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    PloughCast 57: A Canadian Priest on Medical Assistance in Dying

    Pain and Passion, Part 8

    By Benjamin Crosby, Peter Mommsen and Susannah Black Roberts

    May 3, 2023

    About This Episode

    Benjamin Crosby discusses the failure of mainline churches to speak clearly on Canada's euthanasia regime. The Canadian government, several years ago, legalized euthanasia, and Canada now is home to the most permissive euthanasia regime in the world. Ben, an Episcopalian priest in Canada, discusses the failure of the Church to talk about this honestly, and instead its capitulation to the idea that suicide is a generally acceptable way to end one’s life.

    They discuss the prayers that some Canadian churches have written to be said in advance of a death by euthanasia, and talk about the more fundamental failure to see pastoral care as legitimately shepherding and directive, but merely as supportive of whatever choice a person makes.

    Finally, they read aloud some of the reader responses to Ben’s piece, and Ben responds.

    [You can listen to this episode of The PloughCast on Apple, Spotify, Amazon Music, Google or wherever you get your podcasts.]

    Recommended Reading


    Peter Mommsen: Welcome back to the PloughCast! This is the eighth episode in our new series, covering our Pain and Passion issue. I’m Peter Mommsen, editor-in-chief at Plough.

    Susannah Black Roberts: And I’m Susannah Black Roberts, senior editor at Plough. On this episode, we’ll be speaking with the Reverend Benjamin Crosby.

    Peter Mommsen: Benjamin Crosby is a priest in the Episcopal Church serving in the Anglican Church of Canada and a doctoral student in ecclesiastical history at McGill University, and he’s written a piece for us titled “Where are the Churches in Canada’s Euthanasia Experiment?” Welcome, Ben!

    Susannah Black Roberts:

    “One of the tendencies of our age is to use the suffering of children to discredit the goodness of God. Once you’ve discredited His goodness, you are done with him. Busy cutting down human imperfection, those who seek to eliminate it, are making headway also on the raw material of good. Ivan Karamazov cannot believe as long as one child is in torment. Camus’ hero cannot accept the divinity of Christ, because of the massacre of the innocents. In this popular piety, we mark our gain insensibility and our loss and vision. If other ages felt less, they saw more, even though they saw with the blind, prophetical, unsentimental eyes of acceptance, which is to say a faith. In the absence of this faith, now, we governed by tenderness. It is a tenderness which long cutoff from the person of Christ is wrapped in theory. When tenderness is detached from the source of tenderness, its logical outcome is terror. It ends in forced labor camps and the fumes of the gas chamber.”

    That is a quote from Flannery O’Connor, in her introduction to A Memoir of Mary Ann, which is in her collected essays, Mystery and Manners. Mary Ann was a girl with a cancerous tumor on her face. When she was twelve she died of it. By all accounts before her death, she was … the quote is, “Radiantly cheerful.” She was a girl who felt that her own life was very much worth living. This is an expanded version of a quote that Ben Crosby included in his extremely good piece for us on MAID, Medical Assistance and Dying in Canada. Ben, what’s going on in Canada?

    Benjamin Crosby: Yeah. Well thanks so much Susannah. I think he short version is that following a court case, called Carter versus Canada in 2015, beginning in 2016, Canada legalized euthanasia for the first time. Since then, we can get into the details, but we’ve seen an incredible expansion of eligibility for euthanasia, resulting in one of the, if not the most permissive euthanasia regimes in the world.

    Susannah Black Roberts: Your piece, we’d actually had a couple of pieces that touched on this earlier, and we had a recent podcast on it with Alexander Rankin and Leah Libresco. Your piece is different in that you are in fact an Episcopal priest and you are writing primarily about the responses of the churches in Canada, particularly the mainline churches. What’s been those churches’ responses in general?

    Benjamin Crosby: Yeah, that’s exactly right. I think the short version is very disappointing. Before euthanasia legalization, both the Canadian Council of Churches and the Anglican Church in Canada released a statement in which they opposed legalization for grounds that were never really … the reasons that they were opposed to it at the time, concerns for the disabled, for views of the value of the lives of the elderly, the sick, the dying, their concerns have never really been addressed.

    But since the legalization of MAID, here in Canada, the mainline churches have with astonishing speed made peace with it, more or less. They have decided, by and large, to treat this as a private medical issue between a doctor and a patient where the church is there to provide non-judgmental affirmation and pastoral care, in the face of whatever decision that people make.

