Anglican Church of Canada Seeks Opinions on Euthanasia

(24 March 2000) — The public debate surrounding the Latimer case has prompted the Anglican Church of Canada to study the question of euthanasia.

The issue was recently dealt with in an article in the Anglican Journal, Volume 126, No. 3, March 2000. In that edition, writer Kathy Blair poses the question that many Canadians have been asking since Robert Latimer murdered Tracy—"Was Robert Latimer justified in killing his severely disabled daughter, Tracy, in order to end her suffering?" Through the Latimer Watch, and other mediums, the Council of Canadians with Disabilities has been telling Canadians that there are no justifiable reasons for murdering a person with a disability.

The Anglican Church has included the Latimer case in a church study guide on euthanasia. Kathy Blair describes the study guide and its use of the Latimer case in the following terms, "The Latimer case is one of the real-life situations raised in a study guide, Care in Dying: A Consideration of the Practices of Euthanasia and Physician Assisted Suicide, newly released by the Anglican Church of Canada for reflection and comment." The study guide was prepared by the Task Group of Faith, Worship and Ministry Committee.

According to Blair, the study guide was prepared in response to a General Synod request in 1998. The group had presented a draft statement that opposed legalizing euthanasia and Synod members felt it required wider comment.

Unlike some ethicists, the Anglican church's ethicist, Eric Beresford finds fault with Latimer's actions. He states in the Anglican Journal, "[Mr. Latimer] was too close to his own pain...The Latimer case points to the duplicity of our motives."

"We're not really always transparent to ourselves. We may convince ourselves we are doing things for good motives because we can't face up to the facts our motives may be mixed".

"That's part of the human condition. It's not unique to Robert Latimer. Therefore the laws need to recognize this conflict of interest." Beresford is the editor of Care in Dying.

The Anglican Journal reports that the church's Task Group has "issued a pastoral guideline on euthanasia rather than a policy statement, partly to recognize that Anglicans hold widely diverging views." This approach allows the church to take a position without alienating its membership.

The Task Group, itself, has taken a stand against legalizing euthanasia and it bases its position on practical and theological reasons. On the practical side the Task Group points to abuses which have taken place in the Netherlands, where Dutch physicians often fail to complete the reports required in cases of euthanasia, sometimes issuing death certificates claiming death was from "natural causes". The task group also points to studies which have detected a shift from voluntary into non-voluntary euthanasia. On the theological side the Task Group refers to the church's agreement with the discontinuation of treatment that is only serving to prolong the process of death.

The Anglican Journal provides the following definitions of terms that are being used in Care in Dying: A Consideration of the Practices of Euthanasia and Physician Assisted Suicide:


Brain death and removal of life support

Often confused with passive euthanasia, brain death occurs when the entire brain has irreversibly ceased to function. Since such patients are dead, the removal of life support cannot bring about death and such an action cannot be construed as euthanasia.

Termination of treatment

Also often confused with passive euthanasia, this refers to cases when medical treatment is no longer indicated and all treatment except palliation (food, water, pain relief) is withdrawn. The intention is not to cause death, but rather to recognize that it can no longer be effectively resisted.

Passive euthanasia

The intention is to allow the patient to die by not treating a condition that, left untreated, will cause death.

Physician assisted suicide

The physician provides the means of information to allow a patient to end his or her life.


The physician intervenes directly to bring about the patient's death, for example, by providing the necessary drugs or by injecting a patient with a lethal dose of morphine.

Voluntary euthanasia

An informed and competent patient has requested the death.

Involuntary euthanasia

A person who is competent to consent has been killed without requesting the death, perhaps because a family member is moved by his or her suffering.

Non-voluntary euthanasia

A patient who is incapable of requesting death is killed, such as a child, someone who is mentally ill or who is unconscious."

The Anglican community is looking for input before 2001. The Anglican Church of Canada can be contacted at the following address:

Anglican Church of Canada
Anglican Church House
600 Jarvis Street
Toronto, Ontario
M4Y 2J6

A disability rights perspective on euthanasia is presented by Dr. Gregor Wolbring in the article Why Disability Movements Do Not Support Assisted Suicide: Safeguards Broken Beyond Repair which is available on the World Wide Web at: