Church to publish MAID essays

Photo: Ben Hershey/Unsplash
Published August 31, 2023

The Anglican Church of Canada will publish a set of writings on medical assistance in dying (MAID) this September with the aim of helping members of the church in their discernment around the issue.

The Rev. Eileen Scully, the church’s director of Faith, Worship and Ministry, who is compiling and editing the project, says the documents—by people from across the country, including health-care professionals, health-care chaplains, priests, theologians and one nun—deal with a range of perspectives on MAID, both positive and negative.

The Rev. Dr. Eileen Scully, director of Faith, Worship and Ministry. Photo: Colin Duerrstein

“There are those who have peace in decisions towards MAID for themselves and others, who have some experience of attending medically assisted deaths where there has been for them experiences of grace and those for whom there is horror in—Well, the most poignant stories are [of] those who are really desperately trying to live and are being presented with a MAID option for which they’re told they have freedom to choose and they’re not feeling free,” says Scully.

The collection includes 22 essays, plus a statement already released by the Prayer Book Society of Canada, which lays out a firm position against MAID on the grounds that it is incompatible with the church doctrine embodied in the Book of Common Prayer.

The project began, Scully says, in response to two Anglican Journal articles last year which highlighted uncertainty in the church about what it could—or should—do to respond to changes in the rules on medically administered death coming into effect after the March 2021 passing of Bill C-7. These included making MAID available to people whose deaths were not imminent due to a medical condition, but who have a physical or mental illness, disease or disability that, the law states, “causes them enduring physical or psychological suffering that is intolerable to them and that cannot be relieved under conditions that they consider acceptable.”

At the time, eligibility for people with mental illnesses was to come into effect in March 2023, but since then, the federal government has pushed the eligibility date back to March 2024.

Among other things, she says the Journal articles made her suspect the lack of new comment was in part due to the sheer breadth of perspectives on the issue.

“It’s easy for us to get into a state of paralysis when we don’t know what outcome we’re looking for here,” she says.

In the absence of a clear consensus on whether the church should be providing resources for critical thinking on the ethics of MAID or issuing a definitive statement of position, Scully says it was important to her to see the church take some action. As a start, she opted to collect these essays as a way to create some idea of what perspectives exist within the church. By starting with the people who are already wrestling with the questions surrounding MAID, she says, the church can help define the parameters of the conversation its members will have on the way to forming a clearer position.

The other driving factor in the need for new work on MAID policy, she says, is a national situation which has changed significantly since the church’s last statement, In Sure and Certain Hope, released in 2016—the year MAID legislation was first passed in Canada, in response to a 2015 Supreme Court case that ruled banning it unconstitutional. One difference between then and today is that MAID has moved from hypothetical to real, Scully says; the nation and the church now have seven years of experience in its application.

“The other thing is the fragility of our social safety net,” she says. An overburdened system in everything from social services to health care, housing and support for those experiencing poverty and homelessness cannot be separated from the conversation on how MAID is applied, she says—especially given that, next March, people suffering only from mental illness will be eligible.

“Back in 2016 we were concerned and people didn’t really want to articulate ‘Ooh, slippery slope,’ but we’re at a place where we’re far down the hill and I think that’s what is having a lot of Anglicans sit up, wake up and pay attention,” Scully says.

“There are very different experiences whether one is privileged, relatively wealthy, doesn’t have housing insecurity or food insecurity or [isn’t] lacking in access to medical care. And there’s a very different experience for someone nearing the end of their life with a terminal illness, choosing this way of their dying when the death is foreseen to someone who is disabled living in poverty and is being offered MAID as an option.”

Scully says she is planning a multi-stage release of the material Anglicans have submitted for this project: an online release in September, at which point submissions will remain open in case Anglicans reading the collection wish to add their own voices to it; then a final version which she hopes to release by year’s end, online and in print.

Correction: People suffering only from a mental illness will not be eligible for medical assistance in dying (MAID) in Canada until March 2024. Incorrect information appeared in an earlier version of this story.


  • Sean Frankling

    Sean Frankling’s experience includes newspaper reporting as well as writing for video and podcast media. He’s been chasing stories since his first co-op for Toronto’s Gleaner Community Press at age 19. He studied journalism at Carleton University and has written for the Toronto Star, WatchMojo and other outlets.

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