No surprise I was in an outraged funk this past week over the decision by the Supreme Court of British Columbia to strike down federal laws against medically delivered suicide.
The judgment was, of course, morally horrifying, intellectually fraudulent, and politically destructive of Canadians as a self-governing people. Its transformation of our much vaunted public health care system into an instrument for delivering suicide should chill the blood of all who feel moral revulsion at the very thought of the State arranging and systematizing the deaths of citizens.
Nor should we feel warmed by the court’s fantastic assurances that supposed safeguards will prevent us sliding down the so-called “slippery slope” of ever expanding forms of medical killing. The concern is not that legalization of euthanasia and medically delivered suicide might lead us to edge of the slippery slope. Euthanasia and medically delivered suicide are the slippery slope. They are the descent.
Once we have taken the step from thinking of killing as unthinkable to considering it a normal part of medical routine, we have crossed the barrier from civilization to savagery. Any measure of how far we slide after that point is an irrelevant metric. No safeguards can save us once we are already lost.
Even if such safeguards were somehow morally supportable, they are only so much intellectual phlogiston given that the court’s decision was based, in part, on Charter equality rights. By ruling that existing full prohibitions against medically delivered suicide violate equality rights, the court is implicitly accepting that any so-called safeguards are merely diminished substitutes for the original law.
Yet if legally denying me all access to medically delivered suicide denies my equality rights, how can denying me access except under specified conditions not also be a denial of those rights? What if I don’t meet qualifying condition X? Am I not in exactly the same position I would have been under the full prohibition? Where are my equality rights then? How does giving privilege to some, rather than maintaining equal prohibition for all, do anything to advance equality?
Such jiggery-pokery puts the court in the position of 17th Century natural philosophers who imagined a substance called phlogiston to explain away processes of oxidation they could not understand. Just so, the court has invented safeguards without substance to explain away a reality it would rather not confront.
It is this judicial invention that, after alarm over loss of basic protection of life, should most deeply trouble us all. It offends the very political and constitutional order from which protection of life proceeds.
Barely two years ago, the House of Commons voted by a margin of almost four to one against a bill that sought to legalize medicalized killing (euthanasia) and medically delivered suicide. It was the umpteenth time the House had rejected proposed changes to existing federal laws barring those barbaric practices. The Senate, too, has consistently supported the current laws. Parliament, as a whole, could not have spoken more clearly.
Yet last week a lone judge, sitting in Vancouver, substituted her judgment for the judgment of more than 300 federal political representatives. She did so against the explicit provisions of Section 1 of the Charter, which gives paramountcy to “reasonable limits prescribed by law as can be demonstrably justified in a free and democratic society.”
Were I a member of parliament or a senator, or indeed a politician at any democratic level in this country, I would have gone to bed Friday evening howling at the content of the B.C. Supreme Court decision, but also at its cavalier castration of my whole political purpose. I would have got out of bed Monday morning to formally withdraw from the puppetry to which Canadian politics has been reduced, and to reclaim my self-respect as disengaged ordinary citizen.
In fact, in my outraged funk, it struck me that disengagement from political life is the only sensible option even for an ordinary citizen in a country where morally horrifying and intellectually fraudulent judicial fiat reigns supreme.
Here came the surprise. A profoundly wise friend pointed out that such withdrawal is neither necessary nor tenable for particularly Christian reasons. First, she pointed out, we are called to engage in the political life of our country not to win but to witness. We are called as witnesses of Christ in whatever worldly glory or madness plays itself out before us.
More, she said, the primacy of witness over winning is not defeatism, but a declaration of the reality that we already have victory through Christ. Nothing the world does can take that away. Indeed, any “wins” the world manages are a sad, diminished substitute for the real thing.
I spent the rest of the weekend reflecting on her words, and even looking at it from the opposite end of the telescope. If we as Christians do not have victory through Christ, if we are foolish to be fools for Christ, then we have a much more serious matter to contend with than anything the world can throw at us.
Winning won’t matter anyway.
Peter Stockland is Director of Media Services at the Canadian think-thank Cardus. He is a former editor-in-chief of The Gazette newspaper in Montreal. This essay was orginally published on “The Cardus Daily” and is republished with permission.