The Mail

'Helping death come'

March 23 1998
The Mail

'Helping death come'

March 23 1998

'Helping death come'

The Mail

I am writing this with tears streaming down my face and a picture of my father propped up against my computer. Your cover story “The final hours” (March 9) hit too close to home. My father, age 59, died four months ago after suffering for 10 long months with the deadliest brain tumor, glioblastoma multiforme. He had two operations, radiation therapy, two sessions of chemotherapy, countless different drugs and several stays in hospital. Before he lost his ability to walk, talk or swallow, he would cry at times and beg to die. I am disgusted with the quote referring to the unfortunate patient Paul Mills that “it was only due to the great talents of the surgeons that he survived.” Talents? Survived? I wonder: when cancer is eating away their bodies, will it be gratitude they feel for the “talented” doctors who allow them to “live” another two, three or six months? What good is time for a suffering patient? It is only for the families who are too selfish to let them go, or for the doctors


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who like to feel powerful. Helping death to come faster and less painfully for a terminally ill patient is not murder, it’s probably the kindest, least selfish act a person can do. I am grateful that I had my dad for 25 years, but when he died, that’s when I thanked God. If a nurse had slipped a needle into his arm, I would have looked the other way.

Colleen Woodward, Vancouver

I was born in 1920, and death, while not an obsession, has become a presence in my life. God willing, I will never need nor want euthanasia, but I would like that service to be available without jeopardy of any kind to anyone. We, in our society, are without mercy or justice if we continue to subject our medical professionals to the necessity (real or perceived) of deciding whether or not to euthanize a fellow human. That is our responsibility and we must face up to it. Surely our lawmakers can accommodate us by devising a system that will ensure that decisions will be made in a timely manner in the interest, first, of the patient, then the family, then the particular faith involved and, last, that of the state. It is unconscionable to allow the present situation to continue.

Malcolm M. McLean, Metcalfe, Ont.

As a nurse, I ask: who knows if Paul Mills did not implore Dr. Nancy Morrison’s help, even in the way he looked at her? who knows the real doctor-patient relationship within hospital walls, a day-to-day relationship where patients’ worries, confidences and pains are being shared among caretakers who eventually become friends? I accept that the charge against Morrison has been dropped. On the other hand, I presume she will feel remorseful for the rest of her life for her act of clemency. May God bless her.

Jeannita Theriault, Moncton, N.B.

Nancy Morrison is not a criminal, she is an angel of mercy. It is long past time for our death-denying society to collectively grow up. To die with dignity should be a matter of personal choice for any adult.

Jim Roache, Ottawa

Numerous cases in the courts just illustrate that the laws of the country are not suited to dealing with the situation that modern science now places them in. The present situation leaves judges and juries struggling to deal with issues that the law has not empowered them to handle effectively, while the

parliamentarians, who are entrusted with this task, endlessly bicker along political lines over far less basic life and death issues.

Nigel Wootton, Calgary

In the article “Offering a helping hand to those who long to die,” Wesley J. Smith, the Oakland, Calif., lawyer campaigning against euthanasia, says: “Once you say killing is permissible, the categories keep expanding.” But I believe we, as compassionate, caring humans, can differentiate between mercy killing and killing just because somebody has a disability. When you are diagnosed as terminal, that means you are going to die. We are not morons. We just cannot bear to watch a vital person deteriorate to the point my husband did when he died, at 39, of bone cancer, with his pride totally bashed and his sense of self-worth destroyed, and suffering never-ending pain.

Lori Disher, Calgary

The article “Everyone knows it happens” states erroneously that results I provided Maclean’s of a survey on physician-assisted suicide, conducted by Dr. Maja Verhoef and me, “will appear in an upcoming issue of the Canadian Medical Association Journal.” In fact, the results are but a small part of an article that will shortly be submitted to the Journal. I also advised Maclean’s that it could release these data since we had previously reported them in abstract form to the scientific community, unlike other data in our soon-to-be submitted article.

