Should We be Allowed to Kill Ourselves?
On Friday, the Supreme Court of Canada repealed the law that bans physician assisted suicide (euthanasia) in Canada. Let's look at what this means for us as both national citizens, and as revivalists, and how we can respond.
The repealing of the law does not, as the headlines may lead you to believe, make it legal for physician assisted suicide to take place today. Rather, it requires the Canadian Parliament to present a new law to replace the old one. This happens periodically, where the Supreme Court acts as a "modernization agent" if you will: they review a law, repeal it, and require a new law to be drafted to cover the issue in a better way. The same thing happened in December 2013, regarding the legal status of prostitution in Canada. We'll come back to this later.
Euthanasia is obviously a hot button topic. It's divisive, and opinion tends to fall along religion/political partisan lines, much like abortion. Since the church doesn't have a great track record of dealing with issues like this with grace and love, I believe we can benefit from a framework that helps us understand our role as earthly national citizens, as well as our role as Kingdom citizens. Why should we care so much? Because we have an awfully long way to go before we are recognized more for our love than for the things we are unhappy about. Here are a few things to consider:
What happens if you are a Christian and you support euthanasia under certain circumstances? Consider the widely accepted example of a mercy-killing of an injured comrade whose injuries mean he won't make it off the battlefield alive.
What happens if we Christians are so Bible-thumpingly vitriolic that non-believers who also don't support euthanasia don't want their voiced joined with ours?
Let me offer a few thinking points that hopefully will help all of us to move forward with grace and love on this topic.
The kingdoms of this earth, and the Kingdom of God, are fundamentally different things. The Kingdom of God is not an incremental, moral improvement upon the kingdoms of this world. The Kingdom of God is not a Christian version of our earthly kingdoms. The kingdoms of this world, of which there are many varieties and flavours, some of which we might prefer over another (I like social democracies, you may like conservative republics, surely no one likes authoritarian dictatorships) are all unified by one factor: they exert power over people, they operate by coercing people into certain behaviour due to the threat of punishment. A code of behaviour is enacted, through the rule of law. This is the fundamental nature of all earthly kingdoms, and it's not a bad thing, but it is not anything like the Kingdom of God. The Kingdom of God, fundamentally, looks like Jesus Christ being crucified for the same people who are crucifying Him. The Kingdom of God exerts power under people through self-sacrificial love. The Kingdom of God comes when we enthrone Jesus Christ. There is no such thing as a Christian Nation, and we really must rid ourselves of this phrase.
Government exists for the benefit of the family. In fact, we can actually say that government exists in order to create family. Not just family in the nuclear sense, but family in the communal sense, family in the societal sense. Government exists that society can flourish and define itself. Isaiah 9:7 says that of the increase of Jesus's government (and of peace) there will be no end. If you don't think of government as a good thing, then this is bad news for you. But government exists that society can move toward goals of safety, freedom, growth and prosperity. These are good things for humans. Government facilitates and administers the desires of society. These desires, however good they may be for us to pursue, are fundamentally not Kingdom principles.
Since each of us are different people, and have different life experiences, we have to appreciate that the form of human government we each prefer may differ from one another. For example, you may believe that lower corporate taxes spurs economic growth which benefits society as a whole; conversely, I may believe that higher corporate taxes results in greater resources for social programs, which benefits society as a whole. Both of us want to see our society benefit, but we see that happening through different means. As citizens of our nations, we should be involved in the democratic discourse to influence the direction and future of our countries; this is our right and our responsibility. But as Kingdom citizens, we must remember that the governments we are influencing are only temporary, and are only concerned with the outward managing of human behaviour; these governments cannot changes hearts through sacrificial love, and have no bearing on eternal matters. The religious leaders of Jesus' day specifically tried to trap him in this regards, with the example of taxes. His powerful response was to render under Caesar what is Caesar's (civic issues) and to render unto God what is God's. Jesus stayed above the fray of political discourse, shrewdly sidestepping partisan issues and religious dogma, while making ultimate statements about all of these issues through his death.
Our societies all exhibit some form of civic religion. Many Middle Eastern nations have a form of quasi-Islam as their civic religion, while many Western nations have historically exhibited a form of quasi-Christian civic religion (which is eroding rapidly). This is specifically what gives rise to the comments of "This was a Christian nation", but we need to use our language much more carefully. When gay marriage or euthanasia are legalized, we have to understand that the Kingdom of God is not threatened in any way, shape, or form. What may be threatened, is the status of the quasi-Christian civic religion. And civic religion is not necessarily something for us to mourn over. Should we mourn when laws we feel will benefit society are not passed? Yes! But our civic religion has been detrimental to the image of the true Kingdom of God, and when we mourn more for civic religion than for actual human beings, we have gone way off track.
