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First world conference on euthanasia
New, Evolving Tactics of Pro-Euthanasia Movement Highlighted at Symposium
Warning given to avoid use of pro-death language such as terms "euthanasia", "assisted suicide"
By Frank Monozlai and Steve Jalsevac
TORONTO, December 4, 2007 (LifeSiteNews.com) - This past weekend's International Symposium on Euthanasia and Assisted Suicide hosted by the Euthanasia Prevention Coalition of Canada (EPCC) hosted in Toronto, brought together over three hundred participants from around the world. By far the largest symposium of its kind ever, the event drew to Toronto key experts in the area of law, medicine, political activism and the rights of people with disabilities.
Key players in the movement spoke to the role of broad coalitions of people
who successfully halted attempts at pro-euthanasia legislation in England and
Wales, California and Vermont. Speakers from the state of Oregon and the
Netherlands spoke to the increasingly corrosive effects of legalized euthanasia
and physician assisted suicide in those jurisdictions upon the integrity of the
medical profession and the failure of safeguards to protect vulnerable people.
Disability rights leaders expressed their growing fears about the corrosive effects of a favourable attitude towards euthanasia upon their basic civil rights, as well as their particularly effective role in fending off such legislation.
Alison Davis, who runs the "No Less Human," a group for people with disabilities from the UK, gave a compelling account of her struggles to overcome her disabling condition. She emphasized that she likely would not have been speaking at the conference had the laws in the United Kingdom allowed for euthanasia or doctor assisted suicide back when she suffering from severe depression that she has since learned to overcome.
Bobby Schindler, the brother of Terri Schiavo, Henk Reitsma from the Netherlands, and Mrs Barbara Farlow, a resident of Mississauga, Ontario, shared their real life experiences of having to deal with the deaths of relatives that were hastened as a consequence of medical practices determined by current dangerous attitudes towards the elderly, disabled and terminally ill.
Several speakers covered the philosophical underpinnings that have helped to create the increasing incidence of attitudes and policies that undermining respect for human life. Prominent ethicist Dr. Margaret Somerville of McGill University covered those issues in her evening lecture and tried to offer some positive, alternative positions that could be used to support a life affirming stance within a secular and democratic society.
Consistent themes emerged from the presentations. On the one hand, the numerous failures of pro-euthanasia and physician assisted suicide legislative proposals throughout the United States and in England and Wales revealed that much opposition to the practice still exists in many parts of the world. The legislation was successfully defeated by broad coalitions of people who represented a spectrum of political opinions, both secular and religious in outlook.
However, the almost passive acceptance of such practices in places such as the Netherlands and Belgium seems to indicate that once a society accepts the legitimacy of euthanasia under a few limited conditions, the underlining change of attitude towards life eventually leads to the practice to becoming increasingly widespread, eventually threatening people who want nothing to do with it.
The pro-euthanasia, physician assisted suicide lobby has also been steadily evolving, having learned from its failures in the past and has shed itself of the cruder elements that often undermined public support. In the words of Rita Marker of the International Task Force on Euthanasia and Assisted Suicide, they have learned that "all social engineering is preceded by verbal engineering," and have thus changed their terminology accordingly.
Dr. Paul Byrne, in his talk on brain death, cautioned, as did other speakers, that the term "euthanasia" should never be used. The word is a Greek term meaning "good death" and the killings done via euthanasia are anything but a good death. Use of the term was said to give undeserved credibility and sanction to its contrary deadly results. A suggested appropriate alternative phrase was "imposed death", which more accurately describes what takes place. Instead of "euthanasia prevention", Dr. Byrne suggested the phrase "right to continue living" be used. As well, he suggested "physician assisted suicide" be should replaced with "physician imposed death".
The death lobby has also focused its efforts more in the direction of political elites, effecting stealth changes in law, the medical profession and hospital practices that often take place with little public awareness or debate. Articles supporting euthanasia and assisted suicide in prominent medical journals and the ongoing worrisome changes in hospital practices all suggest that the battle is far from over and will likely get worse before things begin to improve.
The symposium was a large undertaking, the success of which spoke highly of the professionalism of the EPCC president Alex Schadenberg and other organizers and EPC allies from around the world. The event would not have been possible without the sponsorship and support of the Archdiocese of Toronto, and concluded with a Mass presided over by the Archbishop Thomas Collins for those attendees who were Catholic.
Wesley Smith in Toronto
This article is a pretty good
summary of the presentation I made at the international anti-euthanasia
conference in Toronto last
week. (Kudos to Alex Schadenberg, head of the Canada-based Euthanasia Prevention
Coalition, for spearheading such a successful and
important get together. Many leaders in the movement to maintain ethical
medicine internationally, disability rights activists, religious leaders,
medical professionals, etc., were in attendance, and more than 300 people turned
out to hear the presenters.)
I was asked to speak about "future concerns." My presentation was divided into two parts. First, I pointed out that the promotion of assisted suicide had moved from the "crackpot" approach (suicide machines, focus on methods of "deliverance," etc.) into the elitist "professional mode" in which very well off and very well-tailored advocates pitch their poison to other similarly very well off and very well-tailored leaders in the media, professional organizations, etc., who think like them, act like them, speak like them, etc. Here's how the story described that part of the speech:
Gone are the many cruder elements of the movement such as the antics of Dr Kevorkian or the promotion of "exit bags" that on a number of occasions garnered strong public reactions against pro-euthanasia proposals just prior to key plebiscites or votes by legislators. Instead, the movement has shifted focus away from trying to change public opinion towards that of influencing political leadership in the areas of law, politics and professional medical associations. The key players in the movement today are professional, upper middle class people who are very influential in changing the opinions of important players who in the words of Smith "happen to look, think and act like them." They are particularly adept at modifying the language surrounding physician assisted suicide to make it more palatable and change the framework within which it is debated.
The bulk of my
speech was about futile care theory, which I perceive as the first cousin of
assisted suicide. Assisted suicide/euthanasia holds that some people's lives are
so miserable and undignified that if they want to kill themselves, society
should permit doctors (or others) to facilitate suicide. Futile care theory
holds that some people's lives are so miserable and undignified that even if
they want to have their lives sustained, doctors and ethics committees can say
no. This would seem to be paradoxical. It is, if the issue is "choice." But that
isn't the real issue, that is the facade. The real agenda is getting certain
Here is how the story covered that aspect of the speech:
...[H]uman lives are increasingly being measured by a combination of factors such as the quality of life (as determined by others), the costs of treatment and their value to society. This naturally leads to the development of "Futile Care Theory" which moves the argument from the right of people to choose death to that of promoting the death of people who fail to meet the standards of the "Personhood Theory" approach to measuring the quality of life. Smith summarized it with the line, "we want to put other people out of our misery."
On another point: I was impressed with the speech of Canadian disability rights activists Catherine Frazee. She told the audience that there are two general veins of opposition to assisted suicide; political and spiritual, with people in each camp disagreeing with each other on other issues. She suggested that the best way to work together would be to develop a philosophical approach that would include all and permit people to also pursue other agendas when not working against assisted suicide. Well stated, I think.
Labels: Toronto Anti-Assisted Suicide International Convention
More on this http://www.theinterim.com/2008/jan/06worldconference.html
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