Task Force on Physician Assisted Suicide seeks input from Anglicans

In the wake of a historic ruling by the Supreme Court of Canada on doctor-assisted suicide, an Anglican task force is looking to hear the views of interested church members on this controversial issue.

Formed last year by the co-ordinating committee for Faith, Worship and Ministry, the Task Force on Physician Assisted Suicide is calling on individuals and groups within the Anglican Church of Canada to let the task force know their thoughts and concerns regarding doctor-assisted suicide, following a Feb. 6 ruling by the Supreme Court that struck down the previous ban on the practice.

The Rev. Canon Eric Beresford, who recently retired as president of the Atlantic School of Theology and now serves as chair of the task force, said the group hoped to hear from across the wide spectrum of opinion held by Anglicans.

Referencing the recent statement by Archbishop Fred Hiltz, Primate of the Anglican Church of Canada, Beresford noted, “There’ll be some Anglicans who—as the Primate said—strongly welcome this, and there’ll be others who think this is terrible, and others who are more ambivalent.”

He invited church members to articulate their concerns, potentially with reference to their own experiences, in order to help the task force determine its actions going forward.

Submissions to the task force should be sent to the Rev. Dr. Eileen Scully, director of Faith, Worship and Ministry, at [email protected].

For the moment, the main resource for Anglicans on the debate remains Care in Dying: A Consideration of the Practices of Euthanasia and Physician Assisted Suicide, as commended by the General Synod for study in the Anglican Church of Canada. General Synod commended the document in 1998 and it was published the following year.

Beresford, who served as editor of Care in Dying, said the document addressed what he called “the fundamental issue for the church in addressing this issue”—the question of what constitutes care, which according to its authors encompasses both care for the suffering individual and care for the wider community.

“It neither fell into a simple communitarian model, but neither did it go for pure individualism,” Beresford said of Care in Dying. “It’s not just my relationship with the patient here; it’s bigger than that, and both of these [considerations] need to be taken into account.”

The Task Force on Physician Assisted Suicide is currently reviewing Care in Dying in light of the recent Supreme Court decision, though the next step for the church remains an open question.

“There may be [a new or revised text], or there may be a decision instead to take the principles that were set out in Care in Dying and talk about them in the new context,” Beresford said.

“Remember, one of the other things about Care in Dying that’s important is it sought to not just legislate what we as the church should do about something. Instead, it sought to provide a pastoral response, and that’s important to be clear about.”

View or download the Care in Dying report and its accompanying study guide.

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