Back to Top

Learning from the Front Lines - Interview with a Chaplain

The Canadian government has given citizens two weeks to provide feedback on proposed legislative changes to Medical Assistance in Dying. We spoke with chaplain Tim De Jonge about his experience on the front lines of this issue. He helps break down what’s happening and how we should respond.  

What is your role? Why is Medical Assistance in Dying significant to you?  

I work at Kingston General Hospital in Ontario as a Spiritual Care Practitioner. Medical Assistance in Dying (MAiD) is a significant issue for me because more and more people in Canada are requesting to end their lives this way, including patients to whom I offer spiritual health support.

What changes are happening with MAiD? Why is consultation happening now? 

Current eligibility rules restrict access to MAiD to those who are at least 18 years old and mentally competent, who have a grievous and irremediable medical condition, and whose natural death is “reasonably foreseeable,” among other criteria. This link provides more details about the current state.

Ever since the legalization of MAiD in June 2016, some people in Canada have been calling for the relaxation of eligibility rules. The federal government commissioned a non-profit group, the Council of Canadian Academies (CCA), to explore some of the possible expansions of euthanasia-- MAiD for mature minors, MAiD for people whose primary medical condition is a mental illness, and MAiD by advance requests. The CCA’s reports were published in December 2018, not with recommendations, but with lots of great information presented from a balanced perspective.

Although various cases have received media attention over the years, it’s the decision of a Quebec judge that is prompting this current consultation period. In September 2019, Justice Christine Baudouin ruled that the federal government’s eligibility rules are too restrictive. Specifically, she ruled that it is unconstitutional to require a person’s death to be “reasonably foreseeable.”

Minister of Justice and Attorney General of Canada David Lametti has initiated this consultation process, partly in response to the Quebec court ruling but also out of a desire within the federal government to update the law based on persistent calls for change.

Why is it important to provide feedback to the federal government on MAiD? 

Canadian society is diverse, and the issue of MAiD is complex. It’s important for people, including Christians, to make sure that their voices are heard when the government invites feedback.

Online consultations began on January 13, 2020 and will be open for Canadians for only two weeks. The online questionnaire can be found here.

When people are providing feedback through the online consultation what should they bear in mind?

With such a complex issue, there are many angles one could take and it’s important to note that there is a wide variety of perspectives, even within the Christian community.

One of my biggest concerns is for vulnerable people. When euthanasia is legal, people begin to think that death is preferable over living with a disability or dementia or a mental illness. We should be protecting and supporting people who have severe depression and suicidal thoughts, for example, and not offering them the option of a government-sanctioned death.

Another concern I have is the fact that we do not, as a society, put enough resources into good palliative care, including adequate support for dying at home. People seeking MAiD offer a variety of reasons for their choice, not all of which would be solved with better palliative care. However, robust palliative care can address concerns about pain control, feeling like a burden to family or society, and even spiritual or existential questions about life and death.

If we’re speaking with friends and colleagues do you have suggestions for how we can address this topic graciously?

Listen and then listen some more. Be mindful that sincere followers of Christ can disagree about important issues like this. Be honestly curious about what experiences, thoughts, and beliefs people bring to the positions they hold.

Personally, I do not think that I would choose MAiD for myself. However, I have never had a chronic or terminal illness and therefore cannot guess how I would think and feel in those circumstances.

Professionally, I have chosen to provide spiritual support to people regardless of the choices that they make. I have been present for two deaths by MAiD since legalization, and I anticipate that I will be present for more. It’s not my job to convince people to think the way I do. Instead, it’s my calling to embody Christ’s love to every patient I meet.

Contact your MP today!  We’ve made it easy with this action alert! 

Photo by Martha Dominguez de Gouveia on Unsplash

The Reformed family is a diverse family with a diverse range of opinions. Not all perspectives expressed on the blog represent the official positions of the Christian Reformed Church. Learn more about this blog, Reformed doctrines, and our diversity policy on our About page.

In order to steward ministry shares well, commenting isn’t available on Do Justice itself because we engage with comments and dialogue in other spaces. To comment on this post, please visit the Christian Reformed Centre for Public Dialogue’s Facebook page (for Canada-specific articles) or the Office of Social Justice’s Facebook page. Alternatively, please email us. We want to hear from you!

Read more about our comment policy.