Those who think an amended C-14, with some regulatory tightening and some provision for religious or conscientious objection, is what even opponents of the bill should now aim at, as the lesser of evils, should think again. Here are some things they should think about:
First, C-14 is not a bill to limit an existing evil; it is a bill to establish an evil that does not yet exist federally in any legislated form. For that reason, while one could in good conscience support an amendment that limited the damage of the bill, one could not in good conscience (meaning a properly formed conscience) support the bill itself, however amended.
NB: Carter is not legislation. It is only a Court decision voiding a particular aspect of a particular Criminal Code provision. To be specific: “To the extent that the impugned laws [s. 241 (b) and s. 14] deny the s. 7 rights of people like Ms. Taylor they are void by operation of s. 52 of the Constitution Act, 1982. It is for Parliament and the provincial legislatures to respond, should they so choose, by enacting legislation consistent with the constitutional parameters set out in these reasons.” (§126)
Second, from its very first sentence the bill sounds the final death-knell, for all public purposes, of Abrahamic faith. The Carter/C-14 doctrine of autonomy is a clear repudiation of that kind of faith and the establishment of a new faith in man as utterly independent of God. One does not need to be Abrahamic to understand this. If the Parliament of Canada recognizes personal autonomy as extending a moral right to determine the manner and timing of one’s own death, and to take one’s own life or another’s life, it necessarily recognizes the person—and itself as a deliberative body of persons—as lying outside of all putative divine authority in such matters. In short, the C-14 preamble is the final repudiation of the Charter preamble. “The principles of fundamental justice” (§71) now operate independently of any reference whatsoever to the supremacy of God. The link between “the supremacy of God and the rule of law” is decisively severed.
‘What were we doing when we unchained this earth from its sun? Whither is it moving now? Whither are we moving? Away from all suns? Are we not plunging continually? Backward, sideward, forward, in all directions? Is there still any up or down? Are we not straying, as through an infinite nothing? Do we not feel the breath of empty space? Has it not become colder? Is not night continually closing in on us? Do we not need to light lanterns in the morning? Do we hear nothing as yet of the noise of the gravediggers who are burying God? Do we smell nothing as yet of the divine decomposition? Gods, too, decompose. God is dead. God remains dead. And we have killed him.’ (Nietzsche, The Gay Science)
Third, we shall now plunge continually, while spinning “backward, sideward, forward, in all directions.” No restricting amendments to Carter will long hold, because the logic of Carter is the logic of an autonomy that in the end can abide, and will abide, no restrictions. The restrictions mentioned in §127 are not binding on Parliament, as the PDAM report demonstrated; indeed they are not binding upon the Court itself. And they are sustained by no viable set of premises or arguments. They will not hold. Our doctors and lawyers already know that they will not hold.
Fourth, conscience rights will provide no escape. They will prove no more than a shallow cul-de-sac. One retired justice who sat on Carter has confessed that the Court has no very clear understanding of what is entailed in a conscience right. But we must confess more than that. There is no such thing as a conscience right where reference to the supremacy of God is no longer made. In this situation, those who attack conscientious and religious exemptions will have the better of it, despite the incoherencies (and naked aggression) of their own arguments.
Fifth, no sensible appeal can be made to Canada’s lack of an abortion law to justify cooperation in a euthanasia law. Yes, it is notoriously the case that in Canada there is no law restricting abortion; nor can there be, for that would imply that abortion is somehow wrong. But that is no reason for putting in place a law establishing euthanasia, even if the said law at first places some limits around it. How well have limits worked out in other jurisdictions? Does anyone seriously think that, over the long haul, there will be fewer acts of killing with a law than without one? In any case, we have before us a bill establishing euthanasia, not because we lack a bill establishing (and limiting) abortion, but because we have in theory and practice collectively approved abortion. We have before us a bill establishing euthanasia because, some fifty years ago, we embarked on the path of killing the innocent to preserve the autonomy of the guilty. Now we are ready, in the name of autonomy, to kill ourselves.
What we did then was cowardly and wicked; what we are doing now is cowardly and wicked. But back then, at least, even Pierre Trudeau acknowledged that there might be guilt in these acts of autonomy (see Desiring a Better Country 51f.). Not young Justin Trudeau. No, our generation does not acknowledge it. So sure of ourselves are we, that we are ready to force those who still have doubts to participate nonetheless.
We have been taken for fools, and shown ourselves to be fools, if we are forced to confess that some unjust killing is just, so long as some other unjust killing is still recognized as unjust. A law stating or implying that something is wrong, and that it is a matter of public interest to suppress it at least under certain conditions, is one thing. A law that says something is right, and that we must enable it under certain conditions, is another thing. And that is the kind of law we are faced with. All efforts, therefore, should go into repudiation of this law, into laying the groundwork for challenging it and, as need be, defying it. For man-made law has no validity where it contradicts the moral law.
The question is: Have we, among our leaders, whether lay or clerical, any of the stature of Martin Luther King Jr? Have we anyone like David, who (quite unconscious of stature) is willing to go out against Goliath, trusting in the God whom the Carter Court has defied and whom the Parliament of Canada is about to defy? If not, let us not concern ourselves overmuch with details about exemptions. By all means, let us save what we can and whom we can, for institutions matter and persons, certainly, are not mere details. Yet we will save but few, in our own generation or the next, if we make our peace with euthanasia rather than unmaking our peace with abortion.
Douglas Farrow is Professor of Christian Thought and current holder of the Kennedy Smith Chair in Catholic Studies at McGill University.
See here for more information on Canada’s euthanasia debate.
We launched the First Things 2023 Year-End Campaign to keep articles like the one you just read free of charge to everyone.
Measured in dollars and cents, this doesn't make sense. But consider who is able to read First Things: pastors and priests, college students and professors, young professionals and families. Last year, we had more than three million unique readers on firstthings.com.
Informing and inspiring these people is why First Things doesn't only think in terms of dollars and cents. And it's why we urgently need your year-end support.
Will you give today?