    What this has looked like is the Lutherans have released actually probably the most pro euthanasia statement of any of the mainline churches. That’s the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Canada. There’s another more conservative Lutheran denomination as well, but I’m talking about the ELCIC here. The United Church, Canada’s largest Protestant denomination, although they have opposed some of the recent steps to further expand MAID eligibility, they are not opposed in principle clearly to MAID in general. As I hope we’ll talk about later, they’ve actually released some quite horrifying prayers for use by people considering or choosing MAID.

    The Anglican Church of Canada, the church in which I work, has not really taken a stand at the level of the bishops speaking together or a General Synod speaking together. But they have put out a report, a department within the church put out a report that more or less takes the similar stance that says that “we can’t really make judgments about the activity of God in the lives of His people. It’s the job of the church to listen, to be there, to be present, whatever it is people end up doing.” Even when what people are ending up doing is being killed by their doctors.

    Susannah Black Roberts: But that’s not what … this is, to be clear, not what they thought that their role was before the legalization passed. This is tracking very closely with what the opinion of the state is about what their role is.

    Benjamin Crosby: That’s exactly right.

    Susannah Black Roberts: They are just taking that on.

    Peter Mommsen: What’s astonishing to me is setting aside, if one can, the moral issue of whether it’s right for people to be killed even on their own request to be spared from pain, there is increasingly disturbing evidence that there are economic motives here, that this is not actually a fully autonomous decision in many cases. In the podcast episode we had with Alexander Raikin, who’s done some excellent reporting on this, he described how as a reporter he called in to the MAID hotline and set up an appointment for his own death and got a call back very quickly and an appointment very quickly, without a lot of questions asked.

    He said it was bizarre, because in his experience of the Canadian medical system or indeed of Canadian social systems in general, that type of rapid response was absolutely unbelievable. You could imagine, and in fact his reporting did bring out cases of people with disabilities, for example, who would wait for months or years to get basic accessibility stuff or help with financial issues, but it only took a day or two to schedule their deaths.

    Susannah Black Roberts: Yeah.

    Benjamin Crosby: Yeah.

    Peter Mommsen: The potential, again, setting aside what one feels about euthanasia, the potential for really, really bad incentives, even not deliberately built in, is really something that you’d think the churches would be alert to.

    Benjamin Crosby: No, I think that’s right. There’s a reason that the disability community has been one of the disability rights groups, disability justice organizations have been some of the loudest in standing against MAID in general, and in particular MAID expansion to those whose death is not reasonably foreseeable, which was one of the most recent rounds of expansion that we’ve had here for precisely these reasons.

    We have reporting of as Alex has, as you say, done some really amazing work on, but he’s not the only one of people who are indeed considering and in some cases choosing euthanasia, not because they really want it, but because these basic social supports that they would need to live their lives are just not available.

    Susannah Black Roberts: Yeah. There in fact have been reports by economists and policy people gaming out, employed by the Canadian Health Service gaming out things like what the cost savings would be if instead of caring for someone with fibromyalgia or diabetes or whatever, you just killed them. The cost savings are significant. There are plenty of documents out there showing the health system looking at this in terms of cost savings.

    Peter Mommsen: It’s not completely innocent.

    Susannah Black Roberts: Yeah.

    Benjamin Crosby: No. I think that to be as generous as we can, I will say that I think, and I see no reason not to take them at their word here, that monetary concerns aren’t what’s motivating the people pushing for MAID expansion. But it is certainly true that as the government itself has acknowledged that yes, there are cost incentives for people being killed by their government, rather than being cared for.

    Susannah Black Roberts: I think that to take a tack of being like, this is actually all about cost savings and this is a conspiracy to kill Canadians so that the government will save money – I don’t think that’s right.  I think it’s actually more sinister than that in the sense that it’s something that people can genuinely start believing on the basis of their own understanding, in some cases of their Christian faith is good.

    Benjamin Crosby: Right.

    Susannah Black Roberts: Because their sense of what to be good to someone else is, is to affirm their choices and to be as kind in a very specific sense as possible to them.

    Peter Mommsen: We’ll get into that later when we go into some of the responses we’ve gotten to your article, Ben, where we’ll have a great opportunity to hear from some of the people who think exactly that.

    Benjamin Crosby: Yeah.

    Susannah Black Roberts: Yeah. But I’m interested just because you’ve been incredibly vocal about this, in quite a brave way, I think on Twitter, especially given your particular cultural and work context. You are a mainline Protestant priest.

    Benjamin Crosby: Right.

