Tuesday, March 4, 2014

Ken Walker is at it again.

Blog Post: another refutation of ‘W. Gifford-Jones’ article, "My number is 18924"

Ken Walker – aka ‘Gifford-Jones’ is at it again.  I wrote earlier about how he was for assisted suicide and pointed out some shortcomings to his arguments.   Ken Walker's earlier piece and my analysis on it in 2013 can be found by clicking on the link.  It is the most viewed piece in my blog, by the way.  In his earlier article, he described the howling protests from religious people about his own modest proposal.  Which is his way of contrasting the presumably ‘rational’ decision to kill oneself (or the rational decision to kill someone else) when life is no longer worthy of life with the irrational arguments against this decision and action.

People who disagree with him simply don’t count.  Which is why it should be worrisome: if you were his patient and disagreed with his diagnosis for death, and he decided you should be dead, who would ultimately win?  Okay, maybe that’s a tad unfair; after all, he would insist that he would never kill someone who didn’t want it.  There are options, after all: like starving someone while smothering them with sedatives.  It gets the job done.  In a few days or weeks.

Which is why I opposed and parsed out his article at great length and in some detail.  His views deserved a full public airing and response; at least that way, if the text of the article is there, the claim cannot be made that I mis-underestimated him and what he wrote.  I propose to do the same in the following, so I apologize for the possible length of the post in advance.

On Saturday March 1, 2014, Doc Jones…errr, Walker, had a column in the Toronto Sun entitled, ‘My number is 18924’ [Toronto Sun, Saturday March 1, 2014, p23]  Now that’s an interesting way of starting an article arguing for the humanity of killing oneself or someone else.  To turn oneself into an anonymous number at the outset; have we seen people get numbered in the same way against their will in history?  Why, yes, in the Huronia graveyard.  So right at the outset, he has dehumanized himself.

Then Walker (I shall not use his pseudonym) writes, as his first sentence: ‘Why am I mad as hell?’  That is the very first sentence in his column.  Look it up for yourself if you don’t believe me.  Now that is an interesting way to start the article, considering that in the earlier piece I analysed, he said his opponents would be howling about his position.  He is doing what he accuses his opponents of doing, and that before anything else gets said.  Then he promotes Dignitas, a Swiss organization that is, depending on whom you speak with, either outlawed or barely legal in that nation.  He is client number 18924.  I don’t know how many other clients this organization has, but that’s his number.  He writes, ‘This week I finally joined Dignitas, the Swiss organization that allows freedom of choice in death.’…’I hope I don’t get a chance to use it soon – or ever.  But if I develop a debilitating illness, Dignitas will be available.’  [first paragraph, into the second]  Good for him.  Why tell us, if it’s a private decision?  And just what debilitating illness is he considering?  We don’t know.

Walker then says, ‘Many share my view.’  He doesn’t say how many, but probably there are around 18,000 others.  No word on any others, so that is what we have to work with.  Considering that euthanasia enthusiasts consider self-destruction and destruction of the terminal other to be a rational decision, it is curious that Walker says,

‘Let’s first get mad as hell at gutless politicians, such as any prime minister who claims our Charter of Rights and Freedoms protects us all from injustice, yet denies freedom from the agony of terminal cancer pain, Lou Gherig’s disease and other degenerative diseases.’

Hang on a moment there, Ken.  Mad as hell tells us we are reacting emotionally, not rationally.  So which is it, are you espousing a rational or purely emotional response?  It would help your readers to know.  Next, gutless politicians?  So the gutless way is to deny people death when the issue is not you being free to kill yourself, which you can do (suicide is no longer a crime in Canada) but rather being able to kill the useless other?  I presume that’s where he’s going with this.  What does that say about those gutless people who are disabled and ill and do not want death?  Are they cowards for living?  Finally, agony of terminal cancer pain.  Interesting, because if you know of someone in pain in hospital, it is incumbent upon you to demand better pain management: if a patient is not being looked after, is that unethical, or what?  And lastly, other degenerative diseases.  Hmm.  What counts as a degenerative disease is not mentioned here.

