Charles Lewis is a familiar name to many Canadians as a veteran journalist with 33 years of experience in the newspaper industry. For the last 15 years he was with the National Post, often covering religion.
Since his recent retirement, Lewis has turned his attention to the issue of euthanasia in Canada. He speaks to churches and other groups about his own experience with chronic pain and the dangers of legalized euthanasia. The Nov/Dec issue of Faith Today has a short story about Lewis’ passion for this issue and his concern for Canada. We decided to go further with Lewis and interview him about why he is so concerned – and why we all should be.
FT: You are a well-known Catholic Canadian. Fighting euthanasia together would seem a place where Catholics and Evangelicals can work together.
CL: First of all, having spent about 33 years in media, 15 of those at the National Post covering religion, what I found out was that of course Evangelicals and Catholics have many things in common, many social issues. That shouldn’t be a surprise. We are in the camp of orthodox Christians.
What we have in common is a belief that life issues are extremely important. That goes for abortion and end of life care, as opposed to end of life killing, which is what euthanasia is.
The other thing similar is that both groups have not been very quick to pick up on this.
Both groups suffer from some Christian shyness; this is from my perspective as a reporter. I don’t have studies to base it on. We have become afraid. We don’t want to admit we are Christian because a lot of people find that off-putting and frightening. We want to keep our friends from getting irritated. Also, we fear that if we come out on an issue officially, people will write it off as another one of those Christian things trying to shove our morality on people. That has been a common theme in this debate on euthanasia.
We have a duty here to be at the forefront of stopping this and forget about worrying if our religion will turn people off. Maybe our primary target is not the public at large, I’m not skillful enough to change their minds, but if Evangelicals and Catholics know it’s wrong, if we can get them to get active, we’ve really accomplished something.
When people send letters, they are seen as citizens. I think that is really where we share something very strong. I don’t want to exclude any other groups, obviously Jewish people, Muslims, anyone who feels euthanasia is wrong, should take up his mantle. But at the beginning let’s focus on our own communities because they are reluctant enough.
FT: How does one fight euthanasia?
CL: It’s incredibly simple, especially because we have email. You don’t need to get a paper cut, no helmets required. I would urge everyone to spend $25 to join the Euthanasia Prevention Coalition. They put out fantastic newsletters, including sample letters.
Make a list of people: Stephen Harper and the justice minister; your MP, caucuses in Parliament; all the pro-life MPs. They should be with us on this being active.
We should talk to our religious leaders. We have not heard much about this in our parishes, we haven’t seen pastoral letters. We haven’t had this urging from our leaders. If it’s been done, it’s being done quietly.
In the letters you write, they shouldn’t be: “if you don’t do this I won’t vote for you.” You explain your position, you say it’s for the good of society in general.
It’s not just a Christian issue. But, if your faith informs you there’s nothing wrong with that. The other thing extremely important is that the government has made noises about making a palliative care strategy; that is urgent. Only one-third of Canadians can access palliative care. That is a shame. That would make a huge impact in our attitudes. We shouldn’t let euthanasia become a stop-gap measure before we get our act together.
FT: What is the worst-case scenario here?
CL: Quebec’s Bill 52 calls for euthanasia, the act of a doctor giving you the fatal dose. The doctor kills you. They don’t say that, but that is what it is. In my situation, I have a spinal problem. My quality of life has gone down, I have to take morphine every day. In June, the National Post interviewed Dr. Yves Robert, one of the architects of the bill. He was asked if he was happy they had won. He said it was a good starting point, but as Quebeckers got used to it, it would be expanded.
I have pointed out what Dr. Robert has said to as many people as I can who think the Quebec bill is safe. But even though he says explicitly it will expand, those in favour of euthanasia choose to ignore it. It’s not me worrying about it. It’s him saying it.
Then we look at Holland and Belgium. The Quebec bill is similar to what started out there. There, it’s no longer extraordinary, it’s considered just as another medical issue. The reasons there for being killed have gone from being at death’s door to chronic depression. The age limit in Belgium is now zero. There is no minimum age. The idea is that if people want to kill themselves they should have the right for any reason. The family is not important in this. You can see how things start to break down. That’s really one of the things people have to keep in mind.
FT: Christians seem to get caught up in this idea that it is a personal right, and they don’t want to interfere – or don’t think they can.
CL: For Christians, the way I understand, we’re not autonomous. We’re communitarian. I have this spinal problem. In December, 2011 I woke up in more pain than I thought was humanly possible. That persisted for five or six months. I had surgery in Nov. 2012. That was supposed to do the job. A combo of morphine and pain just knocked me out. It was a bad time.
One night I couldn’t sleep, I made a list of things about our life. My wife is an editor at the Globe and Mail. We’re both in our sixties. We have no debts. We’re not rich, but we are fine. The only thing I had to worry about was getting better. We don’t have any other pressures in our life. But for some people, when they get sick, it is like the last straw. The pain is what it is and you can’t face it anymore. It can be a devastating thing to go through.
What about those people? If it evolves like it has in Holland and Belgium, and remember what Dr. Robert said, than I might choose in that situation to end my life because it’s all too much. Even though people say: “Well you’re not dying,” I was in so much pain I thought it would kill me.
That’s the problem. This then becomes a two-class society where you get some people who can say: “I can still be comfortable,” and others where they can’t. I can’t prove this. But I worry about this.
FT: Do you think euthanasia in Canada is a foregone conclusion?
CL: We believe that the Son of God came and had himself nailed to a cross. That’s a pretty bleak scenario. But we all know what happened a few days later.
Despair is a sin as far as I’m concerned. It’s the worse thing. It’s hopeless. It means your belief in God and the life to come is pretty weak. Around the world, people are being murdered by groups like ISIS. Christians are being raped, killed and murdered, simply for being Christian. They don’t give up their religion.
For us to get all meek…it’s pretty embarrassing. If we believe these people are our brothers and sisters, then the least we can do is stand up for our own beliefs. Standing up and being heard is powerful. In this country, I don’t know what the risk is. We’re only losing this because of our own inertia. There is not some bogeyman making this happen. They’re putting forward their argument, and we are buying it. Fight back. Show some guts. No one is asking you to storm the beach of Normandy. This is about being who you are and not being afraid. If people are going to desert you for being Christian they weren’t your friend in the first place.
I think euthanasia is a step into madness. The last group of people who thought this was an important thing to do were the Nazis. I truly believe people who are for it, in their hearts of hearts, are compassionate. But we think they are wrong.
FT: If a group wants you to come and speak to them about this, how do they contact you.
CL: Just email me (email@example.com)