MAID and spirituality: An Anglican perspective

News & Updates | July 8, 2022 | Sarah Dobec

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A photo of Yme Woensdregt

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. 

Yme Woensdregt (pronounced I-me) is a retired Anglican priest who has settled in Cranbrook, B.C. He is a strong supporter of medical assistance in dying (MAID) and offered to share his perspective with us based on his lived experience and interactions with people in his congregations over the years. In his retirement, he continues to share his progressive Christian perspective with his community through writing and presentations. 

Yme grew up in the Presbyterian Church. He studied music at UBC (University of British Columbia) and then he attended the Vancouver School of Theology which is an interdenominational school where he was in regular contact with students and instructors from various religions. Yme shared, “Some of my most profound influences at that time came from the Anglican professors. They were mentors and some eventually friends, so in 1998 when I was in Regina, I made the transition from the Presbyterian Church to the Anglican Church, partly influenced by my doctoral degree on worship and liturgy and my growing interest in a more liturgical form of worship.” 

The focus of Yme’s Ministry has always been to honour the lived experience of individuals, and not worry too much about rules, doctrines and practices. He likes to ask people, “Where are you at and how can we reflect on that in the light of God’s presence in life?”  

In 2018, the Anglican Church of Canada published a statement and paper on MAID called “In sure and certain hope.”  The paper did not offer any hard and fast answers, instead it raised questions to consider in terms of talking to people about MAID. “There is pushback from the conservative wing of the Anglican Church about assisted dying which results in a constant dialogue and tension pushing at the boundaries, but the paper was a useful document to help guide our practice and ask important questions,” Yme explained. 

In 2015, Yme’s wife was diagnosed with a glioblastoma brain tumour. “I not only witnessed, but I participated in her suffering. She told me she felt that she was losing bits of herself day-by-day, and I know she would have accessed MAID had it been a choice at that time.” 

Yme has supported several people in his community who were considering assisted dying, through pastoral support and even Independent Witnessing. “A common concern that arises is the idea of ‘playing God’ by hastening death, and my response is to consider the other ways in which we control life and death, such as chemotherapy or insulin to prolong life. This approach has formed part of the basis of my philosophy of why not providing answers but asking appropriate questions allows people to have some agency in their own life and death. I’m not playing God, they are not playing God, instead we are asking significant and important questions about what it means to be a human being given the circumstances of their life.” 

Yme jokingly refers to himself as “God’s loyal opposition” because he offers space for people to consider tough questions or strict doctrine in alternative ways, including MAID, where from his perspective, you retain some agency in how you live the last days of your life. “We live in a death denying society, so we need to normalize conversations about our end of life, dying and death, and respect the choices that others make.”  

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