    Susannah Black Roberts: In North America, in Canada, and you are vocally taking a side in something, which it’s a weird one because it’s not a traditional culture war issue because I’ve seen so many. This is not a standard culture war split. Have you felt that taking a stand on this, a public stand in some cases, is what’s been the pushback if you felt that you’re doing something that’s going to risk your future career prospects? Have people yelled at you about this or said, “Big yikes chief,” or anything like that? What other response is it?

    Benjamin Crosby: No, that’s certainly a good question. It’s something that I’ve thought about both as a … yeah, and in particular as a priest, and also as a graduate student, applying for funding for the government for various things. But in particular as a priest serving in the Church of Canada. It felt like something that was important to talk about publicly regardless. It seemed like it was the right thing to do.

    I’ll say, for what it’s worth, that I have been very pleased by the responses I have gotten sometimes publicly via social media, more often it must be said on the back channel, as it were from priests or other mainline ministers in Canada, expressing thanks for my writing on this. I think certainly I am not the only one who is horrified by both MAID, as it exists in Canada right now and the church’s silence, which has been heartening frankly.

    Peter Mommsen: Again, some housekeeping before we continue with the rest of our discussion. Heads up – we have a new format! As opposed to each episode containing two segments, we’re switching to just one segment per episode. But you’re not getting any less content – rather than having six weeks on and six weeks off, we’re just going to be giving you an episode every single week. There’ll also continue to be Plough reads, audio versions of our articles, however, which you’ll be able to access through a different channel.

    And don’t forget to subscribe to this podcast on iTunes! We’ll be back with the rest of our conversation with Ben after the break.


    Susannah Black Roberts: Yeah, it seems to me that this is I guess an unusual issue, because it hasn’t really, maybe it just hasn’t firmed up yet, but it hasn’t seemed to me to be a very straightforward left versus right culture war issue. In general, it is a right coded position. But I’ve also just noticed for a lot of people who in general would regard themselves as progressive liberal on many social issues, in the sense that they value autonomy and personal choice is one of the highest goods.

    But MAID seems to be a bridge too far. It does seem to be giving them a moment of pause, maybe autonomy and personal choice are not the highest goods and we should … obviously in my opinion, I think that a fuller account of leftism would have a larger vision for what it means for us to be social creatures, such that me making a personal choice to get MAID when my whole society is telling me that I’m useless and should probably die, because I’m a drain on society, is not necessarily a free and unconstrained choice in the way that one would really want it to be.

    Benjamin Crosby: That’s right.

    Susannah Black Roberts: That was incoherent. But do you know what I mean?

    Benjamin Crosby: I think that’s exactly right. I think one of the things that’s been striking that I tried to gesture to in my piece, is the way in which those working to resist MAID, MAID expansion, that it has been an unusual coalition, that you have some very, very lefty disability rights organizations finding common cause with Catholic Church, with conservative evangelicals, with other groups who you wouldn’t necessarily expect. In fact, I’m sure they’re not entirely aligned on a set of other issues. Yeah, no. I think that’s exactly right. It feels to me like I think what you said is exactly right, that the ideology underlying MAID is liberal in the technical sense, right?

    Susannah Black Roberts: Yeah. Yeah.

    Benjamin Crosby: In a way that makes both some amount of people on the left and then some conservatives, not all conservatives, but in particular in Canada, Christian conservatives very, very nervous. But this particular view of the Presbyterian church in Canada, which is the only mainline denomination that has held the line on euthanasia and opposing it.

    They describe it as a question of different basic approaches to life. In arguing, I think rightly, that Canadian culture, that what we roughly will call Western culture more broadly is enamored with the poem “Invictus,” that, “I’m the master of my fate, I’m the captain of my soul.” That is the view that is behind, or one of the views that is behind MAID advocacy, behind those who are in support of that.

    Against this comes an account of us, as you say it, more fully social creatures necessarily dependent on each other, necessarily affected by each other. That, as you say, even if autonomy is a deeply high importance commitment for one in general, it becomes easy to see that a situation where there isn’t support for disability, where the lives of the ill and disabled are conceptualized very explicitly in this discourse as lacking in dignity, as in some sense not fully human, that the choice to commit euthanasia is not in fact a free one.

    Susannah Black Roberts: In fact, some of the liturgies, the prayers that have been prepared for those who are preparing to go through euthanasia do quite explicitly say that lives, which where they are characterized by increased dependence are increasingly lacking in dignity.

    Benjamin Crosby: That’s right.

    Susannah Black Roberts: Which is a striking thing for a Christian liturgy to claim.

