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June 25, 2012

The B.C. Supreme Court decision to strike down the law banning assisted suicide as unconstitutional is a very bad decision and will, if left unchallenged, lead to nightmarish consequences for Canadian society. However, while this decision needs to be contested, it needs to be realized that the current trajectory of Western society leads, with a certain inevitability, to legalized euthanasia as well as all sorts of other assaults on human life and dignity.

What are some of the forces leading to legalized euthanasia?

  • Instant gratification: Our culture has taught, in various ways, that we should be able to get what we want when we want it. Failure to get what one wants can be a source of despair.
  • Suffering is the greatest evil: It is seen as worse to suffer injustice, or physical or emotional pain than it is to perform an act of injustice.
  • Secularism: Without a belief in a loving God and in heaven and hell, suffering at the end of life may be seen as a good reason for ending one's life.
  • Suffering has no redemptive value: In a religious culture, "offering up" one's sufferings was seen as a path to holiness or, at least, to moral character. Without religious faith, suffering is meaningless evil.
  • The isolated individual: The breakdown of the family and other social ties in mass society leaves many people lacking the greatest human need – the love and concern of others.
  • Widespread abortion: Easily available abortion has embedded the idea in our culture that killing people is an acceptable way to solve problems.
  • Improved medical technology: The health care system has the ability to keep terminally-ill people alive far longer than has traditionally been the case. This stirs fear, rather than hope, among those facing death.
  • Lack of palliative care: Palliative care is geared to meet the unique needs of the dying, from pain relief to spiritual sustenance. Governments' refusal to properly fund such care means many people die in situations where their most important needs are not met.
  • Dictatorship of relativism: A culture that denies the existence of objective truth and that only recognizes "my opinion" and "your opinion" as sacrosanct is corrosive of the common good. It makes reasoned debate about the good of society impossible.

People of good will need to fight now against the legalization of assisted suicide and euthanasia. However, we also need to take on the long-term challenges listed above. Most of those concerns do not admit of easy solutions nor will they be "solved" by individuals working alone. Blessed John Paul II's call for the development of a culture of life to stand as a shining light next to the culture of death will require the work of large numbers of courageous and focused people working in harmony.