This post originally appeared on the website of the University of St. Michael's College on March 27, 2017.
Given the political turmoil and ugly nativist sentiment roiling the politics of so many countries, it is hard not to think that this is Canada’s moment. Could it be that our self-satisfied boast that “the world needs more Canada” is actually coming true?
In relative terms, this sense of Canadian exceptionalism does appear to be justified. We remain notable for political stability and for the civility of our media and public discourse (admittedly, a pretty low bar). Our society is also widely acknowledged as being welcoming and tolerant, and generally gets a better than passing grade for the social safety net woven by various levels of government. That said, these assessments tend to be somewhat selective. People working on the front lines of support to the most vulnerable argue that inequality is growing in Canada as our sense of connectedness, of shared responsibility, steadily disappears.
Measuring ourselves against the worst things happening in other countries can leave us dangerously complacent about our own deficiencies. Indeed, recent events have left me wondering whether the world actually needs everything that we are so eager to offer.
Our decision to expand foreign aid for “sexual and reproductive health services” including abortion is troubling on many levels. We are joining the Netherlands to fill a gap created by US cuts to similar programs. The Prime Minister’s announcement was widely applauded. But little attention was paid to the fact that two rich, western countries were blithely assuming responsibility for social policy in the developing world without bothering to consult the intended recipients of their largesse. Not surprisingly, we are already hearing eloquent voices from Africa challenging this approach, describing it as a new form of colonization.
I must admit that the former Canadian Public Servant in me can’t help but worry, and pray, for colleagues who are increasingly being asked to implement policies that run counter to the guidance of their consciences.
This was very much on my mind as I watched a new documentary, The Euthanasia Deception, shown on the St. Mike’s campus last week. The film reports on the implementation of euthanasia in Belgium. Introduced by its proponents as a carefully regulated and exceptional measure, euthanasia has rapidly evolved to being considered just another procedure in the Belgian health care system. Indeed, as the film makes clear, euthanasia has been “normalized” to the extent that there is now a disinclination to track the actual number of cases and, worse, a worrying disregard for securing prior consent.
After the film, I chaired a panel that included Alex Schadenberg, who heads the Euthanasia Prevention Coalition, journalist and activist Charles Lewis, and Psychiatric Nurse Helen McGee who is an adjunct lecturer at the Bloomberg Faculty of Nursing at the University of Toronto. They are part of a dedicated band—colleague Moira McQueen of the Canadian Catholic Bioethics Institute is another—who work tirelessly at parishes, in schools, in front of community groups, and before various levels of government in an effort to bring attention to what is now being visited upon Canadian society. Their inspiration in this effort and the leader of the campaign for conscience rights is our own Chancellor, Cardinal Collins. They argue that it is important that we learn from the example of Belgium and the Netherlands because, if anything, the Canadian government seems intent on proceeding even more quickly in introducing euthanasia in our health care system, and appears even more ardent in implementing the social engineering that comes with it.
Three salient points emerged from the panel discussion. First, we need to pay careful attention to language. Social engineering is typically implemented through subtle and seductive engineering of language itself. As the documentary makes clear, the comforting term “medical assistance in dying,” masks a much less comforting reality. So, too, does the term “dying with dignity,” which denies the reality and natural beauty of our human journey, subtly transferring to the state and its agencies responsibility for “managing” its earthly conclusion.
This ominous observation brings us to a second important point emerging from the discussion, namely that the campaign for conscience rights requires in each of us a significant mixture of faith and hope. The juggernaut of government, media and secular society rolls ever on, heedlessly discarding or ignoring fundamental truths about our essential humanity. But resistance is not futile. People like Alex and Charlie are doing some wonderful thinking about the power of activism at the local level—think of small communities, such as parishes.
Just what smaller communities might offer constitutes a third insight provided by the panelists. Since I have already invoked faith and hope, you can imagine what comes next: we need to be motivated by charity. We need to remember that while we can and should deplore policies that dehumanize us, our charity must necessarily extend to those who make and support such policies (even as we struggle to convince them otherwise). They are not an “other” to be shunned or demonized, but friends, colleagues, neighbors, and family who are tragically proceeding in the wrong direction.
Charity at the parish and community level should also encourage us to do even more to support palliative care options.
Above all, our divinely inspired love should ensure that whatever we do, we do to protect and defend those who are most threatened by the relentless implementation of euthanasia in Canada and elsewhere: the disabled, the aged, and the poor.
In these days when so many of our allies are struggling through political disarray and the loss of national self-confidence, Canadians need to guard against the conceit that we are somehow morally superior. Could it be that our own cavalier disregard for the sanctity of human life, from its earliest beginning until its natural end, is but the Canadian manifestation of a much broader malaise? Aren’t we also adrift, unmoored from the values that previously informed public policy?
It pains me to say it, but when it comes to championing the most basic human right, the right to life, the world could probably use a little less Canada.
David Mulroney is the President and Vice-Chancellor of the University of St. Michael’s College and was Canada’s Ambassador to China from 2009 – 2012.