Dr. T. D. Kinsella, Director, Office of Medical Bioethics, University of Calgary


A vote for the banks

We should be thrilled about the success of Canada’s big banks, and the proposed merger between the Royal Bank of Canada and the Bank of Montreal (“Big and bigger,” Cover, Feb. 2). Here we have successful companies who employ thousands and donate millions to worthy causes. Instead of congratulating the banks, we whine about how much money they make and the chairmen’s salaries. If you don’t like what the banks are doing, don’t use them. Go to a credit union instead. And if you don’t like what the chairmen are making, what would you do about it? Have Ottawa legislate salary caps? Those guys just threw away $450 million of our dollars in the helicopter scam, and you would trust them?

Peter B. Hansen, Edmonton

Making a difference

The future looks brighter when you print an articulate letter such as the one from Susanne Brooks (“Canada needs a great celebration,” The Road Ahead, Feb. 23) on the problem of lack of national pride. Eighteen months ago, School Voyageurs, an educational tour operator, decided to complement civic education in our school systems. In recognition of the 50th anniversary of Canadian citizenship on Jan. 1,1997, we designed tours to Montreal, Ottawa, Quebec City and Sudbury, Ont., that emphasized the information asked on the citizenship test. Is Susanne right? Does civic education for our young people make a difference? One of our travellers, an English-speaking student from southwestern Ontario, said it best when he wrote to us: “In Quebec City, your stories of old buildings and myths/legends helped us understand what it really meant to be a French-Canadian.” Do not despair, Susanne. We can make a difference.

Prisca Campbell, Director of marketing, School Voyageurs (Canada) Ltd., Toronto

A young reader

I am 12 years old and I don’t read your magazine very often, but my parents do. Recently, I was thumbing through it and I found an article about the Canadian band Our Lady Peace (“Heating up the arenas,” People, Feb. 9). I love their music and I think it’s great that they are being recognized by the media. From now on, I’ll take a closer look at your magazine and maybe even find something else that interests me.

Danica Smith, Kanata, Ont.


Chretien's idle boast

Prime Minister Jean Chrétien’s boasting over having a balanced budget would be much more bearable and creditable if one could forget his actions while leader of the official Opposition (“Martin’s balancing act,” Canada/Special Report, March 9). During that period, the growing debt and deficit were recognized as serious problems, but every attempt by the Conservative government to address the problem was stridently opposed by Chrétien and the Liberal party. Their efforts, aided and abetted by the NDP and the media, made it impossible to make the required reductions. We all acknowledge now that action should have been taken then, but the polls showed that more political gain could be made by the Liberals in opposing any deficit reduction. Chrétien being a follower, not a leader, took the blatant partisan path.

Tom Ham, Parham, Ont.

Voice of the Prairies

Thanks for the well-deserved tribute to the late W. 0. Mitchell (“Prairie godfather,” Obituary, March 9). The Saskatchewan Prairie never lets go its hold on those of us who lived there, however far away we may go, and a dip into Mitchell’s works is a tonic every time.

Gwen Vokes, Surrey, England

Keys to health crisis

I am writing in response to your interview with Allan Rock, federal minister of health (“Pushing home care,” Health, March 9). When it comes to health care, the primary concern of government is often the cost. The key to solving the health-care crisis, however, isn’t finding cheaper ways or stronger drugs, but to keep people healthy. Canadians can blame the government, the

The phrase “distinct society” appears to be misunderstood or maliciously misinterpreted by a large segment of the Canadian people, the English Canada that seems to consider itself the only true Canadian society. Other segments—namely Quebecers and aboriginals—know what it means to be part of a different, or distinct society, the frustration of not being recognized and respected as a different people. They know the anguish of being harassed, bullied and driven to consider radical measures to free themselves from a destructive association. There are still many French Quebecers who want to remain in Canada. But they are struggling to obtain the accommodations denied to their society.

The Road Ahead

During my four years of education in a one-room Quebec schoolhouse in the 1920s, I learned that three different societies, each with well-established roots, were cohabiting this beautiful country. I learned that when the French explorers came to this land in the early 1600s, they found it occupied by a people very different from the Europeans—a distinct society. During the following century, France sent a large number of explorers, traders and settlers and founded a second distinct society alongside the aboriginals.

History and healing

After taking possession of Quebec in 1763, the British colonial government— wisely or unwisely—granted the French the rights to remain on the land and continue the pursuit of their destiny in the French language and French culture. They gave the French the rights to practise the Catholic religion and to retain the French civil code of law. In 1774, the British enshrined in the

Richard 0. Archambault,

Bridgewater, N.S.

