Interim Staff

On Jan. 28, 78-year-old Marcel Tremblay of Kanata, Ont., committed suicide to gain national attention for his cause of changing current Canadian law concerning assisted suicide. Tremblay drew the media attention to emphasize that his act would be illegal if he needed assistance to carry it out.

The media falsely asserted that Tremblay was terminally ill. Tremblay was not terminally ill, but had a chronic lung condition. Dr. Harvey Chochinov, a psychiatrist at the University of Manitoba, a leading expert on end-of-life issues, said in an interview with the CanWest News Service: “This man needed looking after. This man needed care. Tremblay was one of the growing number of Canadians who may not be battling a terminal illness, but whose untreated symptoms leave them feeling hopeless, abandoned and suicidal.”

Euthanasia Prevention Coalition executive director Alex Schadenberg considers the media to be partially responsible for the actions of Tremblay. The media promoted the ordeal, publicizing everything they could about the tragic situation and giving Tremblay the attention he sought.

The Canadian reaction to Tremblay’s suicide was mixed. Ottawa radio station CFRA had an online poll that found 63 per cent of respondents believing Tremblay should not have been allowed to commit suicide. Online polls are not scientific, but approximately 2,000 votes were recorded in this poll.

Media across Canada used the Tremblay incident to open up the debate concerning assisted suicide and to promote a pro-death bias. The media compared Tremblay’s act to other highly publicized assisted suicide cases in the recent past.

Ruth von Fuchs, a leader of the Right to Die Society of Canada, stated that her movement wants unrestricted access to assisted suicide. She said this when debating the EPC’s Schadenberg on the Roy Green radio show in Hamilton. Von Fuch’s comment was in response to Schadenberg’s statement that strict guidelines to control assisted suicide would not work, because they would be struck down by courts basing their decisions on the equality provision in the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms.

The media are encouraging debate on this issue. In an event taped for CBC radio, Svend Robinson, former member of parliament and a euthanasia campaigner, debated Catherine Frazee, the former chair of the Ontario Human Rights Commission and a disability activist.

Robinson, who is writing a book about euthanasia, asserted that the question is: should people suffer in uncontrollable pain until death, or should Canadians be granted a compassionate death by legalized assisted suicide? The Euthanasia Prevention Coalition believes the answer is to give people proper pain and symptom management, not aid or abet them to kill themselves.

There is further concern that federal Justice Minister Irwin Cotler may be setting up a committee to examine the issue of euthanasia and assisted suicide. On TVO’s More to Life program, Dr. Robert Buckman, oncologist and a leader of the Humanist Association of Canada, stated he had recently received a phone call from the government concerning the establishment of such a committee.

Schadenberg told The Interim Canadians need to realize they don’t have a right to suicide in Canada: “Suicide was removed from the Criminal Code in 1972, in recognition that most people who attempt suicide are experiencing depression, mental illness or breakdown and most often a suicide attempt represents a cry for help.”

He added, “The fact that there is not a recognized right to suicide means there cannot be a right to be assisted in a suicide.”

The EPC is concerned the government is preparing to open a debate on legalizing assisted suicide. The organization is currently circulating a petition demanding the government not change current assisted suicide laws, which protect vulnerable Canadians and maintain medical ethics. If you are willing to circulate the petition in your church or social group, please call the Euthanasia Prevention Coalition toll free at: 1-877-439-3348.