Few Canadians have been more widely revered for a lifetime of benevolent accomplishments than Dr. L.L. (Barrie) deVeber, professor emeritus in Paediatrics and Oncology at Western University. So who, exactly, is this exemplary intellectual and physician — some kind of saint?
Well, not quite. Just ask his younger brother George. In Barrie: The Memoirs of Dr. L.L. deVeber as told to S. M. Schaeken, deVeber recalls that, as a boy, “I was so jealous of George, it was terrible. We used to fight all the time.”
To curb the mayhem, deVeber’s father bought the young boys boxing gloves and taught them to fight by the Marquis of Queensbury rules. It was a skill that came in handy when deVeber later met Willy, a “terrible bully,” in the final round of a high-school boxing tournament. “I was afraid that he was going to kill me,” states deVeber, who nonetheless outboxed Willy and managed to hold him at bay until Willy got angry and resorted to a headbutt.
Suddenly, the scene turned ugly. deVeber relates: “Up to that point I had just been toying with him. I slugged him as hard as I could. He fell down on his face. And then I jumped on him and grabbed him by the hair and started banging his face into the canvas. Boom, boom. I got thrown out of the fight.
“My dad was just mortified. I got disqualified for ungentlemanly behaviour, to put it mildly.”
deVeber candidly recalls in his memoirs several other youthful misdeeds culminating in his decision as a young husband and father to stop practising his religion altogether. However, he retained just enough faith to check himself into a Cisterician monastery in Winnipeg for a weekend of soul searching that resulted in a profound and lasting conversion experience.
What a blessing that was for deVeber and countless others who have benefitted from his extraordinary benevolence. As a convinced Christian, he went on to become one of the foremost pro-life physicians in the country.
While deVeber’s secular critics are apt to dismiss his pro-life convictions as an irrational emanation of the Catholic faith, deVeber stoutly insists that there is no inherent conflict between reason and Christian faith. In speaking to church groups about how to promote respect for the sanctity of human life, he habitually urges: “Don’t use religion as an argument.”
deVeber knows from personal experience that in dealing with purely rational people who predominate in this increasingly faithless age, it is much more effective to rely on reason alone as a means of enabling them to grasp the truth that abortion always constitutes a grave moral disorder, since it is the deliberate killing of an innocent human being.
Of course, reason without faith cannot always succeed. As a founding member and president of Alliance for Life in 1975, deVeber presented prime minister Pierre Trudeau with a petition signed by one million people opposed to the legalization of abortion. Trudeau acknowledged that he was aware of deVeber’s pioneering, life-saving treatment of unborn children, but asked: “What do you do if a mother is mentally unbalanced and is going to produce a child who might be possibly abused or not wanted?”
With impeccable logic, deVeber replied: “That’s not the baby’s fault. You treat the mother, but you don’t kill the child.”
Alas, Trudeau, despite his powerful intellect, failed utterly to grasp this elementary truth. Reason without revelation is all-too-prone to corruption.
In the course of his long and distinguished career as a medical professor and director of Paediatric Oncology at the Children’s Hospital of Western Ontario, deVeber did not just treat a host of patients and publish numerous scientific papers. He also somehow found time to found several more major benevolent organizations including the Euthanasia Prevention Coalition, the Sunshine Foundation, Camp Trillium for the families of children with cancer, and the Human Life Research Institute, an organization renamed in his honour in 1996 as the deVeber Institute for Bioethics and Social Research.
Now, in his 85th year, deVeber has finally been persuaded to dictate his autobiography. The result, Barrie: The Memoirs of L.L. de Veber, is an inspirational book suffused with Irish charm that is strongly recommended for aspiring young physicians and all others who are determined, come what may, to affirm the sanctity of human life from conception to natural death.