Quebec Act the rights and powers it had accorded to the Quebec society—recognizing the distinctness of Quebec.

Immigrants were to become subject to the rights and laws of the Quebec society. But British immigrants found it difficult to accept being members of a conquered society and to be loyal to its administration. And there was born the irreconcilable confrontation between the Quebec French and the British immigrants to the province. In 1791, Quebec was divided into two provinces, Lower Canada (Quebec) for the Quebec society and Upper Canada (Ontario) for the British society. The Englishspeaking people in Lower Canada remained, by law, subject to the Quebec administration.

It is my hope that, as more people learn the unprejudiced version of the history of Canada from the works of contemporary historians, Canadians will eventually heal themselves. I predict that Canadians will eventually apologize for what they have done to the aboriginals and, probably, recognize the wrongs they have done to the French.

What Canada needs is for each of its three societies to muster the necessary intellect to understand and recognize the wrongs that have been done. They need to gather the necessary will for a healing reconciliation process. If the dominant society could only appreciate the potential for equivalent greatness in the people of the other societies, and if it could be prepared to make accommodations for their distinct needs rather than dictate to them, Canada would be saved.

The Road Ahead invites readers to advance specific solutions to Canada's political, social and economic problems. Unpublished submissions may run condensed as regular letters or appear on an electronic bulletin board.


doctors, and the drug and food industries, but at the end of the day our health is our responsibility. We need to educate ourselves. For most people, good health is incredibly easy to achieve. It means focusing on whole, organic, fresh foods, clean water and air, exercise and spiritual well-being, and avoiding things like saturated fat, excess protein, sugar and chemicals. Nobody, including the government and pharmaceutical and food industries, is going to care about your health as much as you.

Lisa Rogers, Toronto

Allan Rock should read the cover story, which is ostensibly about euthanasia, but if he looked deeper he could see a reflection of Canada’s health-care excesses. Paul Mills, a man diagnosed with terminal cancer, had 10 surgeries in his final, desperate six months. Likewise, my uncle in Vancouver was fighting terminal cancer and continued to be encouraged by physicians and specialists to seek further tests and treatments. Unfortunately, he spent his last precious time seeking hope from these practitioners, to the extent that they were still scheduling scans up to the day of his death.

Christina Fibiger,


Curling muscles

I guess Robert Lawrence has never tried to curl, judging by his letter that compares curling to lawn bowling (“Setting the bar higher,” The Mail, March 9). If he does not believe the game is physically challenging, he should try sweeping a couple of ends, then he would understand how many muscles you really use. It is also obvious he does not understand the rules or the strategy behind the game. Curling has become one of the most-watched sports in Canada.

Sherry Badger, Penticton, B.C.

Australian republic

WD oyal challenge” (World, Feb. 23) looked Xvfor parallels between Australia and Canada. Both countries have been constitutionally preoccupied of late—Australia with the idea of a republic and Canada with Quebec. The lesson to learn from Canada is that political leaders can ill afford to allow such preoccupations to distract them from issues that the majority considers to be of far greater importance. The Canadian Tories paid dearly for Brian Mulroney’s obsession with constitutional change. Likewise in Aus-

tralia, few people would place constitutional change ahead of the basics of jobs, incomes and health care. The Australian government sensibly used the constitutional convention in February to take some of the steam out of the republic issue and set it aside for up to 18 months—well after the next federal election is due. I’ll wager that many Canadians, if offered an 18-month holiday from constitutional wrangling, would say “amen” to that.

John Perrin, Canberra

Foth on the Dionnes

How dare you, Allan Fotheringham? Your reference to the Dionne quints as doomed “monkeys in a zoo,” “freaks” and “tragic women who will soon be dead” is a terrible act of insensitivity on your part (“Why has Mike Harris stiffed the quints?” March 9). There is no doubt that Ontario Premier Mike Harris is unfortunate enough to have to answer the old question “where did the money go?” but we cannot make him the bad guy here. It is quite inconceivable that anyone would not realize that the money was spent long ago by a greedy government. How does he compensate for what his predecessors have done?

S. L. Pleau, Beamsville, Ont.