Produced by a task force under the auspices of Faith, Worship, and Ministry, both In Sure and Certain Hope and its study guide reflect the new legal landscape that followed the Supreme Court of Canada ruling in February 2015 that physician assisted dying is permissible in specific cases.
The resource and study guide were “always intended to be a package, and it just took us longer than we’d anticipated to get the study guide part of it done,” task force member Eileen Scully said.
Fellow task force member Douglas Graydon said the study guide incorporates feedback from In Sure and Certain Hope to frame the topic of medical assistance in dying in a way that facilitates conversation and reflection.
“When I went out and talked about the document itself, it generated a lot of conversation and discussion around, ‘Well, now what do we do with this?’” Graydon recalled. “Because the document itself was really not definitive in saying, ‘This is the Anglican position.’ It said, ‘Here are the concerns, [and] here are some of the dynamics of pastoral care when a cleric or a congregation encounters medical assistance in dying.’
“But it didn’t prescribe anything, and it didn’t recommend anything [specific],” he added. “What it recommended was discernment. And so there was a request for some kind of structure—‘How are we going to explore and use this document?’—which is where the need for a study guide came from, because within medical assistance in dying, there’s a lot of nuance and subtlety in the pastoral care response to such a circumstance.”
Though the study guide can be used by any individual who wishes to study, reflect, and pray upon the issue of physician assisted dying, it may prove most useful for those leading discussions around In Sure and Certain Hope, and for congregations who feel they may experience the issue of physician assisted dying within the lives of their own communities.
Among the key sections of the study guide are suggested processes for discussion groups, outlining the necessary elements to gather a group and balance prayer, story, and reflection; and suggested norms for how to have “holy conversations” about what are typically very private, intimate, and difficult matters for affected individuals and families.
“This is about … life and death realities that come from deep wells of very emotional stuff—both joy, and trauma and grief,” Scully said. “So we need to be extra careful and caring in these conversations. The conversations themselves need to be framed in a way that has healthy boundaries and healthy norms for how we take care of each other within the conversation.”
While the combined resources represent the latest Anglican perspectives on pastoral and theological responses to physician assisted dying, Graydon noted that the topic represents an ongoing conversation in Canadian society.
“There is already pressure on the courts to push the legal definitions and parameters around MAID [medical assistance in dying], and to change what the law allows, so that for example, young adults and children can access MAID—those who are experiencing long-term psychological or mental illnesses who find their life unbearable,” Graydon said.
“And then especially around issues of infants who are terminally ill, there’s a lot of pressure to push the parameters to include those populations, which I think would create opportunities in the future for the church to comment on and be involved with. […] There’ll be lots of opportunities for the church to engage in this subject matter at a future date.”
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