Assisted Death – Conscience Rights, Bystanders & Responsibility

Have you ever reflected on the Holocaust of WWII and wondered how a country of people, not much different than you and I, ever become involved in the extermination of millions of Jews.  Part of the answer lies in  the fact that people are often bystanders.  Writer Paul Hilberg tells us,

Many people . . . saw or heard something of the event. Those of them who lived in Adolf Hitler’s Europe would have described themselves, with few exceptions, as bystanders. They were not “involved,” not willing to hurt the victims and not wishing to be hurt by the perpetrators.[1]

To what extent do “conscience rights,” cherished and fought for, allow us to be bystanders in the “holocausts” of our day?  One of the ‘holocausts” of our day is the millions of unborn people deemed useless and slaughtered (aborted).   Is our society starting down the path to another “holocaust” as we begin killing the sick and suffering?  How many of us wonder how a country of people, not much different than  you and I, ever became involved.

Recently, in response to the Carter decision of the Supreme Court of Canada, which declared unconstitutional our country’s law against assisting in the suicide of another person, bill C-14 became law in Canada. It is now legal for a doctor or nurse to kill some people who requests to be killed.

Along with these changes  the College of Physicians and Surgeons of Ontario, passed policy saying, if a doctor, for conscience reasons, cannot carry out a patients request for “assisted death”, then that doctor must provide an effective referral.  We don’t have to kill our patients directly but, if we are  not in agreement with killing them, it looks like we must refer to someone who does agree.

Now that C-14 has passed, some of us have decried the lack of conscience rights in the legislation and have lobbied to have the right–to not involve one’s self in killing patients–clearly enshrined in legislation.

If successful in maintaining such conscience rights, what will really be accomplished?  Then, we will be able to continue to practice freely.  Will we really be free?  We will be able to continue to practice in our own comfortable bubbles.  That is, as long as we live and let live.  Unfortunately, even as we “practice according to our conscience,” society has continued its moral decline.  What will become of our children, our grandchildren, our neighbours, our towns, our cities, our provinces and  territories, our country, our world, as society adds more and more to the list of expendable human beings.  Not yet born people have been expendable for years.  Now, we have taken another step toward adding the sick and suffering.  Next, we add…  All the while, we hold our heads high because we have not taken part in the killing.  Have we really not taken part?  As we hold our heads high practicing “according to our conscience” as “bystanders” in a society that has continued to move further and further away from what is right before the Lord God, one could build a case saying that exercising our conscience rights has not accomplished much.

Following conscience is really not a right.  It is our responsibility, as following one’s conscience is really striving to do what you believe is right.  Whether Ontario/Canadian law allows one to act according to their conscience does not change what one ought to do.  One must stand for what one know to be right.  It is also one’s responsibility to seek out the truth.  We are prone to deceive ourselves into thinking we know the truth.   As we follow our conscience let us pray the Lord God, the source of all truth, to send His Spirit to guide us in the truth.

Where would we be today if we had not been allowed to practice in our bubbles, as bystanders?  We would be left to take a stand, risking our livelihoods, for the sake of the not yet born people whose necks are on the chopping blocks?  Might, the future for our children, our grandchildren,… our society have been better if we had had to really fight for life, rather than remain settled in our comfortable zones, free to practice according to our conscience, while moral decline continued to continue all around us?   If pushed from standing in our “conscience rights” comfort zone, might we be more likely to stand in the fray and fight for those whose lives have been declared expendable.  Might we then be more likely to love our neighbours  with the same passion and love as Jesus showed to people?

As we fight for the right to practice according to our conscience, may we never be bystanders but instead take our responsible place in the fight for the lives of those people deemed to have little value.

A question for another blog posting:  What does loving our neighbour look like as we live in a society that seems to be working hard at leaving the way of the Lord God?


[1] This quote was found the website, Facing History and Ourselves at, where it is referenced as a quote from Raul Hilberg, Perpetrators, Victims, Bystanders: The Jewish Catastrophe 1933–1945 (New York: Harper Collins, 1992), xi.


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