Jocelyn Downie

The Ends of Life and Death: Public Policy, Spirituality and the Law

Euthanasia and assisted suicide – few words take us more immediately to the intersection of law and spirituality.

Beliefs about the meaning of life and suffering. Beliefs about the definition and determination of death. Beliefs about the significance and legitimacy of agency in relation to the timing and cause of death. All of these beliefs motivate positions on what the law should be. Not surprisingly, however, they do not take us to a single position on which all can agree. Indeed, polarized positions are frequently justified through reference to various competing conceptions of human spirituality.

In this lecture, Dr. Downie will first describe the current legal status of various end of life practices in Canada including the determination of death, the withholding and withdrawal of potentially life-sustaining treatment, the provision of potentially life-shortening palliative treatment, assisted suicide and euthanasia. Ways in which spirituality has played, might play and should play a role in debates about what the legal status of these practices should be will be explored.