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Statement on Dying with Dignity


April 23, 2015

Oraynu Congregation for Humanistic Judaism affirms the sanctity of every human life and the duty of the Canadian Government to protect all who are vulnerable in our society. Oraynu also champions the individual’s right to life, liberty and security of person as guaranteed in the Charter of Rights and Freedoms. When it comes to physician-assisted dying, we see no contradiction in maintaining both positions. In fact, enabling an individual to choose to die with dignity, by hastening the end of an intolerable life, actually affirms the value of that life and the individual’s autonomy and personhood.

Autonomy is the right to make decisions about one’s personal life and is a cornerstone of a free society.  We believe that every legally competent individual should be allowed to exercise his or her autonomy in deciding how to manage end of life issues, including the issue of physician-assisted dying. We must stress that we are, of course, in favour of this only as a personal choice, never as an imposition.

Oraynu Congregation for Humanistic Judaism encourages every adult to become informed about the medical, legal and ethical issues of dying with dignity, including alternatives for treatment, physician aid in dying and palliative care.  Adequate and affordable palliative care must be available and accessible, but, even when palliative care is provided, there will be patients whose pain and suffering will not be alleviated.

Oraynu Congregation for Humanistic Judaism affirms the right of an individual with a terminal or increasingly debilitating physical illness that has no possibility of any meaningful alleviation of the resulting pain, suffering and loss of dignity to choose a death with dignity, and proposes that:

  1. The Canadian, Provincial and Territorial Governments proactively support, authorize, train and fund physicians and other health care professionals to routinely counsel patients about end of life options including advance directives, palliative care and physician-assisted dying.
  2. The Canadian, Provincial and Territorial Governments immediately increase to adequate levels for all Canadians the timely and affordable provision of palliative care and counselling at home and in hospitals to meet the needs of dying patients.
  3. The Canadian, Provincial and Territorial Governments take steps to make accessible information that will enable individuals to prepare their own advance directives and share them with family members, significant others and legal agents.
  4. The Canadian Government, as soon as possible, appoint a commission composed of medical, legal and ethical experts to conduct consultations, research and analysis on end of life issues, and then draft legislation that will legalize physician-assisted dying for competent individuals with a terminal or physically debilitating illness that has no possibility of any meaningful alleviation of the resulting pain and suffering, as well as emotional distress and loss of dignity. Such legislation must protect both the safety and autonomy of all individuals making end-of-life decisions. The legislation must ensure that all such decisions are made by fully-informed and counselled individuals, with full mental capacity, who are free of any coercion. Vulnerable individuals in particular, such as those who are in a state of dependency due to age, infirmity, or severe disability, should be fully protected against abuse and coercion so that their end of life decisions emanate solely from their own autonomous deliberation.