the past, The United Church of Canada had not taken a formal position on assisted dying or euthanasia. However, with medical assistance in dying now legal in Canada, the church recognized that its guidance was needed on the many questions that would arise as a result of this legislation.

The committee concluded as follows:

The issue of Medical Assistance in Dying is one that needs ongoing reflection and dialogue in communities of faith. It may be chosen as a faithful option in certain circumstances. At the same time, there are many challenges that have emerged since this option became available, challenges both spiritual and practical. While the right of terminally ill patients under the legislation needs to be honoured, affirmation of this legislation must be accompanied by protection and care of the most vulnerable in our society and by universal, equal access to palliative care. It must recognize and respect the challenge Medical Assistance in Dying can pose for health care professionals. It must also be accompanied by an affirmation of the dignity and intrinsic worth of every life in relation to community.

You can read the full "Medical Assistance in Dying" report in the United Church Commons document library.

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