Tuesday, September 3, 2013

Another commentary on ‘Gifford-Jones’ and his column of August 25, 2013.

This blog post seemed timely, considering what I wrote earlier and given that there are closed and controlled hearings on medically provided death in Quebec taking place next week.  I wanted to put it out there before the story was forgotten.  It is the second piece on ‘Gifford-Jones’ I have put up recently.  Link to the other article right here.


Everything in this script is the direct writing from the article.

Everything in this script is my own commentary.




‘W. Gifford-Jones’ (a pseudonym – real name Ken Walker) starts his August 31, 2013, Saturday Toronto Sun column by saying


I recently applauded the province of Quebec which is attempting to legalize assisted death.  There is no better example of what’s wrong with the Charter of Freedoms when it does not allow freedom from pain on the death bed.  I did not ask for reader response, but received a ton of it.

It would help if Walker had referenced his article and when.  Then when he invokes the Charter of Freedoms, he assumes that we have an inherent ‘right to die’, when in fact, current medical experience and practice tells us that death will be imposed.  As well, invoking the charter shows that there will be charter challenges, suggesting that Walker knows more than he is letting on.  Freedom from pain on the death bed assumes that people dying are all dying in pain, and that current pain management, techniques and care are completely inadequate to relief of pain, and this is inaccurate and self-serving, considering his position.

From WP “I enjoy your column in the Kelowna Courier and I couldn’t agree more on assisted suicide.  I’m a volunteer counsellor at a hospice.  The problem is that families will not let go even though the patient is ready for the big trip.  I have seen them rescind “do not resuscitate” and have to remind them that this decision is not about them, but the wishes of the patient.”

The writer is a volunteer counsellor, but it reads as if this person is the only one who is involved in decision making and helping patients.  For families to rescind DNR orders in hospice tells me that there is more context to this story than we are being told.  I can hardly see a scenario where an entire care team would allow a family to rescind a DNR order, especially in the context of hospice.  The use of the phrase ‘the big trip’ is a euphemism, and it seems to me that someone in hospice would be more comfortable using the word death, and hopefully more compassionate.

From Medicine Hat: “Thank you, oh thank you. As a veterinarian I watched in horror the last days of my dying Mother.  She was for assisted death, but we could do nothing because of our country’s religious rule of government.  But if it had been a dog, cat or cow I would have to euthanize because it is the law!”


We have partial sourcing on this person, but it is interesting that this person, a veterinarian, holds an idea exactly in lockstep with Walker’s’ earlier column: “My committee would include my wife, children and my physician.  But I’d also add a veterinarian to apply the same logic he or she applies to end the life of a beloved dog in pain.”   (“Dying with dignity: Seeking freedom from pain on the death bed should be a right for us all`, W. Gifford-Jones, Toronto Sun, August 3, 2013, p. 27)  The person’s Mother is portrayed as an indirect victim because those who cared about her, that is, wanted her dead, did not have the ability to ‘do anything’.  Yet, again, the vet equates the suffering of an animal with that of a human, which ends up minimizing suffering of the animal and dehumanizing the person.  The implication of the last statement is that there should be a law requiring euthanasia for humans, because there is one requiring euthanasia for animals.

A reader from the Victoria Times Colonist says “My thanks for bringing this issue forward, a courageous act and a rare public statement by a physician.  Probably you will be attacked by enemies you didn’t know you had.”


Walker allows this comment to go ahead, even though there are articles with increasing frequency in the papers.  This issue is always forward, it’s just that we are speaking and writing of it more and more.  This is also hardly a rare public statement, especially when there is a campaign going on in Quebec, and this suggests that either the letter-writer or the columnist aren’t paying attention to current events.  Attacked by enemies suggests that this is a combat, and it also insinuates that we are going to have a battle for this – and those who are against euthanasia – for whatever unstated reason – are hate-filled and violent by implication.  The choice of this word also shows that Walker is being made a victim before the fact.  And it hardly takes courage to sit behind a keyboard and write unsupported opinion pieces.


But not everyone sends roses.  From Toronto, “The good doctor is skipping a step.  What we need is more palliative care centers to allow quality of life at the end of life.  He forgets that pain can be managed.”

