A pro-euthanasia group is using an emotionally-charged video of a terminally-ill woman to manipulate the public and Members of Parliament into changing the Criminal Code to allow euthanasia into Canada.
The meetings of the Sub-Committee of the Standing Committee on Justice and the Solicitor General on the Recodification of the General Part of the Criminal Code do not usually receive much media attention. But on November 24, the cameras and reporters were huddled in the corridors outside the committee room in the West Block on Parliament Hill.
Right to Die Society president John Hofsess had announced in advance that he would be bringing a video of Sue Rodriguez, the British Columbia woman who has been diagnosed with ALS, or Lou Gehrig’s Disease. A text of her emotionally charged address to the MPs had been released to the media the day before.
Rodriguez is asking Parliament to remove the sections from the Criminal Code which prohibit a person from “consenting to have death inflicted upon himself on herself” and from allowing a second party to “aid and abet a suicide.”
She argues that she has a right to decide the time and manner of her death but, due to the nature of her disease, she may be too paralyzed to commit suicide when she judges she no longer wishes to live. So she is asking that any doctor who assists her suicide be protected from prosecution.
John Hofsess followed the video by attacking just about anyone who might care to stand up and argue against suicide.
He attacked medical ethicist Dr. Margaret Somerville who had earlier commented on television that “There’s no such thing as a right to die. In legal theory, a right to die means that someone has a duty to kill you, and I don’t think doctors are prepared to kill their patients.”
He referred to “hidebound politicians,” pro-life activists and “grandstanding moralists,” in particular the Catholic Church.
Sue Rodriguez, according to Hofsess, has been violated. He likened her to victims of abuse at Mount Cashel in Newfoundland and Residential Schools in Ontario.
“In my view,” he said, “the Catholic Church would be better occupied cleaning out its own stables than riding on the high horse of moral rectitude, telling other people how to live and die.”
Immediately following the pro-euthanasia testimony, the committee heard a joint presentation from Campaign Life Coalition and the British Columbia based Compassionate Healthcare Network (CHN).
Sabina McLuhan, representing Campaign Life Coalition, asked the committee to retain the section of the Criminal Code which prohibits assisted suicide.
“It is not a mater of the State interfering in the personal autonomy of the individual,” Mrs. McLuhan pointed out. It is more a matter of the State refusing to sanction the involvement of a second party in the act of suicide.
“Mercy killing, assisted suicide and active euthanasia are all polite ways of disguising what is actually an ugly concept,” she told the committee. “Euthanasia is the deliberate medicalized killing of the terminally ill and vulnerable.”
Cheryl Eckstein Sr., chief executive officer of the Compassionate Healthcare Network, brought to Ottawa a transcript of a telephone conversation she had recently with Roy Slater, a B.C. resident who has lived with ALS since 1981, when he was told he had 15 months to live.
Mr. Slater lives at home where he is cared for by his wife. He now breathes with a ventilator and receives nutrition through a gastronomy tube. He proudly notes that he is gaining weight, even though he has not eaten naturally in eighteen moths.
He explained, through Mrs. Eckstein, that the symptoms of ALS can be treated and that many people live productive lives with the disease. About Sue Rodriguez, he said, “the doctor can only help her if she wants help, but he cannot help her to die.”
Cheryl Eckstein charged that John Hofsess “has helped to place Rodriguez in an emotional casket of hopelessness with this chase for her premature death.”
“We, at Compassionate Healthcare Network, along with countless others, wish for Sue Rodriguez to know that her life is of infinite value. Our wish for her is that she be surrounded with love and compassion. She deserves to be surrounded with people who will continue to affirm her value.”
CHN can be contacted through Cheryl Eckstein Senior, chief executive officer, P.O. Box 62548 – 12874 96th Ave., Surrey. B.C. V3V 7V6. Telephone: (604) 582-8687.
What is ALS?
- Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis (ALS) is also called Lou Gehrig’s Disease, after the New York Yankees’ star who also suffered from the disease.
- ALS is a fatal, rapidly progressing neuromuscular disease. It attacks the motor-neurons that carry messages to the muscles resulting in weakness and wasting in arms, legs, mouth, throat and elsewhere. While the person eventually becomes completely paralyzed, the mind remains alert and lucid.
- There is no known treatment for ALS. There is no cure.
- ALS is not a rare disease. It occurs as often as Multiple Sclerosis; six or seven people per 100,000 will be diagnosed with ALS. The disease affects twice as many men as women.
- The life expectancy for people with ALS averages two to three years, although many people live with ALS for twenty years or more.
- The brilliant British mathematician, Stephen Hawkins, lives with ALS.