    Benjamin Crosby: Indeed.

    Susannah Black Roberts: Do you want to read some of those or do you want to …

    Benjamin Crosby: Yeah. I do so with some trepidation, because I think these prayers are frankly horrifying. But yes, these are on the United Church of Canada website put together by, and this in itself is striking, a minister of the United Church working with a former co-president of Dying With Dignity Canada, which is the biggest pro-euthanasia organization in Canada.

    Let’s see, here’s an excerpt from one of them, which is, “A prayer in the midst of fear. I hope that they, my family and loved ones, will be proud of my decision and will understand that MAID is consistent with the love and compassion of Jesus. I have such peace in knowing this is my choice. My family loves me, but they cannot feel my suffering. They cannot comprehend my helplessness. I’m terrified of dying in pain and being helpless. But the choice to determine when I’ve had enough gives me peace even in the midst of the fear. I feel that fear throws up a barrier between me and a loving God, a barrier so hard to penetrate, and I want that barrier down.”

    Here, with the fear of death and suffering, euthanasia here is actually a technique to improve your relationship with God apparently to overcome this barrier between you and God. Then the other one, which might be even worse, “This is a prayer at the time of deciding on the day and place of death.” It includes this, “I do not want to linger in pain waiting for death to come. I do not want my family and loved ones to watch me suffer to the bitter end. I do not want them to be haunted by memories of a slow, painful death. Daily, my dignity is being eroded. I am ready to go through that final door.” There it is, right?

    Susannah Black Roberts: Yeah. I don’t know where to begin. As a priest, as someone who is a believing Christian and knows, prays the Psalms for example, and knows Christian anthropology and ethics, what’s wrong with this approach to life and oneself and death? What’s going on here?

    Benjamin Crosby: Yeah, I think from a Christian perspective, a whole lot, one almost doesn’t know where to begin. I think first of all, the sense of belonging to self, versus belonging to God strikes me as important here. There’s not really this sense of life as a gift given to you from outside, that you don’t entirely get to choose to yourself what to do with, but in fact are responsible to live a life of gratitude in response to the gift giver, to God. Then you have this view very explicitly stated that suffering, pain, dependence is incompatible with dignity. This is in the literal sense, this is paganism.

    Susannah Black Roberts: Yeah.

    Benjamin Crosby: This is pre the Nietzschean transvaluation of values. If we are really Christians, if our model of the human life fully lived ends in suffering and agony on the cross, we just can’t say this. We just can’t say this. Right? You mentioned we were talking a little before the podcast, you mentioned Tom Holland. I think this is something that his Dominion shows so powerfully, although, he’s not the only one to make this argument. The way in which Christianity transformed the anthropology of what we might roughly call the West.

    Certainly a Roman Empire from a world in which, I don’t know, leaving babies to be exposed was just something you did if they weren’t useful, that absolutely dignity was bound up in being excellent, being rich, being male, being all these set of things and just how revolutionary the Christian commitment to the basic dignity of all people and perhaps especially the poor, the sick, the overlooked, the suffering was. Then here we are very merely saying, literally inviting people to pray to God, that because of my experience of suffering independence, my dignity is being eroded. It’s anti-Christian.

    Peter Mommsen: Yeah, it strikes me that in a very essential way, those prayers, I don’t know if you’d use this term, but I will, are a form of apostasy from the real heart of the gospel.

    Benjamin Crosby: Yeah. I don’t disagree with that. Yeah.

    Peter Mommsen: That said, this is core to what the churches should be teaching. You mentioned in your article this hesitation that the church should almost teach anything.

    Benjamin Crosby: That’s right.

    Peter Mommsen: Can you talk a little bit about that? Because that seems like an even more basic issue than even euthanasia.

    Benjamin Crosby: That’s right. That’s right. I think there are two perhaps separate questions that we might ask about the church’s response. They are connected to each other, but they are at least to some extent conceptually distinct. One is what responsibility or ability does the church have to speak to the public sphere outside it? And then, what ability and responsibility does the church have to speak to its own people?

    The thing that has been both striking and I think horrifying to me about a lot of the mainline church’s response to MAID, is that it is not only given up on the first, but as you say, in a lot of cases it is given up on the second as well. I think this was perhaps made most clear in the Anglican Church of Canada’s in their report, “In Sure and Certain Hope,” where, which again I repeat because I think this is worth being clear about, was put out by the church, but was not officially endorsed in its contents by the church’s highest legislative body.

