CMAJ: Line between acts and omissions blurred, euthanasia critics argue

CMAJ: Line between acts and omissions blurred, euthanasia critics argue.


The Collective Memory Project

This fall we were lucky enough to have The Collective Memory project on display at Enterprise Square in Edmonton, Alberta. The show was the product of Living Archives on Eugenics in Western Canada’s 2011 intern program, with Anne Pasek operating as curator. The display was described as,

Part art exhibition, part grassroots organizing, the project attempts to bring together academics, activists, artists and community members in acts of remembrance for a history in danger of fading from view. It is by rooting our perspectives in a memory of the past that we sill become better equipped to foresee the challenges of the future. Drawing from Rob WIlson’s definition of collective memory as a cognitive metaphor that crystallizes agency, The Collective Memory Project seeks to engage its public in an exercise of memory as a political act.

The display looked to explore themes of institutionalization, remembrance, and affect, whether in the feeling of alienation and judgment or the emotional pain associated with disability and cognitively different children. Unfortunately the show ends today, but you can check out photos of some of the artwork taken during the launch in October.

End of life report of Royal Society of Canada Expert Panel

Here a few quotes related to us

“We discussed in considerable detail the arguments against assisted suicide. The evidence does
not support claims that decriminalizing voluntary euthanasia and assisted suicide poses a threat
to vulnerable people, or that decriminalization will lead us down a slippery slope from assisted
suicide and voluntary euthanasia to non-voluntary or involuntary euthanasia. “

Also note their definitions. It makes the proposal goes far beyond what is legal in Oregon and Washington eliminating terminal as a boundary

““Voluntary Euthanasia” is an act undertaken by one person to kill another person whose
life is no longer worth living to them in accordance with the wishes of that person.”
“End of life can be understood as a continuum of events starting with the diagnosis of one or more
serious illnesses or injury”

“The Panel recommends against using “terminal illness” as a prerequisite for requesting
assistance. The term is too vague and would leave the statute or policy open to a Charter
challenge. There is no precise science to providing a prognosis of a terminal illness in terms  specific length of time. Health care providers cannot be accurate enough, and if the statute or
policy does not include a time restriction then the condition “terminal illness” becomes too
broad. For example, a person with Guillain-Barré syndrome will die from her disease, but lives
in the average three years after diagnosis. Further, if the term “terminal illness” is made a
necessary condition in the statute, then it would be under-inclusive; there are many individuals
whose lives are no longer worth living to them who have not been diagnosed with a terminal
illness. They may be suffering greatly and permanently, but are not imminently dying. There is
no principled basis for excluding them from assisted suicide or voluntary euthanasia”


Leilani Muir interview on The Current

For those that missed it, Leilani Muir was interviewed last week on CBC’s The Current about her experiences in Red Deer’s Provincial Training Centre and her forced sterilization. You can listen to the interview here. CBC gives the following preview:

She was little girl unloved and unsuspecting when her parents drove her up the hill in Red Deer Alberta. It was a moment that would forever change Leilani Muir’s life, abandoned to people zealously experimenting with eugenics. What they would do to her would result in anguish and eventually lawsuits . Today, Leilani Muir, now in her 60s is ready to tell her story.

A followup to the interview in the form of listener responses and an interview with Heather Pringle, Canadian non-fiction author and journalist, can be found here. Listener responses include the stories of those who worked at the Provincial Training Centre. Another listener questions who, precisely, should be blamed for Leilani’s treatment, arguing that Leilani’s mother is ultimately the one most responsible.

Here we go again… population panic and the blame game

Last month the United Nations announced that we’ve arrived at a human population of more than 7 billion people, sounding a call for alarm to provide targeted reproductive services for the 215 women worldwide that do not have access to reproductive services, according the UN Population Fund.

 Population panic is not new. In the early 19th century, Anglican clergyman Thomas Malthus claimed that the dangers of population growth would put human civilization in jeopardy. Malthus did not support keeping the poor alive through charitable means and protested the Poor Laws of the time, which provided food aid and support for poor citizens and set the groundwork for the modern welfare state. Despite the fact that Malthusian population theory was proven to be erroneous- his work has been tremendously influential, most importantly, in evolutionary biology. In 1968, Paul Ehrlich’s bestselling book ‘The Population Bomb’ once again raised alarmist, doomsday predictions about the danger of population growth causing crises of apocalyptic proportions.  His predictions were also inaccurate.

 There is no question that we are facing a wide range of environmental and financial crises and far too many women lack access and choice in reproductive medicine. However, in the face of doomsday fears of scarcity, targeted population control of specific groups based on class, medical status, race and other social determinants has been a troubling historical trend. The question is not ‘if’ population is a problem; but ‘who’ gets targeted in population control programs.  Since the 1920s, targeted and eugenic population control in marginalized populations has been present across North and South America, Australia, the Middle East and Europe.  Anecdotally, we can estimate it to be happening, or have happened all over the world. This past summer at the 9th Annual Conference in Ethics in Development in Pennsylvania, a medical researcher from Nigeria approached me following presentation of my paper on sterilization in the Americas, to say that forced sterilization surgery in tribal communities in South and Western Africa has been happening for many years and went on to describe a personal account. Belief that these incidents of reproductive abuse represent collateral damage in the more pressing fight for contraception access has cloaked the deeper Malthusian ideology that lives who cannot provide for themselves are ‘fertility liabilities’.

 The Reuters humanitarian news service, Alertnet, recently quoted Parvinder Singh, of ActionAid India on the relationship between fears of scarcity and population: “the issue of population cannot be seen divorced from the aspect of resource or energy footprint,” However, Singh continued to note that: “the largest drain continues to be in the West which have traditionally consumed, and continue to, massive volumes of resources because of a life-style and purchasing power that far exceeds that of so-called high population poorer countries.” Research has demonstrated that raising quality of life for women and their families leads to a drop in fertility- so much so that the world’s richest countries are fearing a further ‘drop’ in their national populations. The recent US recession has created a record low in fertility, leading to fears that there will be ‘not enough’ children born to sustain the national economy. So, not enough of one group- but too many of another? On what basis are these determinations made? On relative value to the economy?

 If we are to make progress against this historical trend of using population panic to make authoritarian determinations over which lives have value for reproduction, we have to own up to the pervasive Malthusian ideology that views fertility in the developed world as a valuable resource and developing world fertility as a global liability