I am diabetic.  Does that count?  If I am in too much suffering, and you see me, would you kill me, Ken?  or what about arthritis: that’s a degenerative disease.  What about my spouse who has an undisclosed chronic illness, caused by mis-diagnosis?  You’d kill her because she needs lifelong medical support now and that is constant suffering?  On Monday, Madi Vanstone, her mother and her classmates went in person to Queen’s Park to petition Premiere Kathleen Wynne for funding for the CF drug which has reduced Madi’s symptoms to zero over thirty days.  Premiere mom said, no she doesn’t need it.  which is what the premiere is saying all along to this twelve year old.  So Ken, is Kathleen Wynne gutless or admired by you for taking a stand against these expensive diseases?

We have already veered off his highway of good intentions into the swamp of what-if’s.

Recall how I pointed out that Walker said his opponents were howling against him in the earlier blog post.  Remember how he said he was mad as hell?  That was his rational viewpoint?  He then says,
‘then let’s get mad as hell at those who constantly oppose assisted death to anyone, for asinine reasons.  The ones who claim they have a superior moral code to the rest of us.  Or insist that assisted death leads to the slippery slope theory of the elderly being arbitrarily removed from society for financial reasons.’

Hmm.  Mad as hell at those who constantly oppose assisted death to anyone…  Well, we have to constantly oppose assisted death because assisted death is constantly in our faces.  Remember, doc, I had a hell of an experience with pain control in September 2012, and I have to wonder that the denial of care wasn’t deliberate; the hospital saw me as a secondary patient and didn’t want to deal with me.  So what happens if your ideal of assisted suicide comes up and the same thing happens to me?  Would I have something slipped into my I.V.?

Then he writes, ‘…for asinine reasons.’  Wonder what those asinine reasons are?  He doesn’t say, because he doesn’t deal with the critics head-on.  If he did that he would have to defend his position rationally, and he’s not equipped to do that.  So anyone who has perfectly good reasons for such opposition is asinine?  As a blanket statement?  I think that is called abusing your opposition.  Then he writes ‘The ones who claim they have a superior moral code to the rest of us.’

Who are these ones? The ones who oppose his view.  So he is arguing that his moral code – that the dying and disabled deserve to be killed – is superior to any ethical orientation which says that life should not be ended.  It’s a cute way of positioning himself – and by extension those who agree with him – as victims without having to debate anything about his position with a critical view.  That would show he actually valued other opinions, but no.

Then he writes, ‘or insist that assisted death leads to the slippery slope theory of the elderly being arbitrarily removed from society for financial reasons.’  This is a non sequitur.  It has nothing to do with his argument, because there is no rhetorical way he got to this point from what he wrote before.  He is being emotional in his writing about something that is supposed to be rational.

As for the ‘slippery slope’ I call it incremental extensions.  Or mobile goalposts.  You see, in Quebec, their Bill 52 euthanasia bill has already been called not wide enough, by the Quebec association of Social Workers: in excluding teens and minors, it goes against the human rights of that group.  That was said in September/October before the bill even becomes law.  As well, Walker ignores the recent development in Belgium: that they have ‘legalized’ euthanasia to minors in that country.  He has not addressed the 45 people who died by euthanasia because of the ‘degenerative disease’ of mental illness.

So he is a Johnny-come-lately on his own information.  He is, rhetorically speaking, passe.

Now, to continue with the theme of madness: Walker then writes,  ‘I have no problem with those who, for religious, moral or ethical reasons, are opposed to assisted death.’  This little piece of hyperbole is then negated in his next statement: ‘They have my blessing to suffer the agonies of painful death as long as they like.’  So what, you would allow your Christian patients to suffer to prove a point that you have a superior position?  You would choose to with-hold pain management, as happened to me in September 2012, on the grounds that it was some, what, object lesson in the superiority of your position?

