Death

  • What does post-Carter Canada look like?

    The Supreme Court of Canada ruled in Carter vs. Canada that euthanasia and assisted suicide needed to be decriminalized in some circumstances. The Liberal government responded to this decision by introducing Bill C-14, which put some guidelines aroun...

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  • Palliative Care: Time for a Compassionate Approach

    Palliative Care is commonly but mistakenly understood as medical care provided when death is imminent. A broader understanding of this care as including social, psychosocial, and spiritual dimensions most often delivered outside of the health system needs to be cultivated. The reality has not matched the rhetoric in providing palliative care.

    A February 2015 Nanos Poll of Canadian public opinion suggested that 73% of Canadians were concerned that they will not receive the comfort and support they would hope to receive if they or a loved one was facing a life threatening illness and nearing death...

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  • A Deadly Form of Normal

    Or there soon might be, the executive director of the B.C. Civil Liberties Association told a joint Senate-Commons committee this week. The committee is studying legislative responses to replace the Criminal Code prohibition on helping someone end his or her life. The B.C. Civil Liberties Association led in the battle to have the old law struck down. Not surprisingly, BCCLA representatives argued in front of the joint committee that any new law should be as minimalist as possible. By no means, executive director Josh Patterson contended, should there even be a requirement for a second medical opinion when a patient asks a doctor to end life prematurely.

    Euthanasia? Assisted suicide? There’s an app for that.

    Or there soon might be, the executive director of the B.C. Civil Liberties Association told a joint Senate-Commons committee this week. The committee is studying legislative responses to replace ...

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  • Quebec thumbs its nose at Supreme Court

    Even minus the inspiration of Trudeau père in spiritus, however, Canadians who care at all about our constitutional democracy, and about the rule of law, should be deeply alarmed by what was done to push forward physician assisted suicide in this country. Whatever side of the assisted suicide debate you might be on, the abuse of process that occurred has foundational implications for our continuity as a Confederation as envisaged by the British North America Act and by the Constitution Act of 1982.

    An early surprise of 2016 has to be the failure of Pierre Elliott Trudeau's ghost to streak across the sky ululating at the damage done last week to his beloved Canadian constitution.

    Even minus the inspiration of Trudeau père in spiritus, how...

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  • Immune to Embarrassment

    Stunning, indeed preposterous, as those words might seem to someone freshly arrived to the issue, the truly appalling part is that they come as no surprise at all to those of us who’ve been around it for a while.

    The federal government has yet to introduce medical suicide legislation and already we are witnessing the next convulsion in the culture of death. It’s in the form of the debate, newly arisen this week, over whether 12-year-olds should be euthanized in secr...

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  • Taking Care of Our Own

    Why? One narrative—the dominant one—is that we don’t get what we want because our universal healthcare system has failed to properly provide for the influx of greying baby-boomers. The system has failed to create new and better programs and to financially prop up natural caregivers with better Compassionate Care benefits—though the recent federal budget’s allowance is a step in the right direction. And there is truth to this narrative: Better end-of-life care will likely mean we need to have more robust institutions and better systemic strategies.

    This past month, Cardus entered into the discussion about end-of-life care in Canada. One of the striking things in many of the reports is that a lot of Canadians want to be taken care of by their own—tha...

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  • NDP Landslide a Family Story

    In the wildest of dreams, I could not have imagined a day when Notley’s daughter Rachel would bury the most dominant dynasty in Canadian political history.

    On an October day three decades ago, I watched, aboard a plane taxiing for takeoff at Edmonton’s Municipal Airport, as the body of then-NDP leader Grant Notley was off-loaded from another aircraft.

    In the wildest of dreams, I could not have imagined ...

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  • Looking at the End of Life Differently

    At the release of the report in Ottawa, I sat down with Cardus executive vice president Ray Pennings, researcher Nik Nanos, and Dr. José Pereira of Pallium Canada to discuss this serious issue.

