The attached statement on the subject of physician-assisted dying was approved by, among others Rabbis Assayag, Lowy, Miller and Ochs and is sent out in the name of the Vaad. PDF version available below.
April 7, 2016
We, the undersigned Orthodox rabbis of Canada, hereby express our categorical objection to and deep dismay over the Supreme Court of Canada’s decision in Carter v. Canada to grant a right to physician assisted dying (PAD), and the subsequent Report of the Special Joint Parliamentary Committee on Physician-Assisted Dying which expands the scope and circumstances allowing and even requiring PAD beyond the Supreme Court’s ruling.
We understand the arguments to be made in favour of PAD. We understand that individuals facing terminal illness with significantly diminished quality of life may wish to end their suffering and the suffering of their loved ones.
Notwithstanding these arguments, we express our opposition to PAD, because of the following:
• According to Jewish tradition, and as expressed explicitly in the Torah (Bible), God gives man life, and it is therefore God alone who has exclusive purview to take away that life. Even people who take their own lives are committing murder. Anyone who aids and abets suicide is therefore an accessory to murder. By creating a legal pathway for killing the ill, our society is supporting and normalizing the act of murder.
• Regardless of an individual’s quality of life, Judaism asserts that every moment of life on this earth is precious to the Creator, and so actively terminating a relatively low-quality life is still ending a precious life. By diminishing the value of a terminally-ill patient’s life, society demeans the value of all human life.
• The legalization of PAD will potentially prey on the most vulnerable in our society, those whose physical health is waning, and who may have fallen into depression or other mental illness. Those expressing a desire to end their lives have been known to change their minds once their physical or mental anguish can be alleviated through treatment. There is no way for anyone to know how they will feel in the future; resorting to suicide, even in the face of terminal illness, is a permanent solution to what is often a temporary problem.
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• We fear that over time, the “slippery slope” aspect of PAD will result in our hospitals and clinics actively encouraging patients to end their lives so as not to be a burden on their loved ones and on an already overburdened health-care system. A disproportionate amount of medical spending takes place in the last years of life. The structural and financial incentives to promote premature death will subtly and explicitly influence many unfortunate results.
• Health care professionals of various faiths and consciences may be put in positions of conflict between Canadian law and the mandates of their respective faiths and/or consciences. There is currently insufficient provision in the Report of the Special Joint Committee on Physician-Assisted Dying for health care professionals who are conscientious objectors to recuse themselves when a patient requests PAD.
• Should this PAD become the standard of care, it will become difficult for members of many faith communities to enter health care professions, especially in areas of geriatrics and palliative care. We are concerned that professional schools, professional colleges and hospitals may eventually establish qualifications that would require applicants to accept and perform PAD or face rejection.
For these reasons and others expressed by various faith communities, we oppose Physician Assisted Dying. We state that any participation in PAD is forbidden by Jewish law. While the Supreme Court has decided to the contrary, we cannot be silent in the face of what our religious teachings and our conscience tell us is contrary to what is good and moral. We are committed to continue advocating for the value of life within our society.
We call upon all people throughout Canada, especially those in positions of leadership, to raise their collective voice, restore moral clarity to our society, and eliminate this trend toward the devaluation of human life. We further call upon legislators, medical care professionals, organizations and facilities to challenge PAD – within the confines of the law – wherever and whenever possible. We also call upon medical professionals to respect and accommodate their colleagues who conscientiously object to Physician Assisted Dying.