As we explore the issues of end of life and medically assisted dying, we can’t ignore the question of freedom and human rights since one of the basic arguments for euthanasia and assisted suicide is that of autonomy: “it’s my body; my choice.”
In Canada we have the Charter of Rights and Freedoms. If you haven’t read it, you should. This is the law in Canada. I am not an expert, nor have a really studied the Charter, but sometimes I think that this is not the best thing to have since it’s vague and open to many interpretations.
As an example, the Supreme Court of British Columbia determined in 1993 that the request made by Sue Rodriguez for assisted death violated Sections 7 (the right to “life, liberty, and security of the person), 12 (protection against “cruel and unusual punishment”), and 15(1) (equality) of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms. Two decades later, using the same Charter, this ruling in Rodriguez was overturned in the 2015 decision in Carter v Canada, by the Supreme Court of Canada.
How is it that 22 years ago Supreme Court judges can look at the Charter and determine that legalized assisted dying is unconstitutional and today, the Supreme Court of Canada can look at the same Charter and determine that to deny assisted dying in fact, violates the Charter? I think that if it was clear, no matter the individual values of the judges making the ruling, the decisions would always be the same.
Section 7 of the Charter says that, “Everyone has the 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” but nowhere does it define what those terms, life, liberty and security, mean. Would someone define “life” as a state wherein the person is useful and competent? If your life does not have liberty or security, can it be considered a life? Is a “life” defined by merely as someone who is alive? Who decides? Are these decisions based on the whim of the fleeting societal values of any particular time?
We also get into trouble because sometimes the secular world and Christians use the same words, but we have completely different meanings.
Take the word “Liberty”. What does it mean? Does it mean “freedom”? Archbishop Richard Smith of Edmonton, during the Every Life Matters series made a very clear distinction between the words, “freedom” and “license”.
Archbishop Smith said, “License is refusal of all limit and constraint in order to do what I want. Freedom is liberty within limit to do what I must. This “ought” flows from my pledge of fidelity to the love of God. The limit within which we exercise freedom is truth: the truth of our creaturely dependence upon God, the truth of our relationship of interdependence with others, and the truth that I am not my own.”
And so, what most people refer to when they speak of freedom or liberty is not freedom at all; it’s license. “I should be able to do whatever I want” is not freedom; it’s chaos. (For more on freedom read Pope Francis’ homily from this morning’s Jubilee for young people.)
But more importantly, if all Canadians are endowed with the inherent rights of life, liberty and security – and those rights are equal – what happens when one of those rights comes up against the other? What happens when your right to liberty or security goes up against your right to life? What happens when my right to life goes up against your right to liberty?
This is where a bit of logic can be of assistance. These three inherent rights are equal, but they are hierarchical in fundament. That means that one is more fundamental than the other two.
Take a house, for example. In order to be a house, a house needs a foundation, it needs walls and it needs a roof. All are equally important. Without a foundation, without a roof, or without walls, the building ceases to be a house. They are equal. But, can you have walls without a foundation? Can you have a roof without walls? Therefore even though all three are equally important, the foundation is more fundamental than the walls and the roof. The walls are also more fundamental than the roof. The roof is the least fundamental of the three because it needs the other two in order to exist.
It’s the same with life, liberty and security: You can’t have security without life and liberty and you can’t have liberty without life. Therefore life is the more fundamental of these three inherent rights. Liberty is more fundamental than security. This means that when security or liberties go up against life, life should always win. If my right to security goes up against my right to liberty, my right to liberty should always win, because it is more fundamental.
Our laws may say this thing or that thing, but that doesn’t make it necessarily right. We have to be clear as to what we believe and have to be able to explain it to others.
Now there may be lawyers among you reading this and there may be some among you who have indeed studied the Charter. I welcome your comments on my little musing for today.
Again, I invite you to watch the Every Life Matters series, presented by Archbishop Richard Smith of the Archdiocese of Edmonton. You can watch all the webcasts at www.caedm.ca. The TV broadcasts began last night, April 23 on Salt + Light TV. Here’s the broadcast schedule if you prefer to watch them on TV.
And again, I invite you to watch my award-winning documentary, Turning the Tide, which deals with Euthanasia and Assisted Suicide in Canada and with its study guide, is perfect for classroom or a parish study.
Every week, Deacon Pedro takes a particular topic apart, not so much to explore or explain the subject to its fullness, but rather to provide insights that will deepen our understanding of the subject. And don’t worry, at the end of the day he always puts the pieces back together. There are no limits to deaconstructing: Write to him and ask any questions about the faith or Church teaching: email@example.com