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Manitoba: First assisted suicide to take place in a church

A Canadian church was the setting for a recent assisted suicide, a development which has been described as “deeply troubling”.

Last month, the Churchill Park United Church of Winnipeg in the city of Manitoba held a “Crossing Over Ceremony” for 86-year-old Betty Sanguin, who chose to end her life after being diagnosed with ALS or Lou Gehrig’s disease, The Winnipeg Free Press reports.

One of Sanguin’s final requests was for her assisted death to take place at the church where she had raised her family. Her request was unanimously approved, and on March 9th, the ceremony took place in the church’s sanctuary.

Welcoming her family to the assisted suicide ceremony, Sanguin wrote on a blackboard: “Welcome to my special day. I love you all so much”. She had also prepared a playlist for the event, which was mostly Gospel music, according to the report.

According to The Free Press, it was the first instance in Manitoba where a case of assisted suicide took place in a Church Building. The entire process took 15 minutes and Sanguin died with her loved ones around her.

Online, the news of the assisted suicide in the church has been met with outcry.

“This is heinous blasphemy,” one Twitter user wrote, adding: “You can’t proclaim the resurrection gospel and teach that the last enemy to be defeated is death, while actively killing people in your church. Damn this.”

“Crossing-over ceremony is probably the darkest thing I’ve ever read,” another said, while Christian commentators described the event as “a death ceremony”.

The minister of Churchill Park, Rev. Dawn Rolke, however, defended the church facilitating the assisted death. Speaking to the Christian Post, Rolke said that it “seemed appropriate” to hold the ceremony in the sanctuary, as churches are often “host and home to all the raggedness of our lives and to some of our significant life rituals: baptism, marriage, ordination, funeral or memorial services.”

“For us, it was perfectly natural to hold this service for Betty in our sanctuary because death is a natural part of life and Betty had lived a good part of her adulthood in this faith community. Hers was a growing, changing spirituality; her faith was feisty, fierce and passionate, like Betty herself,” Rolke continued.

“Some see medically-assisted death as a private matter and they sought to honour this individual’s request. Some felt it was right for Betty, in particular,” she added.

Speaking one month on from her mother’s death, Betty’s daughter, Renee Sanguin-Colpitts said her mother had died in the most “beautiful” way, but admitted the assisted suicide did not make her mother’s death “any less tragic”.

“Was it any less sad? No. Was it any less tragic? No. Was it any less heartbreaking? No. But was it the most beautiful and humane and compassionate way to die? Yes,” she told Broadview.

‘DEEPLY TROUBLING’

Assisted suicide is also known in Canada as ‘medical assistance in dying’ or MAID, and has been legal since 2016. To date, 919 people have been permitted to kill themselves through Canada’s healthcare system.

James Mildred, director of Communications and Engagement at the Christian charity CARE, said the church’s assistance in the assisted suicide was “deeply troubling.” Mildred said God’s word is clear on the matter.

Speaking to Premier Christian News, he said: “The fact that a church in Canada has endorsed the practice of assisted suicide is deeply troubling.

“I can honestly say that it is my clear conviction that God’s word is clear on this matter.”

“Time and again, the Bible teaches us that our lives are in God’s hands, and we are not to murder or be involved in helping someone kill themselves,” he added.

“The prescription of lethal drugs is not an appropriate response to suffering. It is deeply harmful: to people who suffer in the process itself; to relatives who watch on and are laden with guilt and pain afterward; and to society as a whole,” Mildred said.

WARNINGS AGAINST ASSISTED SUICIDE IN IRELAND

In December, psychiatrists came out strongly against a proposal to introduce assisted dying in Ireland, saying it is not compatible with good palliative care.

Issuing a stark warning against legalising assisted suicide, the College of Psychiatrists said the controversial practise could place vulnerable patients at risk and cautioning that such deaths are often not peaceful, “may be inhumane”, and may result in “considerable and protracted suffering.”

A special Oireachtas committee is set to examine the issue later this year after the Dying with Dignity Bill (2020) was rejected as being flawed.

Churches across Ireland expressed unequivocal opposition to the bill, with the Catholic Church last year urging the Oireachtas not to proceed with the Dying with Dignity Bill, saying it would provide for the “medical endorsement and facilitation of suicide”.

In a comprehensive submission to the Oireachtas Committee on Justice, which is considering responses to the Bill, the Church’s Council for Life and Consultative Group on Bioethics said there was a “moral responsibility to care for our ‘neighbour’ according to the Gospel image of the Good Samaritan”.

“Our view, essentially, is that the Bill’s proposals, which provide for the medical facilitation of suicide, run radically counter to the common good, the promotion of which is a particular responsibility of the State,” it said.

“If passed, the Bill would not only encourage the acceptance of assisted suicide but significantly weaken the protections against the non-consensual killing of particularly vulnerable classes of persons.”

The Church of Ireland has also voiced strong opposition, and in a response to the Oireachtas committee’s consultation said:

“Dying with dignity or assisted dying, despite being a euphemistic term, is still suicide, and this Bill not only changes the law to allow assistance to someone wishing to commit suicide, but also introduces the legalising of euthanasia, that is the killing of another human being.”

The Presbyterian Church in Ireland said assisted suicide raises “serious and fundamental questions about the value that is placed on human life in Ireland, something that we firmly believe to be a gift from God”.

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