The take-away is that there is no negotiable ground for Walker (Griffith-Jones).  He sees it as good care equals death, and anyone who disagrees is a monster.  That there is effective pain management, or that the CMA is opposed to this; or that disabled people who are caught in his net of death might have something to say, or that there are already alternatives to severe pain and supports for those who are dying – is completely ignored in favour of his socially psychotic position.

My rebuttal?  He is free to kill himself, either in Canada or Switzerland, if he likes.  That he has enough privilege and money to join Dignitas should be indication enough of his view, but it is too bad that he inflicts that view on the rest of us who, for reasons other than emotionalism or ‘religion’ in his view, oppose him on our own reasonable and experienced ground.
Furthermore, Walker’s emotionalism might not be an indicator of a rational viewpoint, regardless of how he wants to frame his vocal opinion.  He had just sarcastically said he had no problem with ‘religious’ opponents of assisted suicide being free to suffer agonies in death as that was their choice.  This sarcastic viewpoint ignores the stellar work of those in palliative care and hospice who disagree with ‘Dr Jones.’

So his tone is not only sarcastic to those who have perfectly good and rational historical reasons for ignoring his views, he is now abusing his opposition a priori. (That means before the fact, Ken).  So Walker (Jones) says in his next paragraph that ‘They (his opponents) have no inborn right to say the rest of us are morally corrupt in deciding this is senseless torture.’  Actually, they do.  In a democracy, people have a right to oppose views which might be discriminatory.  And we certainly have a right to debate and have our views heard and respected.  At the end of the day, there are silenced voices in Gifford-Jones’ piece.

The writer then says that ’35 years ago’  Wait, we went from being in the present in his column to the year 1979.  How did we get there from here?  No need to answer that question.  Gifford-Jones then riffs for three paragraphs on the legalization of heroin for pain control and how he apparently single-handedly brought it to Canada.  Or the UK, it’s really not clear in his column.  The point I am making is this: his view on pain management ca. 1979 is either morphine or heroin.

The idea that there are advances in pain management from 1979 to now is not discussed.  That is a telling omission, because it tells me that his views on pain management are 35 years old.  I am certain there are practicing pain management specialists who would refute his argument far more professionally and easily than do I at present.  Think of this, however: when he thinks of people in pain, he is thinking only of those pain techniques that are 35 years old.  He has not discussed current pain management techniques, nor will he: it would weaken his argument that people are (unethically) dying in pain and need to be killed.

Gifford-Jones then says, ‘So why am I complaining?  There should be an even playing field.  Terminal pain and the choice to end one’s life when circumstances warrant it should be available to anyone…’
Should be available to anyone.  Notice there is no age limiter on this statement: that includes infants, who cannot ask or act.  He has betrayed his view that others who are helpless should be killed.  Presumably the anyone there, in the heat of his emotional diatribe, includes infants and youth.  This accords with the QASW mentioned earlier, and in this way, he is typical: abuse the opposition, cry injustice, ignore history and get what you want, and then cry for more.

The rest of that quote reads, ‘…available to anyone who can’t afford to purchase a one-way plane ticket to Switzerland, or does not wish to die in another country.’  This begs a question of my own: why, if ‘Gifford-Jones’ position is so morally superior, does he not get tickets for those who wish to die and take them to Switzerland himself?  Wouldn’t a good test of the law and his resolve be to make himself a political martyr to the cause?  Actually, the answer to this question is in his article: ‘An editor once told me it’s the job of a journalist to make people think.  But he could have added that proposals like this are also dangerous to write in a column.’  Very true, but remember, it is also the job of a journalist to write articles that sell papers.  Notice, it’s not the job of a journalist in this formulation to be balanced, fair or tell the truth.

And ‘Gifford-Jones’ is assuming that he along with his readership wants to think.  Given that he has not once shown the opposing view to his opinion, it is clear that he himself doesn’t want to think.  If he was journalistically honest, he would look at the arguments against and ethically, honestly, accept the respectful position of those ‘opponents’, religious or not.  The question is, what if he’s wrong?  What if his position is not correct?  What then?  Who takes responsibility?  ‘Gifford-Jones?’ nope.

