It was a privilege to be visited last summer by a friend from overseas. Sadly, his country was in the midst of a crisis. He spoke about the effects of civil war, an unstable government, and food scarcity. Amid such trials, he also spoke of growing churches and gospel faithfulness. The suffering that this brother had endured seemed unimaginable. We talked about how Canada has been incomparably stable, peaceful, and prosperous. Many Canadian Christians, however, are noticing that we are entering a different kind of crisis. Though our nation’s violence may primarily be carried out in the sterile rooms of hospitals, it is a grim reality. Behind closed doors, Canada is becoming a nation of state-sanctioned lawlessness and violence.
Canada has changed considerably since the 1960s. A pluralistic national identity has emerged, which has demanded the acceptance of various worldviews. Laws were altered to allow no-fault divorce, unlimited abortion, and the redefinition of marriage. Progressive conversion therapy, hate speech, and censorship bills have recently been passed. Perhaps most startling has been the speed with which our nation has changed its approach to assisted suicide.
Ten years ago, this practice was illegal. In February 2015, the Supreme Court of Canada ruled that the Canadian Parliament had to amend criminal code prohibitions to address the rights of individuals who wanted access to assisted suicide. At that time, Canada was governed by a Conservative Party majority that failed to introduce legislation. The responsibility to address the court ruling fell to the progressive, Liberal Party government under Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, who was elected in October 2015.
In 2016, this Liberal government introduced legislation that allowed terminally ill adults to access “medical assistance in dying” (MAID). Assisted suicide is now largely known in Canada by this acronym. Words such as euthanasia, assisted suicide, or mercy killing have faded from official use. In this legislation, death had to be “reasonably foreseeable” for a patient to qualify, and several regulatory boxes had to be checked. Though the language surrounding these changes appeared to be compassionate to many people, the reality was that God’s prerogative to choose the moment of death was being challenged (Ex. 20:13; Ps. 48:14, KJV).
Since the initial change, the issue has snowballed. In 2020, the government introduced new legislation to permit assisted suicide for individuals whose death was not reasonably foreseeable. Since then, it has become clear that a significant proportion of the population and media voices favor few limits on the practice. Perhaps most troubling is the latest development: as of March 17, 2023, assisted suicide will be allowed for persons whose sole medical condition is mental illness. A person who is severely depressed or delusional will be able to demand assisted suicide.
A special committee is also discussing extending MAID to children, which several leading pediatricians have recommended. It seems that assisted suicide in Canada may soon join the unlimited status that abortion has been given: it will be offered at any time to anyone, as long as a victim gives consent and a medical professional is willing to administer the poison. Suicide is being streamlined and mainstreamed. Assisted suicide is also now being lauded as a solution to the lack of donor organs for transplants.
This issue in Canada also comes in the context of socialized healthcare. There are few alternatives to the public healthcare system, which is strained. In the region where I live, it is not uncommon to wait many hours, sometimes overnight, for treatment in an emergency room. It can take months to see a specialist and even more time for a scan or test. Mental health supports are also difficult for many to access. Canadians have heard of an increasing number of anecdotal accounts of this final solution being persuasively proposed to those who still wanted to live. This has included the elderly who are seeking treatments and veterans with post-traumatic stress disorder. News articles recount the horrific experiences of families who were completely surprised to find out that relatively healthy family members had died.
Compounding the confusion is the reality that MAID has become an umbrella term for various end-of-life treatments. A reasonable dose of painkillers, which may allow a person in palliative care to have a good night’s sleep, could be included under the phrase “medical assistance in dying.” But how much is too much? At what point have we reached out for a false savior and denied God’s sovereignty over our death? Did we go too far in artificially attempting to extend lives? How do we read God’s providences regarding life and death? Difficult questions abound. Many pastors are already relating an increasing number of stories where church members have been coerced or convinced to accept treatments that seemed to end their lives. Some Christians are confused. The most radical option is often presented in the guise of compassion and concern for a strained healthcare system.
Why has a nation that trumpeted suicide hotlines and went to great lengths to avoid death by COVID so quickly embraced assisted suicide with few limits? It seems like a baffling question. Somewhere at the roots may be the reality that Canadians demand a right to avoid all suffering. Their humanism demands sovereignty over life, sickness, and death.
Christians must remember that the goal of our lives is not primarily to escape suffering. In fact, we ought to see that our sovereign God has a good purpose for suffering. First Peter 4:12–19 teaches Christians that we ought not to be surprised when we face challenges:
Beloved, do not be surprised at the fiery trial when it comes upon you to test you, as though something strange were happening to you. But rejoice insofar as you share Christ’s sufferings, that you may also rejoice and be glad when his glory is revealed. If you are insulted for the name of Christ, you are blessed, because the Spirit of glory and of God rests upon you. But let none of you suffer as a murderer or a thief or an evildoer or as a meddler. Yet if anyone suffers as a Christian, let him not be ashamed, but let him glorify God in that name. For it is time for judgment to begin at the household of God; and if it begins with us, what will be the outcome for those who not obey the gospel of God? And “If the righteous is scarcely saved, what will become of the ungodly and the sinner?” Therefore let those who suffer according to God’s will entrust their souls to a faithful Creator while doing good.
These are becoming difficult times for Canadian Christians. Knowing God’s holiness, we wrestle with moral issues on a level that many in our culture cannot understand. When we cling to biblical definitions and gospel truths, we may find ourselves insulted for the name of Christ. These trends are proof of the truth of God’s Word: He warned us through Peter that judgment begins at the house of God. We are being tested, and our calling is to entrust our souls to a faithful Creator while doing good. It is precisely these types of trials that conform us to the image of Christ and lead to the glory of God.
The good news in a time like this is that it also increases opportunities for Christians to do good. We can champion the cause of palliative care and provide it ourselves if necessary. Christians can build nursing homes or hospitals. Families or friends may have the opportunity to accommodate dying loved ones. Though this may be challenging, it may also bring many opportunities for us to exercise hospitality and visit the sick (James 1:27; 5:14). It will also become a testimony of the goodness of our Savior, in whom we die with the utmost dignity.
This challenge also brings opportunities for prayer. In God’s sovereign providence, times of prayer have been at the root of great deliverances (Dan. 2:18; Acts 1:14). We can especially pray for the godly doctors and nurses who increasingly find themselves out of step with these policies. Many have mourned as they have seen their hospitals becoming the opposite of what they once were. Pray that their faithful testimony will shine brightly in the darkness. The Lord delights to use challenging times to gather us nearer to Himself and to answer our prayers for deliverance, so let us be faithful to draw near to Him (Ps. 50:15).