    Views on how and when medical measures to extend life should be taken may differ widely in Canada, but we can all agree that our systems around end-of-life care could be impro...

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  • A Confused Sense of Urgency

    Both Opposition leader based their call for immediate action on there being only eight to 10 weeks of sitting days left before the Commons rises for its summer break. Making matters even more urgent, they insisted, is the certainty of a fall election, which will prevent Parliament being around to pass anything.

    At least two aspects gave the doctor-delivered-death issue an air of surprise in the House of Commons this week.

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  • A Truly Bizarre Lapse

    The Court's decision to invalidate the existing law against assisted suicide opens the door for a powerful political response from Parliament. That is potentially good because Parliament has voted six times since 1993 to reject legalization of assisted suicide or euthanasia. One of the government of Canada's arguments before the Supreme Court was that Parliament has spoken on the issue. The Court's response was that it wants Parliament to speak again. This time, It wants Parliament to answer with a new law that at least allows doctors to assist in the suicide of those suffering from "grievous and irremediable medical conditions" such that failing to help them commit suicide would deprive them of the Charter's sec. 7 rights to life, liberty and security of the person. Gerry Chipeur, who represented the Christian Legal Fellowship as an intervenor before the Court, said the language used in the judgement lends itself to the tightest possible interpretation, and the crafting of a law that makes assisted suicide available in only the most extreme cases. "It could justify a law which would apply only to people who can't use their hands," Chipeur told Cardus following Friday's judgement. "As a constitutional lawyer, based on the language of this judgement, I'd say it's possible to write a law so tight that there might be 12 people in Canada who would qualify." Chipeur said the 12 months granted by the Court to Parliament for the writing of the new law could actually be a godsend for individuals and groups who oppose assisted suicide. It gives them time to focus, mobilize, and lobby for the most restrictive language possible—and also gives them a clear benchmark for the absolute minimum allowable under the Charter. Given that Justice Minister Peter MacKay said outside the Commons that the Harper government will take its time crafting any new legislation, vital opponents of assisted suicide can start working now to come up with rigorous language of their own to recommend to MPs who will be drafting and voting on the bill, Chipeur said.   The Court took full notice of conscience rights in the decision. A major good is the decision's clear, strong language that goes a long way, on paper at least, toward protecting those who would refuse to participate in doctor-assisted suicide for reasons of conscience or religious belief. "In our view, nothing in (the decision) would compel physicians to provide assistance in dying. The (decision) simply renders the criminal prohibition invalid." Indeed, the Court noted it was asked by the Canadian Medical Association to direct Parliament to build conscience protection into any new law. It declined to give that direction, saying "what follows (the decision) is in the hands of physicians' colleges, Parliament and the provincial legislatures." Again, that gives those concerned with conscience rights full field to press at the political level for guarantees in any new legislation. The CMA itself has said it considers that providing doctor-assisted suicide is an individual decision. Only a minority of its members say they would participate in an assisted suicide. Conscience protection combined with a scarcity of practitioners and an extremely high qualifying standard to receive the "treatment" could render the number of assisted suicides in Canada negligible.   The Court has slammed the door on provinces using health care—and any provincial jurisdictional claim—as a pretext to circumvent the federal Criminal Code. The third potential good may seem like a consolation prize, and a highly technical one at that. But it has significant and immediate implications for Quebec's Bill 52, which legalized doctor-assisted death in the province a year before the Supreme Court's decision and in defiance of Canadian criminal law. During the Court hearing, Quebec argued that its share of jurisdiction over health care gives it the power to legalize assisted suicide regardless of any laws that Canada has on the federal books. It was the second time Quebec has tried to advance the same argument in a Supreme Court case under the pretext of a constitutional principle called interjurisdictional immunity. The nine justices reminded the province quite sharply that it had already been told once the claim is a non-starter. It doesn't mean Quebec's Bill 52 is automatically invalid. It does mean it may have to be re-written to conform to the stringencies of any new federal law. It also means that in terms of federal criminal law at least, Parliamentary supremacy still has some clout.   