    That being said, it says that the church has become increasingly skeptical of our capacity to understand and interpret the work of God and the life of the other person. The role of the church really is to listen in the encounter between God and the patient and to help the dying people experience meaning, purpose, and control, and be present. What this is, I think as the CPE-ification of Christian pastoral Care. CPE being this typically summer internship that most mainline clergy do, where you work as a semi-trained hospital chaplain for a summer.

    There’s a rabbit hole there that we maybe don’t want to go down. But I think so much of the emphasis in the actual training that ministers get about pastoral care that tends to be keyed to this experience of hospital chaplaincy internship, is you’re there to be present, to affirm, to listen. It’s a reduction, I think, of the relationship between clergy and their people, the task of Christian care to a set of techniques that are useful. In some cases, nothing wrong with them per say, but techniques that are particularly designed to be used in multi confessional hospital settings, where hospital chaplains aren’t necessarily supposed to be giving concretely Christian care to the people they’re looking at.

    This is for some reason what Christian denominations have decided is going to be their model of pastoral care. I think here we see the outcome of that, where it’s somehow “Un-pastoral,” for churches to say anything. Some of the pushback that I have gotten from mainline clergy is this, “Well Ben, this is all well and good, but are you saying that we should abandon our people that choose MAID?”

    Of course, nowhere do I say that. I think it’s a complicated question of what pastoral care ought to look like for people who do make this choice, which is a legal choice in Canada and will be for the foreseeable future. But the notion that it’s impossible, that there’s a disconnect or a contradiction between the church taking stances on things and caring for its people, even when those people disagree, is baffling. It makes no sense if you look at the history of Christian pastoral care, but it seems to be where we’re at.

    Susannah Black Roberts: Yeah.

    Peter Mommsen: Have you seen models of what a more faithful Christian version of pastoral care would look like?

    Benjamin Crosby: Yeah, I think that’s a good question. I know there was an interesting piece on this a little while ago in Faith Today, which is a Canadian evangelical magazine with people, in particular, some evangelical hospital chaplains wrestling with exactly this question. I don’t know if I saw any clear solution to the problem, but it strikes me that on some level, it’s the thing that Christians do all the time, that Christian ministries do all the time.

    This is maybe obvious, but if you think about something like Christian prison ministry, where you are ministering to people who, assuming that they’re justly there and have indeed done bad things that the church thinks are bad, and still figuring out how to share the love of Christ at some level. At some level, this is what pastoral care to any one of us looks like. Because any one of us sins, fails to live in accordance perfectly with what the Gospel calls us too.

    It’s the job of ministers to be both loving and exhortative. At some level, I think that the end of life stakes make it particularly difficult. It’s not like I don’t think it’s hard, but the notion that this is something wholly new that we’ve never encountered before in Christian pastoral care, just doesn’t strike me as true.

    Susannah Black Roberts: For one thing, it has been in the past a common understanding of what the job of a Christian is and the job of a Christian pastor is, to prepare for death well, and then to help someone die well.

    Benjamin Crosby: That’s right.

    Susannah Black Roberts: Because if Christianity is true … if it’s not true, then forget it, then we’re talking about something else. We would need to take that into account. But if it is true, then dying is one of the most important things that you can do, and you really want to make an effort to do that well. It’s not something to be gotten through as tidily as possible, it’s something to be gotten through as faithfully as possible.

    Benjamin Crosby: That’s right.

    Susannah Black Roberts: Yeah. I think that it seems to me that the CPE-ification, I love that phrase, and yes, you should all subscribe to Ben’s Substack, it’s outstanding, of ways of thinking about what human life is and what we’re allowed to say about that is just not, at some point compatible with being a Christian pastor. You can be as tentative as … you can be very, very gentle and thoughtful and not hand-fisted and not obnoxious when talking with someone who is Christian or who’s not Christian about what you might be there to talk to them about. But at some point, your role as a Christian pastor does have to take into account the reality of the gospel because otherwise what are you there for?

    Benjamin Crosby: No. That’s right. That’s right.

    Susannah Black Roberts: Yeah.

    Benjamin Crosby: This is just not for me, a set of roughly equivalent therapeutic techniques, among others to make one cope with the actual meaninglessness of existence or whatever. I actually think this is true, and if it is true, it matters. I think what you said is very important. I think if you look through … so I’m a church historian when I’m in the other part of my life, and I’ve done some work, I’ve focused on the sixteenth century. But you see, really throughout church history, that dying manuals are this incredibly common thing.