Was America a Christian nation when it captured slaves from Africa? Was America a Christian nation during the civil war? Was America a Christian nation when it outlawed slavery? Was Canada a Christian nation during the Acadian Expulsion? Was Canada a Christian nation in its treatment of First Nations peoples? Was Canada a Christian nation when it recently outlawed the purchase of sex? No, no, no, no and no. Our nations have never been Christian nations, and the advancement of God's Kingdom on this earth is not tied to moralistic, civic issues. We have an unfortunate track record of mixing up our citizenships, and of expressing patriotism to our nations more strongly than patriotism to Christ.
I live on the 18th floor of an apartment building. The suite that I live in was previously inhabited in by an elderly couple who had lived here for 25 years. They jumped off the balcony together in October 2013. You see, she had been a ballet dancer in her youth in Yugoslavia. She and the man who would become her husband had fled the country during WWII and eventually met up in Israel, each of them married to other people. They both watched their spouses die to cancer, and ended up marrying one another and re-settling in Toronto. When she, in her 80s, was in chronic pain and wheelchair-bound, she had to go to her doctor every day to receive pain medication, since they wouldn't give out more than a day's supply. Eventually she decided she couldn't take it anymore, and her husband refused to be alone without her, so at 7am a days before Halloween they swung their legs over the edge of the balcony. At the time, we lived 3 stories down and our balcony faced theirs, I could have practically reached out to them had I been looking out the window. As I said, I now live in their old suite.
The Province of Quebec passed legislation in June 2014 dubbed "Dying with Dignity" which permits physician assisted suicide in that province. I've studied this legislation, and the law as it is written works as follows:
- No one may permit the euthanizing of anyone else, it must be personally, individually consented
- A person wanting to receive "medical aid in dying" must be educated on all the alternatives and must be of sound mind to choose this option
- The person must be in immense, incurable pain, and must already be terminally ill
- No doctor is forced to carry out the procedure, each medical practice must develop its own code of ethics and make each potential patient known of it
The law is well thought out, well written, and covers practically all the concerns that people have regarding this subject. It could be said to be a good piece of civic legislation. I can't help but feel like the former resident of my apartment might have been the beneficiary of greater dignity at the end of her life had a law somewhat like it been in place here. I don't know. If I felt strongly about this (either for, or against), then it would be my civic responsibility to communicate with my government representatives and let my voice be heard.
All of that being said, the following Kingdom matters are also true:
God could have healed that woman's pain. What if I had seen them up there on that balcony, and been able to speak with them, and minister healing?
If God hadn't healed her, he could have still given her and her husband the grace to walk through pain and live out her natural days.
I now know these people had no family here. Had I known this, we could have been family for them. We could possibly have brought enough love and music back into their lives to give them hope and dignity. What if I had been able to prophecy over them that morning, and give them a hope and a future?
These are my Kingdom responsibilities. And these responsibilities outweigh my civic responsibilities, and will continue to be my responsibilities no matter what law is or isn't passed. Our duties as Kingdom citizens are that which will cause us to be identified by our love, as Christ said we would be.
The Future of this Legislation
Back to the issue at hand. When the Supreme Court of Canada struck down the anti-prostitution law in 2013, much panic ensued similar to what is happening right now. But the end result, is that Parliament passed an incredible piece of legislation, that outlaws the purchase of sex, rather than the sale of sex. This is a much better law than the one that the Supreme Court overturned, and we wouldn't even have it today if not for the Supreme Court's decision to repeal the old law.
So let's do the following:
- Thank God for the Supreme Court of Canada that guards our civic rights and freedoms. Thank God that a new issue has been placed under the microscope and we can exercise our civic duties regarding it.
- Exercise our civic duties and speak to our representatives regarding what we think will make a better law for society. Remembering that those who disagree with us are not bad people, they simply think different things will be better for society.
- Thank God for his Son and his soon coming Kingdom. Pray that the Lord would return soon, and that he would find his Bride ready.
- Remember that no matter what law is passed or what our society looks like, the Kingdom of God is not threatened, and our true citizenship is there.
- Continue to live out our Kingdom responsibilities to love, to be Christ, to heal this earth and the people in it, so that Christ can present a glorious, immense Church to his Father.