In this extract, it is interesting that Walker would equate someone calling for more palliative care and introducing the real-world issues of effective pain management with the enemies in the preceding paragraph.  So people who are for better palliative care and pain management are automatically enemies because they are against euthanasia?  In addition, Walker doesn’t talk about effective pain management in his earlier article either, but the reality of this writer’s point is glossed over.  So opponents are critics and are automatically marginalized.


Another replied, “You tend to ignore the abuses in Holland, Belgian [sic] and elsewhere.  Please open your mind and investigate before you write.  People in Holland carry cards asking not to be killed when taken to a hospital.”  [Nonsensical sentence redacted out here – seems like a computer glitch or editorial oversight]


He didn’t tend to ignore the abuses in Holland, he did ignore the abuses in Holland, Belgium and elsewhere.  I also agree that there would have been a better way of presenting these ideas, and showing the drawbacks would be good.  However, real-world problems would intrude on the ideal type of the good death where control is everything.  And it is true that there are people who carry anti-euthanasia cards.

From Ottawa: “I despair at what you have written.  People must die like Christ did on the cross.”

This response is vague and plays to Walker’s hands when he argues in his earlier piece that those who oppose him on religious grounds, so this red herring statement is simply the columnists’ way of creating a self-fulfilling prophecy.  Anyone who says that people must die like Christ did on the cross doesn’t know their theology very well, and it also is a nonsensical statement on the face of it.  So why include it here?  Simply to support Walker’s thesis that opponents will be irrational and religious.  As ‘Gifford-Jones’ says, `The critics of assisted death invariably use asinine reasons for denouncing it.`(August 3, 2013, same previous cited article)


GS writes from Winnipeg, “What about those who suffer from unbearable non-terminal illness?  We should be focusing on the degree of suffering a person is willing to live with.  I’ve been tormented by depression and anxiety for over 20 years.  If we live in a compassionate society I should be allowed to end my life by assisted suicide rather than resorting to do-it-yourself methods that may end in more suffering if botched,”

This is an interesting inclusion, because those who are for euthanasia are insistent that the offer of death is only for those who are terminally ill.  Those who are not immediately dying or who cannot ask for it will not be able to get death for something non-terminal – although the Quebec Bill includes psychological suffering as a criterion for accepting a death request.  Again, it is interesting to think that suffering – not defined here – is used as a springboard so someone asking for death when they are not dying.  This person specifically says that they have depression and anxiety and that they want to end their life on that basis.  This tells me that, given Walker does not engage or refute this request for death in the face of ‘interminable psychological suffering’ showing that he is not against this extension of euthanasia by inference – possibly betraying the push for death for all by such proponents.

From Thunder Bay: “I hope your article generates a ground swell of like-minded opinion.  At night my 96 year old Mother moans and cries to be released from this life.  The doctor is unable to relieve her great discomfort.  We would not allow a loved pet to suffer this way nor should my Mother have to endure such a long parting from this world.”


Why is this woman’s doctor or care team unable to relieve discomfort, and what sort of discomfort are we reading about here?  We do not know but are expected to sympathize with the writer’s position.  It is interesting that the word mother is capitalized again: Mother, not mother.  And why is this mother asking for death?  It seems as if this is a case of inadequate care rather than a need for euthanasia.  Once more, we see that suffering animals are elevated in quality and suffering humans are demoted in their significance of suffering.  I would suggest that in this case, we are seeing either inadequate support or care –hardly reasons to call for death.


VS says, “As a former nurse I have seen patients die in inhumane ways.  For those who argue we are playing God, we already do it by replacing umpteen body parts.”


Seeing people dying in inhumane ways did not lead this nurse to advocate for better care, but ask for death.  It is odd that this person should then equate the provision of death through the argument that we are playing God already through organ transplants.  This second sentence is a non sequitur.  It is also out of context here.

From L K in Niagara Falls, “Several years ago my 90 year old Mother was dying and in severe pain.  The doctors started a morphine drip and and asked if we wanted to keep increasing the dose.  We agreed, and she finally died peacefully.  Keep up the good work.”


Again, why is this person in severe pain in the first place?  This suggests inadequate pain relief and control.  I also find it interesting that doctors are complicit in increasing morphine to suppress the respiratory system and eventually shut this person’s system down.  Keep increasing the dose suggests that it was intended that death was the outcome here, not the object of pain relief.  That itself is the movable goalposts I have written of elsewhere, and again, this equates increased pain medication with a peaceful death.  It`s one thing to have side-effects as a response to pain control; it`s another to take advantage of what the medication will do to bring about a different result.  And where were the ethics boards in all this?

