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June 30, 2014
Richard Handler

This episode of Context presents us with sight of two Christians on the opposite side of the fence, in their own way.  One is Terrence Young, fighting since the death of his daughter for tighter prescription regulation.  The other is Dr Jake Thiessen, on an advisory committee with Health Canada.

Two committed men of faith appear on different sides of an issue — though, need I say, Dr Thiessen does not condone the death of 15 year old Vanessa, who died on account of a prescription she took for a stomach ailment. Instead, he argued on Context for, well, context.

Dr. Thiessen defended Canada’s research pharmaceutical companies by pointing out how many lives they’ve saved and how many of us benefit from its medications. It was a tough spot and he spoke softly and carefully. 

Recall all those bumper stickers that ask:  “What would Jesus do?”  I’m not sure that the Jesus we read about in the New Testament could give us any particular advice on the issue of tightening drug safety regulations in the 21st century Canada. 

Like football players on opposing teams asking for God’s help in scoring a touchdown (or enemy soldiers asking their Lord to guide their deadly weaponry), people of faith say they find consolation and strength in their meditation and prayer.   But who can really say which side God is, whether in a sporting event or on a complex, legislative issue? 

Terrence Young told Lorna that after his daughter’s death in March of 2009, he was shocked at the information buried on the drug prescribed to his daughter which took her life.  He swore an oath that her needless death would never happen to anybody else.   He was bolstered by his faith to begin a campaign to tighten Canada’s prescription drug safety laws. The result was Bill C-17, Vanessa’s Law, tabled by the Harper government in December of 2013.

One of the things I appreciate about the program, Context with Lorna Dueck, is that it does not prescribe solutions.  The God of so many guests is a God who prompts people to act.  In the case of Terrence Young, I take from his testimony on the program that his God prompted him to work save the lives of other innocent patients.

Yes, and here’s where his faith also comes in.  He also told Lorna that he hoped that he would see his daughter in the hereafter.  But he could have said that without lifting a finger.  It was his own personal covenant with his daughter who collapsed on the floor and lay in coma before she died.  He had to do something.

Terrence Young’s God is not a god of passivity.  Mr. Young didn’t “submit” to his fate—submission being at the heart of one of the other Abrahamic religions, but not Young’s Christianity.  As a secularist, I applaud this humane intervention.  No doubt lives will be saved because of this legislation. He has the right to be pleased.

Vanessa didn’t die for all this to happen. She died because doctors didn’t fully understand the drug they were prescribing. Terrence Young’s fourteen year fight was a way to right the calculus of right and wrong, with his God, his family and in his own grieving mind.  The fact that Terrence Young feels vindicated, as he tells us, means he can encounter his daughter again with a clear conscience, and heart full of joy.

A secularist like me doesn’t have the consolation of this “end of world” salvation story.  We have to rely on the simple belief that Mr. Young helped prevent deaths and correct a wrong in society. 

Because in the end, Christians don’t believe in tragedy—the end is guaranteed with the resurrection.  We agnostics live in the cold light of day, without such dreams.


Richard Handler - the Stubborn Agnostic - is a former CBC Radio Producer and former producer for CBC's Ideas. He lives in Toronto.




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