Who needs God, now that we’ve got the Charter of Rights and Freedoms?

If a Christian doctor won’t assist a suicide, should the law make him find one who will?

An intriguing headline in very large type was spread across the top of a page in the National Post earlier this month. It read: “When religion must yield to the law.” In the story beneath it, which covered most of a page, Toronto lawyer Derek Smith who (says the Post) “has been cited to the Supreme Court of Canada as a legal authority,” defends the stipulation that doctors who refuse to assist in suicides be required by law to direct applicants to other doctors who would. A group of Christian doctors are objecting. They argue that providing such information amounts to an endorsement of the procedure.

“Their lawsuit will likely fail,” writes Mr. Smith. “It deserves to fail. Religious freedom sometimes has to yield to laws that prevent religious people from harming others.” Notice the implication — a doctor who refuses to help somebody exterminate themselves is “harming” them. The Christian doctors, of course, believing that suicide is an ultimate sin, do not see themselves doing harm but doing good. There could be dire consequences for such an act, they say. That is, they are claiming to know something about the next world. But is not lawyer Smith doing the same thing? He’s presumably satisfied there won’t be any consequences at all in the next world. How would he know this, you wonder.

That Mr. Smith is learned in the law, I do not doubt at all. But he does not seem very learned in history. For the fact is that the whole direction of society for at nearly all of the last sixteen hundred years has been a process in which the law has had to yield to religion. Civilization in western Europe was pretty well brought to an end in the fifth century. With the collapse of imperial Rome, barbarism largely reasserted itself. The state, as we know it, had almost ceased to be, and in the centuries that followed, it was the Christians who restored the civil order.

The law, insofar as there was one, was a product of Christianity, founded on Christian principles and the teaching of Christ as biblically recorded. The Christians wanted the slave trade abolished and the law yielded. The Christians wanted child labor abolished and the law yielded. The Christians wanted safety in the mines and on ships at sea, and the law yielded. The Christians wanted the seven-day work week abolished and the law yielded

The Christian does not believe in something called “religion.” He believes in God. And when he sees a headline that reads “religion must yield to the law,” it seems to be saying that God must yield to the law. That is, the Power or Mind, or Order, or whatever you want to call it. that produced the universe, that made the natural order and all the creatures in it, including us, must somehow bow and “yield” in the awesome presence of the Charter of Rights and Freedoms. It was created in a country called Canada whose lifespan in cosmic terms is as the snap of the fingers, in a world that is known to be running down and, so the scientists say, is undeniably doomed to extinction, as is the whole universe. A pretty grim story, unless there is something beyond the natural order.

I would have thought that Mr. Smith personally dismisses such a possibility until I came to an unexpected phrase in his article. He described one proposal made in the controversy as “justifiable and therefore legal.” In other words, the law itself is subject to a kind of standard called “justice.” A law that is not “justifiable” cannot be legal, or so he seems to be saying. But then where does this idea of “justice” come from? The Christians would answer that God put it in us. He made us able to see when a law was just, or as we would say “fair.” Mr. Smith plainly believes in justice, but does not explain where the concept comes from, or what gives it an authority over the laws of the state.

The question matters greatly. We as a society founded our laws on biblical principles and the Christian faith. We are now well into the process of discarding that authority. Hence we adopt such novelties as assisted suicide, gay marriage, easy divorce, all founded on….what exactly? Mr. Smith doesn’t tell us. One gradually reaches the conclusion that they’re founded on an unbounded quest for “freedom” without consequent responsibilities. The ultimate authority comes down to “me.” It’s right because I want it. If this be so, then however bountiful our technological progress, we are not living in an advancing society, but in one that is in the full throes of disintegration.

In other words, Mr. Kenney, you are a Calgarian. Listen to your fellow Calgarians. I am an Edmontonian. Don’t listen to us. We are living for the moment in a very false world.

Ted Byfield was founder and publisher of Alberta Report news magazine, general editor of Alberta in the Twentieth Century. a 12-volume history of the province, and general editor of The Christians: Their First Two Thousand Years, a 12-volume history of Christianity. His column on education appears in The Christians.com, a web journal. He has recently authored two little books on modern pedagogy: Why History Matters and The Revolution Nobody Covered. You can order both copies here.


6 thoughts on “Who needs God, now that we’ve got the Charter of Rights and Freedoms?

Add yours

  1. Hello, Mr. Byfield,

    Thank you for your concise and logical piece of writing. I enjoyed it immensely, and always look forward to an email from your blog. We desperately need your voice, and the voices of other learned and thoughtful older men and women like you. I truly long for more voices to enter the fray! I was confused, however, by your last paragraph. I didn’t see anywhere in the article that you were addressing Mr. Kenney, so it came from left field for me, as well as the last line where you suggested he not listen to Edmontonians. I may have interpreted it wrong… Sorry, but could you elaborate on that a bit, please? Again, thank you for speaking out on this matter. It is so badly needed in our lost country.

    Blessings, Nancy Bowman.


  2. Yes, Mr. Smith is under the convenient delusion that his religion of atheism is neutral and real, and all references to God must because of Canada’s historical context be put up with and tolerated to the extent that they do not appreciably interfere with reality and the autonomy of me, I who am my only god (after birth), and who with the other gods (human, of course) determine the limits to interaction between us.

    As do so many of these atheists, Mr. Smith is redefining the terms. Whereas the age-old Hippocratic oath required physicians to, first, do no harm (i.e. hurt or kill a patient), Mr. Smith’s new definition of “harm” is a physician’s refusal to kill a patient.

    By the way, your concluding paragraph seems to be one that fits your previous blog post. Likely you’ve just made the post and haven’t yet noticed a cut-and-paste mistake or something like that?


  3. Ted,

    Read the line again.
    Religious freedom sometimes has to yield to laws that prevent religious people from harming others.

    I think you will find yourself actually agreeing with THIS statement – taking it out of context and just saying “yield to laws” confuses the issue, without a shadow of a doubt.

    The duty of the doctor to WARN is now done, and the duty of the patient, the public and the media is to HEED and use wisdom.

    It’s pretty obvious to most people that Euthanasia does not lead to alleviation of suffering in the long run. Eventually, you won’t have any doctors willing to care for anyone, and then watch the kind of suffering you will have all over this country. No doctor will want to enter to profession if faced with a media that is intent on killing itelf and the country it serves.

    Interested Reader


  4. How is this for an analogy: Suppose someone, believing I have human beings in my possession as slaves, asks me to sell him a slave. I tell him a can’t sell him a slave because I believe it is wrong and I don’t own any such human beings. Would it be morally okay for me to refer him to someone else who does have human beings for sale as slaves? Would I not be guilty by referral, as well as a hypocrite? Would it have been morally okay for me to own and sell human beings as slaves back when it was legal?


  5. Ted. I am glad to see your mind is sharp as ever. Suicide is a personal choice so why does the law force another to participate against their will. That is not suicide, it is homocide. And this I think is the slippery slope that we have seen before, when authority can determine if somone should die. e.g. is it so far away that old people are seen as a burden to the taxpayer and should ‘volunteer’ to die. Far fetched, they are those already calling to remove our franchised, why because they do not like the way we vote, we are screwing things up.
    There are many painless way to ends ones life, so why does the medical establish have to be involved.
    An article I read recently stated the children with terminal deseases never ask to have their lives ended for the pain. Why is it the older people are demanding it after having had more life than those children will ever see.
    I guess I am confused. I do not think even the Buddha would say it was compassionate to end someones life upon request.
    Or is the read drive to try and aleviate one’s guilt for taking their life, and getting another help, mean it is OK


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