There will be some form of assisted suicide available in Canada within the next 13 months. That is obviously a bad thing if you believe that the State should be in the business of protecting human life until the natural end of life. It's bad if you believe assisted suicide to be a polysyllabic euphemism for killing. It's bad if you believe that Canada's publicly-funded health care system is no place for the deliberate killing of human beings. The composite worst of all three bad things was the logic by which nine justices of the Supreme Court of Canada accepted that a) the State must limit its protection of human life, b) that killing is acceptable with the right provisos, and c) that the health care system is a perfectly acceptable place for such killing to take place. In essence, the justices agreed that assisted suicide is legitimate because it allows the person to die later than he or she might have otherwise. People with progressive illnesses might feel such despair at what they perceive as their fate that they will take their own lives Tuesday absent the possibility of an appointment to have someone else kill them Wednesday. The logic is equivalent to saying that hangings should always take place in the evening lest the victim hangs himself in the morning and lose 12 sweet hours of life. As a bald proposition it could easily be dismissed as the fever dream of a lunatic. But it's not. It now has the imprimatur of the supremely intelligent, highly accomplished, all-but-omnipotent nine justices of Canada's highest court. No matter how many Canadians are ultimately killed through assisted suicide, something fundamental died on Friday, February 6, 2015. It was legal reasoning tempered by reality.   It's entirely possible assisted suicides will take place in the absence of any law. This is the ugly prospect that few seem to fully recognize in the aftermath of the decision. It stems from the media-fed mistake that the Supreme Court decision struck down a law against doctor-assisted suicide. It didn't. As the Court itself said, it "simply render(ed) the criminal prohibition invalid." And the existing criminal prohibition says nothing about physician assisted suicide. It says that "everyone"—and that is critical to keep in mind—who aids or abets a person to commit suicide is guilty of an indictable offence. Everyone. Doctors, yes, but also butchers, bakers, and candlestick makers. The judgement directs Parliament to find a way to carve out an exemption for doctors. In a truly bizarre lapse, it never actually makes the case for why doctors particularly should be the ones to assist in suicides. After all, killing is antithetical to medical care. And the reality is, most general practitioners in this country receive far less training in ending life than veterinarians do. So, the folks who know less about induced dying than the person who gives Fluffy the Cat the final needle are now to be put in charge of grandma's lethal dose? It does give pause. But even with proper training and specialization, why doctors? Why not husbands, wives, and public hangmen? The Court does not say. And that is truly frightening because it compounds its counter-intuitive assumption about doctors with a truly perilous assumption that Parliament will certainly pass a law and enact a regulatory regime in the next year. The experience of abortion in this country shows the assumption to be fraught with terrible disregard for history and political reality. Doctors perform abortions in this country today largely because there was a medical regime governing abortion in place prior to the Supreme Court striking down Canada's abortion law in 1988. Subsequently, we have been at an utter political impasse over any way to regulate abortion. The last attempt, under a Progressive Conservative majority government, died on a tie vote in a deeply divided Parliament. We are, as many have noted, literally lawless on abortion, and have been for 27 years. There is no existing medical regime for assisted suicide. If Parliament fails to enact a new law within a year, we won't have doctor assisted suicide. We won't have a law governing assisted suicide. If recent history is a guide, we genuinely risk never having one. Enter the butcher and the public hangman. Enter the barbarians. That makes this decision, potentially at least, one of the ugliest moments in Canadian history.  

