The MAD Project

Taking the MAD pulse of Village Clergy

From time to time, I like to inject a little more serious content into the blog. I’ve done so with the Out of the Cold project at the Holy Blossom Temple and the Anne Frank post. I wanted to do one on medically assisted suicide aka medically assisted death. That meant seeking the views of the various clergy in the Village.

Given the sensitive nature of the topic, I suggested the following format for all participants.

The Ground Rules

  • The question and answer interview would be done via email.
  • The answers emailed to me would go in verbatim.
  • If I have any questions resulting, I will email them and put in any emailed responses verbatim.
  • The final draft would be emailed for the responder’s approval.
  • A separate post would be devoted to each responder.

I chose the above format, to avoid complaints from participants should they disagree with the results in the traditional journalistic format of interview and write.

The Questions

In 2015, the Supreme Court of Canada ruled in Carter v. Canada that a competent adult with a “grievous and irremediable medical condition causing enduring suffering” can consent to the termination of their life with the assistance of a physician.

The court ordered the government of Canada to have a law on the books that codified that right by June 2016. The government did, adding nurse practitioners to the category of those who may provide assistance as well as pharmacists to dispense the necessary “substance.”

Village Stories wants to know the views of local clergy on the subject, so we put the following fact situation to them.

You are summoned to the bedside of one of your congregants, A.B. They are bedridden at home. They say they are suffering intolerable pain and distress that cannot be eliminated despite receiving pain medication and other narcotics. They have trouble swallowing and can’t go to the washroom without help.

They are mentally competent and in extreme pain. Their doctor has told them their condition is terminal but it could be six months or more before they would die.

Prescribed treatment only makes him sicker.

You have no reason to doubt them.

You have spoken to them and they are coherent and understands their situation.

They want medically assisted death.

What advice would you give?

Would the service, eulogy or burial be different if the individual chooses assisted death?


I would like to thank Rev. Shane Newton Senior Minister of First Unitarian Congregation of Toronto, Rev. Stephen Fetter, Minister of the Forest Hill United Church and Senior Rabbi Aaron Flanzraich of the Beth Sholom Synagogue for their contributions.

And while he did not choose to participate, Rabbi Baruch Frydman-Kohl Senior Rabbi, Beth Tzedec Congregation, offered this advice courtesy of the Toronto Board of Rabbis.

“The recent decision by the Supreme Court of Canada has significantly shifted the discussion about appropriate end-of-life treatment for individuals facing painful terminal illnesses. As rabbis, we represent a tradition that places great stress on human dignity and the sanctity of life. We recognize that individuals and their families face challenging personal situations when dealing with extremely debilitating illnesses with little or no possibility of cure or comfort. Many of us have been with families at these trying times. We remain committed to the provision of Hesed, acts of lovingkindness, to support and sustain individuals and families facing these real situations.”

“We are concerned that the Supreme Court decision, while responding to the pain of individuals, may blur the distinctive protection that we give to human life and perhaps influence persons who are vulnerable as a result of progressive and terminal illness. We call upon Jews and all people to provide active support and comfort to those who are dying, so that no one, because of loneliness, vulnerability, loss of decision-making ability, or fear of pain and suffering, will feel a desperate need to actively end life.”

“We call upon the various legislative bodies that will be developing laws, policies and procedures in response to the ruling of the Supreme Court to first act to provide adequate funding for high quality palliative and hospice care and excellent social support for the weak, the ill, the elderly, the disabled and those who are socially isolated. We further ask that these various governmental bodies interpret the recent judgment in narrow terms providing safeguards to deter abuse and allowing for freedom of conscience for health-care workers who do not accept assisted dying as a medical response to pain and suffering.”


Village Stories emailed a request to participate to Rabbi Elie Karfunkel of the Forest Hill Jewish Centre. Rabbi Karfunkel declined saying “I’m sorry that’s not my area. Good luck.”

Pastor Brian Wilker Frey, St. Ansgar Lutheran Church, agreed to participate then changed his mind.

Village Stories also emailed requests to participate the following clerics who chose not to reply.

Rabbi Ahron Hoch, Village Shul

Rev. Fr. Ben Ebcas, Our Lady of Assumption Church

Rabbi Chaim Strauchler, Shaarei Shomayim Synagogue

Rev. Gus Constantides, St. Michaels Anglican Church

Humanist Officiant S.C. Perin

Rabbis Michael Dolgin, Daniel Mikelberg and Lawrence Englander, Temple Sinai Congregation of Toronto

Rt. Rev. Chester A. Searles, BME Christ Church St. James

Humanist Officiant Martin Frith

Rabbi Yossi Sapirman, Beth Torah Synagogue

Rabbi Yael Splanksy, Holy Blossom Temple c/o Robert Carnovale, Temple Admin.