Do we live in a post-Christian world? Yes and no. The Western vision of equality, human rights, accountable government, and even contemporary democracy are derived from Christian assumptions. But the faith that once supported those assumptions has waned. What remains are mere professions of values without attempts at justification. Think of Jefferson’s “self-evident” truths in the Declaration of Independence, or the United Nations’s Universal Declaration of Human Rights and its mere “recognition” of the “inherent dignity and of the equal and inalienable rights of all members of the human family,” and so on. Our leaders no longer defend those values with appeals to any religious or metaphysical sentiment—or even to reason. They simply assert, but assertion is not proof.
The Christian moral system is so deeply ingrained in our culture that it is taken for granted, and no alternative to it—or no widely accepted alternative—exists, at least not yet. This fact has both profound and paradoxical implications. It means that people on all sides of a given moral issue have recourse to the same principles. Both advocates and opponents of abortion, pornography, and prostitution, for instance, make similar appeals to dignity, mercy, compassion, and autonomy. Since antagonists invoke the same principles, the debates go on endlessly, the questions remaining unsettled. In time, this confusion will strain our moral system to the breaking point. For a sense of where it will lead, consider Canada’s burgeoning euthanasia regime.
Canadians call it Medical Assistance in Dying now, or “MAID” for short. It began with a 2015 decision by the Supreme Court striking down the nation’s euthanasia ban and discovering a right to assisted suicide in Section 7 of the Charter of Rights and Freedoms, which asserts a universal right to “life, liberty, and security of the person, and the right not to be deprived thereof except in accordance with the principles of fundamental justice.” Canada’s highest court determined that assisted suicide would be ethical only “with respect to voluntary adults who are competent, informed, grievously and irremediably ill,” and only when it would be “clearly consistent with the patient’s wishes and best interests, and [provided] in order to relieve suffering.” The judges agreed with a lower court’s finding that a system with “properly designed and administered safeguards was capable of protecting vulnerable people from abuse and error.” In 2016, Parliament began passing and amending laws allowing euthanasia.
When critics argued that the ruling would result in euthanasia being offered to the mentally ill, the depressed, those with disabilities, or other vulnerable persons, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau dismissed such concerns, saying, “this simply isn’t something that ends up happening.” He was wrong. In 2021, Parliament removed the law’s previous requirement that a person’s natural death must be imminently foreseeable for him to elect suicide. Reports immediately began circulating of physicians pushing MAID on people who had suffered strokes or other survivable challenges. These people were isolated and depressed in many cases, but hardly at death’s door. In one alarming instance, a 71-year-old widower was admitted to hospital after a fall. He contracted infectious diarrhea in hospital, where he was humiliated by staff for the smell of his room. Staff claimed that he had end-stage COPD and offered him MAID; he took their advice and was euthanized within 48 hours of his first assessment. A post-mortem examination, however, proved that he did not have end-stage COPD.
The expanded MAID policy did not distinguish between medical infirmities and avoidable suffering caused by neglect or poverty. Bioethicists Kayla Wiebe and Amy Mullin contended that Canada should not deny people assisted suicide if living conditions make their lives intolerable. Physicians have offered MAID to people who cannot afford housing or find proper medical care. A rogue bureaucrat within Canada’s department of veterans affairs offered MAID to an elderly veteran struggling to make ends meet; the matter was turned over to the police.
Canada’s euthanasia regime has grown rapidly since 2021. According to the Fourth Annual Report on Medical Assistance in Dying in Canada 2022, “the most commonly cited sources of suffering by individuals requesting MAID were the loss of ability to engage in meaningful activities (86.3%), followed by loss of ability to perform activities of daily living (81.9%) and inadequate control of pain, or concern about controlling pain (59.2%).”
More than 13,000 people in Canada were euthanized in 2022, an annual rise of 31.2 percent since 2021. In 2022, 4.1 percent of all deaths in the country were the result of euthanasia; MAID could now be listed as the nation’s fifth-leading cause of death. Nearly 45,000 people have been euthanized since 2016, when Parliament first introduced MAID legislation. This number will keep rising as stigma disappears and MAID advocates continue to push for relaxed standards. The Canadian government seems to be on board with that agenda, as it reportedly plans to make MAID available to anorexics and drug users.
The slippery-slope argument that Trudeau scoffed at has proved true. Simons, a Canadian fashion company, released a disturbing advertisement presenting 37-year-old Jennyfer Hatch’s decision to die as a posh lifestyle choice. A funeral home in Montreal notably offers a $700 “turnkey” package of MAID and funeral. Vulnerable people are told, in so many words, that their lives are not worth living. I hesitate to draw a parallel with the concept of Lebensunwertes Leben, or “life unworthy of life,” but that was the Nazis’ excuse for killing the infirm and mentally ill. We should know where Canada’s policy can lead because we have seen it before.
In Canada, patients can wait years for medical treatment in the country’s overburdened and underfunded health-care system. The baby boomer population, as it ages, will only increase the strain on the medical system, the welfare state, and the Canada Pension Plan. A 2017 study published in the Canadian Medical Association Journal suggested euthanasia could save the country between $34.7 million and $138.8 million annually—a “substantial savings,” the authors said. Is this why the government is eager to expand MAID?
The notion that we have a right, and perhaps an obligation, to die when we become a financial or other “burden” to others is profoundly wrong. It is founded upon hyper-individualism and a misunderstanding of family and community. A person can be considered a burden only if society ceases to believe in mutual commitment and communal support. Canada’s MAID regime is the inevitable consequence of the emergence of such an asocial non-society.
We already live in a world in which the lives of elderly, poor, sick, depressed, and disabled people are easily overlooked. If we go further down the dark road of MAID, we will find ourselves in a truly post-Christian civilization in which their lives are seen as having no value at all.