    Terrible as the Supreme Court's judgement on doctor-assisted suicide will be for many overall, there are at least three good potential outcomes to it. Of course, there are also at least two things—one bad, one very ugly—that could come of it as well.

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  • In Memory of Jack

    In his last years, I really only knew him through the blog he and his loved ones kept as he journeyed down the lonely, terrifying road of ALS. Of course, his stories show much more than loneliness and fear. There was also a lot of hope and love and a resilient courage under it all. . . . . . . . . .

    I’m not going to say I was close to him because, really, I wasn’t. After he left the school I only saw him a handful of times at various community events. He would be a bit weaker each time. First it was a slight tremor of the hands, then a general wobbling...

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  • Building for the World's Last Night

    It seems these days that we North Americans are obsessed with that question at the back of our imaginations: Just what will the end of things be like? Will the lights go out and we freeze? Will it be fire? A flood? Does the world continue on as one large tangle of untended wilderness? Will we be blindsided by an asteroid or a pandemic? Will we self-destruct through atomic weaponry or by slowly poisoning our food supply? It's morbid, sure, but it's hard not to let your mind wander there occasionally. 

    One reason I love science fiction is because of its ability to ask "what if?" questions and propel us—at rocket speed—into projections of our unknown future. It helps us imagine life at the end of line. We might not always think about it, but the "end" of t...

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  • Canada: Back to Normal

    The consensus was that CBC did a brilliant job, which seems true but signaled something more. When our village solipsists feel free to turn the public conversation back to themselves again, you sense the world returning to its established order. There were signs that ordinary citizens who never ride the airwaves of the public broadcaster were also coming back to life as usually lived.

    Normalcy seemed to make a quick Canadian comeback last week when CBC Radio convened a media panel to discuss how well the media covered the Oct. 22 attack on Parliament Hill.

    The consensus was that CBC did a brilliant job, which seems true but signal...

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  • Canada Has Not Changed

    "That is an excellent question," he said. "I have absolutely no idea what the answer is." We were standing at the corner of Metcalfe and Albert streets in Ottawa, a few hundred metres south from where a gunman was shot dead in the Hall of Honour of Canada's Parliament and a few blocks west of the War Memorial, where Hamilton-based soldier Nathan Cirillo had just been murdered by that same gunman. Because of the location of the Liberals' weekly caucus meeting room, McKay and his colleagues were able to exit the building, unlike their Conservative and New Democrat counterparts who barricaded themselves inside rooms that flank the entrance hallway where the shooting occurred.

    Toronto Liberal MP John McKay was, at that moment, the admirable embodiment of the honest politicians who lead us.

    "That is an excellent question," he said. "I have absolutely no idea what the answer is."

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  • The Core of the Euthanasia Clash

    While the so-called Carter case was argued on the merits of discovering in the Canadian constitution a right to what might be called concierge service suicide, the heart of the discussion was really the balance of power between the courts and Canada's Parliament. All constitutional cases, by their nature, engage that balance in differing ways, particularly when they involve the sections of the Charter of Rights dealing with security of the person and equality rights. Yet Wednesday's forensic test match on euthanasia touched a tipping point that may have been brushed against only 26 years ago in the Morgentaler case on abortion; perhaps not even then. One is the steadfastness with which the government of Stephen Harper has insisted it will not re-open legislative debate on legalizing euthanasia or assisted suicide. The government insists Parliament has amply declared itself on the issue by voting repeatedly, emphatically and across party lines to keep the current laws on the books. Indeed, MP Francine Lalonde's last attempt was voted down 228-59 before it could even pass second reading in the House of Commons.

    This week's Supreme Court hearing on euthanasia was about life and death, of course, but it is equally about a powerful clash of institutions.

    While the so-called Carter case was argued on the merits of discovering in the Canadian constitution a righ...

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  • Becoming Like Gods

    Feenan's point was that the rise of these Nietzschean supermen (ubermenschen) are using social media—and, well, guns—to extend their will-to-power. In a way, the superman or, literally translated, "over man" Nietzsche foretold was meant to be a source of optimism for a world where God was dead. Nietzsche's hope, delivered by his prophetic persona, Zarathustra, was that we could become like so many gods. No God was no reason to despair, it was a cause to rejoice, and embrace the this-ness of life in all its fullness. His vision, as Calvin would have noticed (and Dostoevsky did), might not have properly accounted for the heart's affinity for deceit. Could any man or woman really handle the godlike powers Nietzsche wanted them to grab hold of?