An e-mail from JM says, “Debating bigots is a waste of time.  Russel Ogden tried debating Margaret Sommerville.[sic]  She simply tweeted past and present students and filled the room with cronies.   Poor Russel was toast before he had a chance to talk.”

People who are against euthanasia, or who might have a different viewpoint or opinion on the issue are by statement here bigots by definition.  This is exactly the same sort of hyperbole that we saw in the abortion debates: enemies were bigots and could therefore safely be discounted on that basis alone, regardless of the validity of their points or concerns.  In addition to call Somerville’s opponent poor and toast lowers the tone of the discussion, and attempts to create sympathy without debate or consideration.  There is no evidence given that Somerville did tweet to her supporters, and given that we do not know when this debate happened, we have no independent way of verifying this claim on the face of it.  The question of whether poor Russell tweeted to his followers and called his cronies was not raised.


Some readers severely criticized me for not recognizing the Beatitudes taught by Christ and the laws given to Moses by God.

Given that we do not know exactly what these severe critics wrote and what their words were.  Again the opponents, and by implication there are many of them, are shown as religious, which plays to Walker’s preconceived idea of all opponents as religious and by extension irrational, which means that irrational religious opponents don’t have to be taken seriously or considered at all; and when death is the issue, ignoring someone who might have very valid and cogent arguments which would change the tone and direction of this very serious debate.

But for the most part readers were pleased to see that Quebec was taking a stance on this controversial issue an hoped that other provinces would do so.  The final tally showed that about 70 percent agreed with assisted death, but other dead set against it.

This is inaccurate: we don’t know how many readers were for or against, or indeed if these were readers writing at all.  For the most part we can’t independently verify what this columnist has written, and it would be nice to be able to do so on either side.  It is also implied that Quebec was taking the right stance on this issue: for doctor provided death and not against.  This also ignores the fact that not everyone feels the same way as Walker.  It is interesting that his statistic: 70%.  Where did this come from?  Who did the study?  What was the number of people in the study and what was their background and affiliation?  We don’t and won’t know, because that might make the columnist, and therefore his arguments vulnerable.  The fact that Walker is not publicly supporting his position with any coherence and detail suggests that his position is so weak that it cannot withstand public scrutiny, as I wrote elsewhere.

Woody Allen once remarked, “I’m not afraid of dying.  I just don’t want to be there when it happens.”  Unfortunately we have to be there and, at the moment, accept what fate has to offer.  Assisted death will not happen tomorrow.


Assisted death will not happen tomorrow, and it is hoped that mature and social people will oppose this disturbing trend of those calling for medically provided death, and those who are imposing it on the vulnerable.  To say that unfortunately we have to be there when death happens ignores the skill, technique and methods that we have for relieving pain on both physical and yes, (sorry Walker) spiritual levels which make up the human condition.  This also ignores the incredible dedication and professionalism of those who look after the sick and dying and downplays their efforts and commitment to care.  To ignore reality and ridicule and marginalize opponents in this situation suggests that those who refuse medically provided death will be treated in the exact same way.  We have already seen how the disabled are being marginalized in Quebec before the ‘debates’ on Bill 52; I am sure Walker applauds such a rational decision to silence the irrational disabled opponents of this proposed bill before the fact as a prudent and humane thing to do.  After all, to have opposition to a secret position that might impact the weakest and most vulnerable isn’t very rational and illustrates that those who are planning to impose medically provided death aren’t doing their due diligence – something we can expect to happen if Bill 52 is passed.
So this opinion piece holds serious flaws and shows that there are large holes and ideological biases in the pseudo-arguments put forth by Walker in this most recent article.  And I still haven’t had a reply to the email that I sent to him, and I don’t expect to get one.  After all, the columnist might have to admit a mistake or change his mind.  And that’s not a rational thing to do when your emotions tell you you’re right.

Two final, general observations:
1. Those who seem to agree with Walker are quoted in detail, which tells me that the doctor is showing his bias, and trying to set the terms of the argument his way for later.

2. The doctor quotes from sources on those materials that support his view, and that is a problem: why not allow the same idea for those who do not support? 

3. The real world problems are still not addressed here.


[SOURCE: “Article creating a stir: readers respond about assisted death.” Toronto Sun, August 31, 2013, p. 35, by W Gifford-Jones aka Ken Walker]

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