The United Church of Canada General Council Executive agreed this week to update the church’s statement on medical assistance in dying (MAID) to, in part, declare an opposition to advance directives.
The Executive accepted recommendations from the Theology and Inter-Church Inter-Faith Committee that emphasize principles of free and informed choice. It also called on the Canadian government not to permit advance directives for MAID by people whose conditions will eventually take away their power for informed consent, or add mental illness to the allowable categories for MAID. It also appealed to the government to maintain the criterion of “foreseeable death” and stated its support for mature minors to request MAID, but that those situations be judged on a case-by-case basis.
The original MAID statement was released in 2017 in response to Canadian legislation that was first drafted in 2015. The new recommendations were brought forward this week in response to the upcoming five-year parliamentary review of the MAID bill, which will likely take place in September.
Broadview spoke with Rev. Daniel Hayward, the chair of the church’s Theology and Inter-Church Inter-Faith Committee, which brought the updates to the Executive. He explained that a number of them were meant to advocate for the disabled community.
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“The language in the report stands in opposition to the expansion of MAID, which crafts a process that treats the life of one group of people, disabled people, as not worth living,” Hayward says. He also notes that virtually every organization in Canada representing disabled people opposes advance directives.
In addition, advance directives assume that people who are no longer capable of communicating their wishes will not change their mind, once they’ve committed themselves.
“We don’t actually know very much about what that mental capacity is like,” Hayward says. “And we don’t know if people may actually change their mind during that time, and be unable to communicate it.”
In the case of the “foreseeable death” criterion, Hayward says he thinks it’s important to remove directives in a MAID bill that would not require disabled people to be at the end of their life. He believes it sends a message that the suffering of people with disabilities is valued differently from other groups in society, that disabled people have no hope, and they are expendable.
Finally, he wants to be clear that, “the fact that the statement opposes advance directives does not mean that the United Church communities of faith would not work closely with families or individuals who were contemplating that,” he says. “We emphasize the need for the right range of choices to be available.”
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