    Perhaps one of the most important examples, at least for Anglicans like me, is Jeremy Taylor’s Holy Dying, where it’s this, hundreds of pages of perhaps in some cases overly prescriptive or a little bit … well, whatever. Not to endorse every one of each prayer in that he gives in its entirety, but there is this clear sense as you say, that dying Christianly is something that matters, is something that people need to be guided through, is something that people need to learn how to do. I think that this is something that we are very bad at talking to people about frankly.

    Peter Mommsen: I wonder if partly too, and this is entirely speculative, but there was, up until probably the early twentieth century, the simple fact that most people still died at home. I think these practices were something that you would see.

    Susannah Black Roberts: That’s right.

    Peter Mommsen: That you would take part of, and then when it became to be your turn, you know what to do to some degree. As dying has been increasingly something that happens while you’re coding in a hospital unit somewhere, we’ve lost sight maybe of what a so-called good death looks like, even if it involves pain.

    Benjamin Crosby: Yeah, I suspect that’s very much true.

    Susannah Black Roberts: It does seem as though there’s a moment of trying to reinvent death as an expressive individualism in the way that marriage was reinvented as an expressive individualism in, I don’t know, the sixties and seventies. Nobody knows how to do death. No one’s ever done this before. We have to figure it out for ourselves and what it means for us. It’s a very distinct Boomer flavor.

    Peter Mommsen: I think we should turn to some of our reader responses, Susannah, because every once in a while, and this article was one of them, we publish an article that just elicits a real stream.

    Susannah Black Roberts: Floods.

    Peter Mommsen: Stream of reader responses. We posted some of the best ones on the website with the article. We didn’t publish all of them, but I think it’d be interesting to look at some of the more thoughtful ones here. Susannah, do you have one?

    Susannah Black Roberts: Sure.

    Peter Mommsen: Then it’d be great to hear from you, Ben, any thoughts or responses you have.

    Benjamin Crosby: Perfect.

    Susannah Black Roberts: Yeah. This is from a doctor in Australia where apparently euthanasia was legalized eight weeks ago. Timely. He’s Catholic. He says, “Nurses have told me that they support euthanasia, because they don’t want to watch people die. This reinforces a lecture we had at a medical school thirty years ago, when a psychiatrist told us that the underlying the arguments for euthanasia is the feeling, not that the patient can’t deal with their pain, but that we as loved ones can’t deal with their pain. The evidence also suggests that in choosing euthanasia because they perceive themselves to be a burden to others, the patient is suggesting that they can’t deal, as others can’t deal with our suffering.” I just thought this was fascinating and it played into a lot of other thoughts and questions that I have. Do you have any thoughts about that?

    Benjamin Crosby: Yeah, I think this certainly makes an intuitive amount of sense to me. It’s striking actually, if you think about one of the prayers that I read, where one of the things that the person is invited to express to God. In the prayer is this particular fear of the suffering of family members in watching one suffer. I think it’s probably worth saying that I don’t think that there is anything wrong or unfaithful in not wanting to watch a loved one suffer and to die or not oneself as the person who is suffering and die want to watch your loved ones suffering as you go.

    It’s not that that’s wrong per se, but I do think that as we can see here, that gets dangerous when this natural, and I think even in many ways faithful set of emotions or experiences becomes divorced from any underlying account of what it means to be human. Then just becomes a reason to, “Well, OK, you don’t want this suffering to happen or anyone to observe your suffering, why don’t you just die then?”

    Susannah Black Roberts: Yeah.

    Benjamin Crosby: The burden language is striking. The Canadian government keeps pretty careful records, which make for deeply distressing, although also interesting if you’re trying to understand this reasoning, reporting on MAID, on why people choose MAID, on who the people are who choose MAID, and it’s not one of the top ones, but the fear of being a burden to others is one of the reasons that people often give for choosing euthanasia as one of the things that’s motivating their choice. I think it’s not clear whether that means a financial burden and emotional burden, what exactly burden that is.

    But yeah, I think it both makes sense. But it is the perversion of a good impulse to want to sacrifice oneself for others to even imitate Christ in pouring oneself for others, but that then becomes twisted into this, “OK, I feel like a burden to others, so I should just go.”

    Susannah Black Roberts: Check out, yeah.

    Benjamin Crosby: I should just die.