So we have seen that his column is simply rhetoric and shrill calls for personal autonomy.  Hardly anything new.  The problem is that he is one-sided and vapidly critical of any opposition to his viewpoint.  That itself should be worrisome: what if one of his patients doesn’t want to die and he thinks otherwise?  He could justify killing in this article alone.  Which, of course, was his whole aim form the outset.

However, there is a gap in his article.  Those silenced voices.  What of people who are patients who do not wish to be killed?  Or who fall into his net and will be killed?  Those patients who have lived arguments against his imposed viewpoint are silent.  The historical abuses of this action are also silent: look up Tiergartenstrasse 4 if you don’t believe me.  Or the residential schools in Canada.  Or the Huronia schools.  Or disability hate crime.  ‘Gifford-Jones’ piece is disability hate crime: it incites an angry hatred against those who are excluded from his piece: the disabled themselves who find that they are marginalized, as I have been, for the only reason that they are disabled.

We will never hear those voices: they have already been silenced.  And they have been silenced once more in ‘Gifford-Jones’ column.  In his world view, which is a self-admittedly angry one, the disabled and dying simply don’t count unless they agree with him that there is life unworthy of life.  And given that we are living in a time when children are being killed for the crime of being disabled, and given that the Quebecois government tried to silence opponents of their Bill 52, and given that the federal Liberal party has just endorsed euthanasia and physician assisted suicide, and given that Premiere Wynne has said no to a cured twelve year old girl who needs help paying for her lifesaving medication, can we afford to silence ‘Gifford-Jones’’ critics?

He is banking on the idea that he has followers who will agree with him.  He is also banking on the idea that his opponents will be shrill, vocal and as religious as he is not; and that they will be as equally emotional about this issue as he is: remember, he said he was ‘mad as hell.’  Mad…as in insane or angry?  We don’t know, and he won’t say.

So his article is long on hyperbole and supposed rhetoric, but he does not allow his critics a free view.  This is probably because he doesn’t have much of a leg to stand on.  As well, he ignores the real world and its actual problems in addition to abusing and ignoring his supposed opposition.  So he is simply typical of those who want what they want because they think we are better off with it.    Except, in choosing to ignore the real concerns of real people, he has chosen to promote a fantasy from his mind, and fantasy is no way to create good policy.  Just ask Madi Vanstone and her mom and her classmates.


  1. I certainly don't want to be kept alive by artificial means if I am in pain and there's no quality of life. But assisted suicide is a whole other box of worms. How do you know the person is "of sound mind" Pain can make you crazy. If it's your child or your parent, brother, sister, or friend, what gives you the right...unless you have it in writing from them "if so and so thinks my life is no longer worth living I give them permission to end it."

    No governmental agency has the right to end a life just because of a disability or illness...just because they're costing some agency money. Who knows...they're could be a cure for MS, Diabetes, MD, Autism or even cancer next week, I'm not going to bet against it.

    All I know is that my living will says if I don't have a quality of life and there's no medical reason to hope I'll live with any quality to keep me comfortable with painkillers, and pallative care. Don't withhold water or even a meager amount of food, but let me go as comfortably as possible with no medical or human intervention. God knows when He wants me home.

    1. The problem with your position, Donna, is that any 'agreement' in principle with the idea of letting someone go will lead to the ending of your life. Look up POLST on the web and you'll see. I remember reading recently where patients in the US are required to sign a DNR order before they get any treatment. No DNR = No treatment. The default position is death now, not treatment. The problem is that there is nothing stopping a doctor or nurse from doing you in, and the 'cause' can be covered up. I myself was denied care as an attempt to get me to 'snap' so I could be removed from the hospital. I have had this practice confirmed by a professor of nursing - I think it is a way to avoid responsibility toward 'problem' patients - patients defined as a problem. And I wasn't dying and i was denied pain care! Just a few points...


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