    In a recent piece at The American Scene, Matt Feenan was one among many trying to make sense of another senseless shooting that left another community reeling in its wake. Canadians haven't been immune from this either, as the recent tragedy in Moncton so s...

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  • PQ Lite

    The Parti Quebecois under Pauline Marois was roundly condemned for a bill purportedly legalizing euthanasia and for the so-called secular charter. It was assumed that when the Marois government was defeated in March, the new Liberal government would bury these controversial bills. But no, not at all.

    I could not be more disappointed with the Quebec Liberal Party. What political party wins an election and then adopts all the previous government's most offensive policies?

    The Parti Quebecois under Pauline Marois was roundly condemned for a bill pur...

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  • Birds Do It

    In the nest, two chicks have hatched, and the robin spends her days as a kind of avian FedEx courier bringing worms and grubs and dropping them into tiny beaks that never seem to close with satiety. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .

    Outside our back door there is a tree and in the overlap of its coniferous branches is a small, obscured, protected space where a robin has built a nest.

    In the nest, two chicks have hatched, and the robin spends her days as a kind of avian FedEx cou...

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  • The Public Square Must Be Controlled

    Last year, I overcame my nature-and-nurture revulsion toward the Trudeau name.  Setting aside my reflexive loathing of Pierre Elliott Trudeau as a prime minister, I praised his son—despite the many sins of the father—for his immediate and pointed rejection of Quebec's odious Charter of Values.

    Dismiss this if you like as the churlishness of a Westerner who has lived many years in Quebec, but Justin Trudeau reminds me of a one-eyed inebriate playing whack-a-mole. On the rare occasions when he scores a clean hit, he celebrates by thumping himself i...

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  • Tribute to Jim Flaherty

    I am sad today. I am thinking of Jim's three young boys (men in their early twenties) who no longer have their father at their side to give them courage and to pass on wisdom and to love them. I am thinking of Christine and the boys three months from now when the undercurrent of grief will tempt despondency, meaninglessness, and anger to knock at the door.

    (Re: Jim Flaherty, 64, dies at Ottawa home one month after resigning as finance minister)

    I am sad t...

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  • March Madness: Rooting for the Underdog

    Doug Sikkema writes on how the anticipation of spring, Easter, and March Madness all tell us a little bit about who we are by kindling, albeit subtly, some of our most basic desires.

    March is a month of anticipation. We await the end of winter with the arrival of spring, the end of Lent with the arrival of Easter, and the end of a sport's drought with the arrival of NCAA's March Madn...

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  • World Down Syndrome Day: Who Are the Least of These?

    Unhappy with all the flattery, the king and queen devised another test. They disguised themselves as peasants and, leaving the castle through a back door, proceeded through their Kingdom once again. Invisible to almost all, they were not greeted or offered anything to eat or drink, until they returned to the young peasant girl’s home where they were once again received graciously.

    The King will reply, “Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.” -Matthew 25:40

    When I was young, our family had this ragged, blue hardcover collect...

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  • Abundant Hope for The Walking Dead

    At first blush, it looks like a basic flaw in story coherence. Though set in the very near future, The Walking Dead’s inhabitants have entirely abandoned our current arguments over inequitable income distribution and our dogmatic debates over the sanctity or profanity of trickle down economics. There is, after all, precious little time for such palaver in a world where some mysterious affliction has left the living and the undead alike scratching and clawing at each other for mere sustenance.

    There appears to be an intriguing narrative gap in AMC’s brilliant zombie apocalyptic series The Walking Dead. No one, in any episode for the first three seasons at least, ever goes to Costco.

    ...

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  • Leadership Involves Loss

    Gideon Strauss, a native of South Africa, where he served as an interpreter for the country's Truth and Reconciliation Commission under Archbishop Desmond Tutu, writes on the way we remember Nelson Mandela's life.

    Editor's note: This piece was published yesterday in Fieldnotes Magazine, a publication of the Max De Pree Center for Leadership at Fuller Theological Seminary. Rep...

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