MAID and spirituality: A Presbyterian perspective
News & Updates | August 5, 2022 | Sarah Dobec
Canada has one of the most progressive and accessible assisted dying laws in the world. The Supreme Court of Canada recognized medical assistance in dying as a constitutionally-protected right in 2015. We know that 87% of Canadians support the right to medical assistance in dying for those who meet the eligibility criteria, but some Canadians still grapple with the option to end one’s intolerable suffering because of their religious and spiritual beliefs.
In this series – MAID and spirituality – we share insights from various religious leaders and people who are in support of medical assistance in dying and how they reconcile this position in their faith that might have an opposing stance.
Beverly Wilkins, affectionately known as Bev the nurse, has a passionate desire to help people not be afraid at the end of life. Her current role is the Congregational Nurse at St. Andrews Presbyterian Church in Owen Sound, Ontario. As a trained palliative care nurse, she has been in intimate contact with many patients going through their final stage of life. In her experience, most people fear two things as they near their end of life: pain and suffering, and the unknown of what is beyond. Her passion is to support people with these fears through end-of-life care and spiritual support.
As a Christian, Bev has always believed that there is something beyond, substantiated by an experience she had when she was only 3-years old. Bev was in hospital to have her tonsils removed, confused and in pain she recalls her grandfather appearing in the hospital window, and he said to her, “Hi honey, you are going to be okay.” This provided her with comfort and a sense of tranquility; the next day, her mother came to the hospital room to tell her that her grandfather had passed away the day before. Ever since then, Bev has understood that the spirit is real, and that there is somebody/something there for you when you transition at the end of life.
Through her work as a palliative care nurse and leading grief groups, she has heard countless stories, similar to her own, from people nearing their end of life, and this motivated her to write a book called Hi God. I’m home. Wow! She also pointed out that over half the world believes in an afterlife, so supporting people with this fear at the end of life is something she does with ease and awe.
Bev explains, “Whether we call it, Allah, God, The Source or Yahweh, it’s something else out there that is bigger than us.” While Bev works in and belongs to the community of the Presbyterian Church, she personally believes in reincarnation and that we do transition somewhere else. She says her belief is more of a universality and that we need to be open-minded. Everyone is entitled to their opinion, but she will often ask, “Think about it, do you really think that this is all we get?”
The Presbyterian Church does not have anything set down in doctrine for or against medical assistance in dying, and Bev has supported several people and their families through a MAID death. She is pleased that this option is available to folks who want it as they near the end, and it often helps relieve the fear of pain and suffering.
Bev did support one patient whose daughter struggled with their choice to have an assisted death because of her own religious beliefs. Respecting that everyone has their beliefs and opinions about MAID, Bev chose to meet with all the daughters, offer them information about MAID, they prayed, and then had a conversation about honouring her mother’s final wishes.
“God instructs us ‘to honour thy father and mother’ in the Ten Commandments, I believe strongly that we must honour our loved one’s final wishes, which in a way, gives them consent to die and move on.” She goes on to say, “We owe it to the person who is transitioning, it helps them relinquish the bondage of fear around death, and everyone deserves that at the end.”
“Let’s relinquish the bondage of fear around dying and instead plan for it with exuberance. Make it a celebration that we did not waste our time here on earth.”Hi God. I’m home. Wow!