priate exercises of autonomy. Is it really a valid expression
of autonomy to end your ability to be autonomous? Many
individualists find it an affront to their autonomy to be
commodified, and so object to being bought or rented.
They may also find it contrary to individual autonomy to
be told you can’t wear what you want.
Of course, individualists do not all share these exact
views. In the name of autonomy, legal challenges have
been launched against Canada’s prohibition on assisted
suicide and euthanasia. And in the name of autonomy
some are calling for the decriminalization of prostitution.
Autonomy-based arguments about religious attire and
symbols worn by civil servants are also varied. Some individualists see the public expression of religion to be an
affront to the idea of autonomy – even a threat.
“You can wear what you want if it is an expression
of your autonomy,” they say, “but not as an expression
of your religion, because that threatens our autonomy.”
But there’s the rub.
We must not forget that the demand to decriminalize
euthanasia threatens the autonomy of people with disabilities and those near death with no advocates. These
are the most vulnerable in a culture of easy death.
Similarly, the expression of the autonomy of some
women who want the freedom to be prostitute themselves
(who are arguing that prostitution be decriminalized)
threatens the autonomy of the vast majority who are being
coerced and exploited into prostitution in a society where
it has become acceptable that some people are available
for rent or sale.
This is why societal limits on the expression of autonomy are necessary. The Criminal Code does just that – it
limits what people can do. And the Charter of Rights and
Freedoms sets out what justifiable limitations on individual freedom are acceptable in a free and democratic
In the months to come, as public debates on these
issues continue, believers in God and some individualists will be in the same corner, arguing for limits on the
exercise of autonomy (albeit for different reasons), and
challenging the extent to which freedom may be curtailed
in the defence of autonomy.
The debates on these issues will stir strong emotions
and impassioned pleas. We should expect this because the
questions they raise drive to the very core of our under-
standing of humanity – and whose we are. FT
bruCe J. CLemeNGer is president of The Evangelical
Fellowship of Canada. Read more of his columns
TheGatheringPlace n BY BRUCE J. CLEMENGER
There are three issues being debated in Canada that drive to the heart of our self-understanding as persons and as a society. They cause us to ask, “Who owns my
body?” “What can I do with it?” and “What can I put on it?”
In a culture that has come to value individual autonomy, answers to such questions focus on self. However,
for Christians the answers centre on God.
Consider the questions raised by euthanasia. Who
owns my life? If I do, then I should be able to end it when
I please (suicide). Or if I am physically unable to end my
life, then someone should not be prevented from helping
me (assisted suicide) or killing me (euthanasia).
Prostitution raises similar questions. Who decides
what I can do with my body? Some argue we can decide
to sell or rent our bodies if we choose, although others
question how freely that “choice” is usually made.
Third, the proposed Quebec Charter of Values. Who decides what I can put on my body? Shouldn’t we all be free
to wear whatever religious symbols we want?
Christian responses to these questions start from the
assertion that God owns my life. He is the Creator, I am
the creature. Life is a trust, and I am a steward. Thus we
must avoid activities contrary to that stewardship.
In rejecting euthanasia and prostitution, and in recognizing that God may require particular attire, the Christian tradition has been pretty consistent for thousands
of years. Further, these venerable Christian positions still
make sense in our current context.
Those who try to respond to these issues based on an
assertion of individual autonomy don’t have such history.
There is no prevailing tradition for individualists. Most are
making it up as they go along.
Some end up holding the same position as Christians.
It’s no stretch to argue suicide and euthanasia are inappro-
but It’s my body!
Canadians of differing religions and
philosophies can agree to limits on what
we may do with our bodies.
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