When the Supreme Court of Canada ruled in February 2015 that the ban on medical assistance in dying was unconstitutional, the federal government was tasked with enacting legislation on how and under what circumstances Canadians would be able to access medically assisted death. Bill C-14, the government’s response to the Supreme Court ruling received royal assent on June 17.
In advance of the bill’s passage, several Canadian hospitals and long-term care facilities established positions on medically assisted death. Among those long-term care facilities is the Bess and Moe Greenberg Family Hillel Lodge, Ottawa’s Jewish home for the aged.
Hillel Lodge’s position is that it is a Jewish institution, which runs in accordance with Jewish principles and values, and, as such, cannot sanction medical assistance in dying at the facility. The Lodge further underscores its commitment to preserving life and providing all measures of palliative care for its residents.
Hillel Lodge Executive Director Stephen Schneiderman said much thought was put into crafting the position, which is modelled on other faith-based institutions, including Jewish facilities in other jurisdictions, and Catholic long-term care facilities.
“We felt we needed to draft the position early in order to express our reservations and our objections with regard to compelling organizations [to engage in a practice] that may or may not fit with their religious beliefs,” said Schneiderman. “We need our residents to know this is not an option we’re prepared to offer here.”
According to Rabbi Reuven Bulka, who has long been involved in health care issues from a Jewish perspective, the Hillel Lodge position is “right on the mark” on what Judaism believes in the matter of medical assistance in dying.
“In Judaism, we view life as a gift from God. We’re not supposed to do anything that’s destructive to the life that God gave us,” he said.
“This doesn’t mean we mandate that people have to suffer. So a person can, if there’s excruciating suffering, do whatever they need to alleviate the pain. But alleviating pain is different than removing one’s life.”
Rabbi Bulka said the government needs to ensure that quality palliative care is available across the country. He believes that, with greater accessibility to palliative care, the demand for medically assisted death would be lessened greatly.
Rabbi Bulka stressed that Jewish law is very sensitive to issues of pain and suffering and said that the artificial extension of life is not required, and we must do everything we can to provide comfort to those who are in pain.
“The alleviation of pain is a mandate we all have, and so is doing everything we can to save lives, but we also have to be realistic and, when there are situations where life can’t be saved, we behave accordingly, which is not actively taking the life, but not artificially prolonging it,” he said.