Almost on its deathbed a few short months ago, Canadian Nurses for Life is back, perhaps stronger than ever, with two national co-ordinators taking the reins and ready to steer the organization through the stormy seas of pro-life activism in the medical sphere.
Outgoing national co-ordinator Mary Lynn McPherson had sounded the alarm in 2009, warning that Canadian Nurses for Life faced extinction if new leadership was not forthcoming to relieve her after many years at the helm.
The organization had evolved out of the consolidation in the 1990s of numerous local pro-life nurses’ associations that began forming in western Canada initially. These local groups melded into one national entity that was spearheaded by the chapter in Ottawa.
Over the years, the quest to win conscience protection for nurses had been a key component of the organization’s work, along with making submissions to governments, appearing before parliamentary committees and giving pro-life nurses a place where they could network with others of like mind and receive moral support.
That noble work risked being lost, with its resulting damage to the pro-life cause, before Renee Schmitz and Theresa Zettel stepped forward and picked up the torch. The former is overseeing western Canada and the latter central and eastern Canada.
“Through the National Campus Life Network, we heard about Nurses for Life,” said the B.C.-based Schmitz. “We responded, Theresa and I, and a few other nurses, including a friend out here in B.C.”
“Once I heard from Mary Lynn that they needed someone, it was something I felt I could do something about,” added Zettel, who lives and works in Hamilton. “We were thinking about it, praying about it and talking about it with different people … We connected and it just seemed right. We both seemed to have the same mindset right from the beginning. It’s been good working with Renee.”
The pair said they have focused on several areas in their early days of leadership, including establishing a website, e-mail address and newsletter, promoting awareness of their organization’s existence, incorporation, writing a constitution and bylaws, establishing an executive and board of directors and, of course, working for the ever-present goal of conscience protection.
“Our focus for now won’t be so much on lobbying the government as on promoting awareness,” said Zettel. “Hopefully, we’ll motivate nurses to advocate (for their rights) and lobby the government.”
“Networking is number one,” said Schmitz. “We need to recruit nurses and increase dialogue among nurses on these issues … We want people to share testimonies and stories that are related to the life issues, then we can find out what are the needs and how we can learn from each other.”
The organization, which now has a treasurer, is especially soliciting lawyers who would be willing to join its board of directors, as well as physicians and nurses. It has been partnering with Canadian Physicians for Life in some areas, particularly with regard to incorporation and other technical matters involved in running a national organization.
Schmitz was born and raised in Edmonton, in a family in which pro-life values were instilled, and became active in the pro-life cause after joining Birthright. Moving to B.C. in 2006 to work on a neurology ward, she came face-to-face with euthanasia issues and, two years later, became active in the National Campus Life Network.
Zettel had always been involved in the pro-life cause, right from a very young age, attending the March for Life in Ottawa annually and becoming involved with her campus pro-life club. She now works in a hematology ward.
“There is a bit of (ethical) conflict in every area you work in,” said Zettel. “Even in hematology, there are certain situations I don’t want to be a part of … The culture is permeated with this mentality of ‘pro-choice,’ which ends up meaning the culture of death, really.”
“There are still a lot of nurses who are pro-life,” Zettel added. “And I think there are a lot of doctors who do not want to perform abortions. It’s not something that many doctors want to do. But I think our culture is becoming more and more numb to these things.”
Schmitz recounted a case in B.C. where a social worker lost her job because she refused to refer a client to an abortion site. She was eventually vindicated, but only after a half-decade of effort.
The pair paid tribute to McPherson, both for leading Canadian Nurses for Life for so many years and for her assistance to the new leadership.
“We know we can learn a lot from her, because she’s been doing it for years,” said Schmitz.
“She’s given us advice as to where she thinks we should head,” said Zettel. “She’s definitely shared a lot of resources.”
Zettel said a key goal is to establish a yearly conference for nurses and nursing students, at which they can be educated about current pro-life issues.
To find out more about Canadian Nurses for Life, join its membership, receive its newsletter, serve on the executive or board of directors or to keep up-to-date on life issues affecting nurses, access the website at www.canadiannursesforlife.ca, send an e-mail to email@example.com or write it care of Hamilton Right to Life, 166 Bay St. N., Hamilton, Ont, L8R 2P7.
“We’re looking for more people to be involved in general to help spread awareness and share resources,” said Zettel. “We’re looking to fill a couple of more positions on the executive … we’d be glad to have them join us.”