    Susannah Black Roberts: Yeah. Yeah. For what it’s worth, I don’t think that this is the final answer or the most important thing, but I do think that it has been shown, and I think many of us can comment on a common sense basis, understand that for someone who you love to choose to die, to choose suicide is an incredibly horrible and painful thing. That is true. You might not experience it as traumatically as if you found them with their wrists slit in a bathtub, but there’s still something viscerally, I think awful about and horrific really about knowing that a family member has killed themselves or has chosen suicide. I think that we have a lot of language and the more this is becoming popularized, the more this language is being deployed to put fluff around it and to cushion it and to make it seem like that that’s not what this is.

    Benjamin Crosby: That’s right.

    Susannah Black Roberts: You should not respond, right, emotionally as though this is suicide.

    Benjamin Crosby: That’s right.

    Susannah Black Roberts: You shouldn’t grieve this as suicide.

    Benjamin Crosby: That’s right.

    Susannah Black Roberts: This is something nice and good, and in fact this is better than a natural death. This will be less traumatic than a natural death.

    Benjamin Crosby: That’s right.

    Susannah Black Roberts: I just don’t think that that’s true. Obviously people respond differently, but it certainly would not be true for me. I think that a lot of people are putting a lot of emotional energy into pretending that it’s something other than what it is.

    Benjamin Crosby: But believe it or not, the Supreme Court case, Carver versus Canada, that legalized it, justified this in part as you needed to have this, you couldn’t ban euthanasia because this went against the Charter’s guarantee of life. That euthanasia was a prevention mechanism actually, that people who had these terrible illnesses would have to kill themselves earlier and in potentially more painful and traumatic ways. We have to let them have MAID as an option, so that they can live longer and die in this, “Non-suicidal,” way.

    Susannah Black Roberts: Yeah, it seems to me that one of the things that is most unrealistic about the way that this is talked about is that things like depression, suicidality, desire to die from MAID, presence of people in your life who don’t want you to die from MAID, not being isolated and general social attitudes towards suicide dependence, old age and disability, it’s like we can pretend that all those are totally separable.

    Somebody has this desire to die from MAID, which is pure and which is not related to say the fact that in their country it’s now legal for people to die from MAID who are in their situation and someone is saying, “Have you considered suicide? This might be a good life choice for you,” as though it just seems to me, “Dude, do you not know what it’s like to be human from the inside?”

    Benjamin Crosby: No, that’s exactly right.

    Susannah Black Roberts: Yeah.

    Benjamin Crosby: That’s exactly right. I have a friend who had actually written about this seminar, I think he has a piece coming out in Comment about this before too long, about being diagnosed with late stage, very serious cancer and having just matter-of-factly presented to him among the set of treatment options, MAID. Yes, how can that not influence your decision matrix?

    Susannah Black Roberts: Yeah.

    Peter Mommsen: That plays into our next reader comment. The reader writes, “In part, Canadian society does not have the patience and chooses not to provide resources to the individual facing declining health, and as importantly, does not provide support to the family and caregivers of the individual. I’m sharing these comments as I struggle to come to a position on MAID. I believe life is sacred, but I also respect the right of self-determination. Who am I to decide another’s fate?”

    Susannah Black Roberts: That gets to the heart of it.

    Benjamin Crosby: Yeah.

    Susannah Black Roberts: What would you say in response to that?

    Benjamin Crosby: No, I think that’s right. I think that there is perhaps a different, although related set of answers that are within the Christian community and to the church speaking to those without the social society at large. But at some level, I think we all decide each other’s fates all the time. That’s just part of being human. This dream of … and this isn’t to say that there isn’t an important place for a more kind of, I don’t know, chastened and realistic and honest account of the value of the ability to make free choices about, or to make choices about one’s life. There’s not to say that that’s not a place for that in an account of the good life, but to choose to expand MAID and to choose not to have sufficient disability benefits is a choice about people’s fate. Right?

    It just is. There’s no escaping it. I think that responsible, even non-confessional, secular public policy, I think if it’s going to be honest, it has to reckon with that fact. Obviously, from a Christian perspective, the answer to whether or not our brother’s keepers is settled pretty emphatically pretty early on in the book actually, you don’t need to get very far in the Bible before that becomes clear. Maybe I’m treating it more lightly than it deserves, but I do think that if speaking as a Christian and as a Christian pastor responsible for giving pastoral care to other Christians, if Christianity is true, my respect for my people’s ability to decide their own fate, that’s not very high on the list of my responsibilities as a Christian pastor.

    Susannah Black Roberts: That makes me so happy.

    Peter Mommsen: Susannah, I want you to read the Australian response. We’re going to have to wrap up unfortunately.

