Any pro-lifer who has had to represent the movement in public knows only too well how frustrating it can be. Often a perfectly sound statement has been edited and placed out of context to appear harsh or even ridiculous.
There is also a double standard to handle. Pro-life writers or spokespeople are well aware that anything written or said will be scrutinized for the slightest flaw. We all learn to back up our statements carefully so that the facts cannot be attacked. Our opponents, of course, have no such scruples: they frequently get away with the most ridiculous allegations.
I have spent the last ten years or so researching and writing about pro-life issues. It irritates me enormously to pick up what could be a valuable book, only to find a sloppy, completely unfactual, dismissal of the pro-life movement. Such is the case with Uncommon Will, a biography of Sue Rodriguez by Lisa Hobbs Birnie.
Uncommon Will, as I wrote in last month’s issue, gives us a valuable insight into why Sue Rodriguez wanted to legalize assisted suicide. Hobbs Birnie spent much time with Sue discussing her life and illness. She talked to her friends and family, and to the pro-euthanasia people who supported Sue’s legal battle. Unfortunately, she did not bother to do even the most cursory fact checking in a short reference to Campaign Life Coalition.
Here is what Hobbs Birnie wrote:
“In late November, Sue’s videotaped appeal (for legalized euthanasia) was played before the Ottawa parliamentary committee studying the Criminal Code. Sue’s plea was immediately opposed in a brief presented by two pro-life activists, Cheryl Eckstein of the Surrey B.C. based Compassionate Healthcare Network, and Toronto-based Campaign Life Coalition director, Sabina McLuhan. Eckstein and McLuhan grossly distorted the issue by arguing that there was a connection between the legal exemption Rodriguez sought for herself and Nazi death camps. Whatever validity their stand against euthanasia might have, it was totally undermined when McLuhan played a tape of a Nazi propaganda film that justified euthanasia, and pointed out that this mind-set had resulted in mass, government-sanctioned killings.”
Here are the facts:
Campaign Life Coalition’s appointment in Ottawa had been set up months earlier. We had no idea that a presentation before ours by the Right to Die Society, would include testimony by Sue Rodriguez on video tape. Our brief (which I presented on behalf of CLC in my position as a researcher—I have never been a director of the organization) discussed the Criminal Code and did not refer to the Rodriguez case at all. During the question period that followed, MPs asked for comments on the Rodriguez court challenge in terms of Criminal Code changes. Mrs. Eckstein presented her own brief on behalf of her organization, also opposing changes to the Criminal Code to legalize euthanasia.
I made absolutely no reference to Nazi death camps. Mrs. Eckstein showed a CBC-produced documentary that clearly showed how the pro-euthanasia philosophy promoted by German academics and medical professionals earlier this century was adopted by the Nazis and ultimately led to the mass killing of Jews and others.
All of this can be verified easily. A complete record of every single word spoken in parliamentary committee hearings is transcribed and published by the government in Hansard. Anyone reading the transcript would not portray the presentation in the way Hobbs Birnie does.
Discussion of the pro-life side in the euthanasia debate was not a large part of the author’s mandate, and I am not in any way suggesting she should have spent more time on it. But the distorted way in which pro-life presentations were portrayed makes, for those who know the truth, the accuracy of the rest of the book suspect.
For other readers, one more distorted portrayal of pro-lifers will be swallowed hook, line and sinker.