    Susannah Black Roberts: I don’t know if it’s from an Australian or not, but the first time I read it got into my head in an Australian accent. Every time I’ve come back to it’s been like this guy’s Australian. Here’s one of the comments, “Jeepers Benjamin, lighten up, mate. I can’t find reference to MAID in my Bible, nor in anything that’s written that Jesus said. You’ve incited your readers to get all judgmental and self-righteous about an issue that’s more complex and personal than you dare to explore. One commenter wants us to remember Nazi Germany. Really Benjamin? Does the world need more anger, man?” Apologies if you’re not Australian and you wrote that, I’m sorry that in my head you’re Australian, but that’s just how it is sometimes.

    Peter Mommsen: Jeepers, Benjamin.

    Susannah Black Roberts: Yeah. There is this kind of, obviously we’ll respond however you would like to. We also don’t necessarily have to, it was just that’s the Australian guy. He seems to be part of the conversation.

    Benjamin Crosby: Goodness. Yes. A couple of things, I think … then maybe this speaks to the last comment too. I think yes, it is deeply personal and yes, it is hard, but I actually think that there are some choices that it is good for someone not to have. I struggle with mental health issues with anxiety and depression. Although I don’t think I would’ve ever been at a case where I would’ve been severe enough to qualify for MAID under the expansion that the government is currently trying to work out, that mental health diagnoses alone would be potentially qualify one for dying via MAID.

    But I know that in my worst moments, it would’ve been very bad for me to be in a society where, “Oh, maybe actually you should die,” was a response to a certain set of mental health issues. Everything we know about suicide prevention backs this up. This isn’t just Ben Crosby’s vibe on this, but it would’ve been bad for me, and it will be bad for many Canadians to live in a society where this is an option. Personal, though, the choice to do this obviously is.

    To the other thing, trying to give it the most charitable construction I have, but I don’t know, there are … and perhaps I’m assuming more about this person’s political orientation than I ought to, but there are many … the Bible doesn’t talk very explicitly about labor unions or combating racism either. That doesn’t mean that a Christian ethic might not have things to say to that. Yeah, I don’t really know what else to say. I am a good solo scriptura Protestant in my heart, but that doesn’t mean that we do Christian ethics via proof text. That’s just not how this works.

    Susannah Black Roberts: Yeah.

    Peter Mommsen: Well, and let’s get back to that quote from Flannery O’Connor that we began this episode with, because she does point in that quote that you included in your piece and in this longer selection, with the way in which scripture actually does have something to say about this question. She points to, “The tenderness, which long cut off from the person of Christ, is wrapped in theory.” I just really love that line and I think that might be the place to end our discussion on, is by looking to the person of Christ. Give us a Lenten sermon at the end.

    Benjamin Crosby: I think I come back to the Heidelberg Catechism, Question One in particular. It’s just one of the most beautiful expositions I think, of the true Christian faith and hope that we have. It asks, “What is your only comfort in life and in death?” That comfort is not actually the ability to have choices to the end, even unto death.

    “Our only comfort is in our faithful savior, Jesus Christ, who has truly paid for our sins by his death on the cross, assures us then that we, through his death, are given the power of the Holy Spirit to live, not for ourselves, but for Him.” I think if the season of Lent is about anything, it is about both preparing to celebrate the way, the shocking way that God acted in Christ to set us free from the powers of sin and death and to then in grateful obedience to God who saved us, to take up our crosses, whatever they may be, and follow him even to a good death.

    Peter Mommsen: Thanks Ben. This has been a great conversation.

    Susannah Black Roberts: Thanks for listening, be sure to subscribe on iTunes or wherever you get your podcast needs met, and share with your friends! For a lot more content like this, check out for the digital magazine. You can also subscribe: $36/year will get you the print magazine, or for $99/year you can become a member of Plough. That membership carries a whole range of benefits, from free books, to regular calls with the editors, to invitations to special events, and the occasional gift. Our members are one aspect of the broader Plough community, and we depend on them as a kind of extra advisory council. Go to to learn more.

    Contributed By BenjaminCrosby Benjamin Crosby

    Benjamin Crosby is a priest in the Episcopal Church serving in the Anglican Church of Canada and a doctoral student in ecclesiastical history at McGill University.

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    Contributed By portrait of Peter Mommsen Peter Mommsen

    Peter Mommsen is editor of Plough Quarterly magazine. He lives in upstate New York with his wife, Wilma, and their three children.

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    Contributed By portrait of Susannah Black Roberts Susannah Black Roberts

    Susannah Black Roberts is a senior editor of Plough.

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