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The Supreme Court overturned a ban on physician-assisted suicide on Feb. 6, 2015, unanimously reversing a decision it made in 1993. (CHRIS WATTIE/REUTERS)
The Supreme Court overturned a ban on physician-assisted suicide on Feb. 6, 2015, unanimously reversing a decision it made in 1993. (CHRIS WATTIE/REUTERS)


Feb. 9: Death’s limits – and other letters to the editor Add to ...

Death’s limits

Imagine yourself a lawyer in the federal Department of Justice. You are tasked with crafting the legislation to allow for physician-assisted suicide for competent people who consent to death, and who have a grievous and irremediable medical condition that causes enduring and intolerable suffering.

In writing the legislation, you must find the proper words to define “grievous and irremediable medical condition,” “enduring suffering” and “intolerable.” What words would you use?

Does “irremediable medical condition” include people who, while competent, suffer from mental illness or is it strictly confined to physical illness?

Are concepts such as “grievous,” “enduring suffering” and “intolerable” to be considered on an objective or subjective standard?

While the Supreme Court should be applauded for its courage, putting words to the spirit of the decision will be a challenge.

Parliament had better get busy trying to work this out. They only have a year.

Mike Winward, lawyer, Hamilton


Rx for death

As a medical student, I am heartened to know that some of my future patients will have a more merciful option, should they choose, when facing a degenerative, crippling, agonizing death.

And as someone who watched her grandfather, a former professional football player, die of amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS) without any choice but to let the disease ravage his 6-foot-5, athletic body until the bitter end, I feel some semblance of relief.

Kelly Anne Cox, MD candidate 2017, University of Toronto


The Supreme Court’s ruling on physician-assisted suicide will not only force MPs to face the right-to-die issue, it will force doctors to do so, too. Most physicians I know are great at healing and prolonging life, experts at intubating, ventilating and creating holes in patients so they can breathe and be fed via tubes, but when death approaches, they are often nowhere to be found.

As a nurse, I have seen four patients die in front of me; it might be shocking to hear that in all the cases, a doctor was not present. Death makes doctors uncomfortable, because in their eyes there is nothing that can be done for that particular patient whose life is nearing its end. Now, they will be forced to realize that this could not be further from the truth. The process of dying is just as important as living.

Nathan Friedland, Roxboro, Que.


What a sad day when the highest court in the land adds to the burden of those who are ill and dying, and who will now be subject to pressure to die faster, lest they “inconvenience” others by hanging in too long. If the elderly were seen as “bed blockers” before, how will they be seen now that assisted suicide is an option.

Helen Thomas, Calgary


My 87-year-old father died last spring in a hospital he was admitted to for hip surgery. The surgery was successful, but he had a stress-induced heart attack which left no hope of recovery.

Our father understood he couldn’t go home and there were no palliative-care beds. So he took what little control he had and, with his family by his bed for two weeks, starved himself to death.

With this ruling by the Supreme Court, and proper safeguards in place, those of sound mind facing imminent death, like my father, could plan a dignified death with the love and support of their family. We all deserve that choice.

Dawna Freeman, Spruce Grove, Alta.


Terror’s targets

Public Safety Minister Steven Blaney says “Canadians are being targeted by jihadi terrorists simply because they hate our society and the values it represents” (Freedoms Lost – letters, Feb. 5). This is a gross distortion of the situation.

Canadian jihadis have stated explicitly that they joined the fight because Canada is participating in wars overseas against their co-religionists. When will it dawn on this government that waging war, with its inevitable death and destruction, will inspire some people to fight back?

The jihadis may hate our society, but it’s not as if this government has not given them some grounds to do so. This is not to say that their response is justifiable, only that it is understandable.

James A. Duthie, Nanimo, B.C.


Burger? Busted

Re This Driving Charge Is Difficult To Swallow (Feb. 5): Andrew Clark mocks a U.S. police officer for charging a man for eating a burger while driving, suggesting “a guy can no longer enjoy a hamburger while driving – a food that is ideally suited for consumption in an automobile.”

As a retired officer who spent a large part of 32 years enforcing traffic laws, I’d like to point out that it isn’t so much the discreet consumption of a burger behind the wheel that poses the problem for most drivers (and police officers). Rather, it is the juggling of the fries (while attempting the ubiquitous ketchup dip), manoeuvring and sipping on a soft-drink straw while steering with one’s wrist and, most disconcerting, managing the perpetual condiment drip from said burger on one’s tie/blouse while behind the wheel. It’s these behaviours that ultimately pose as serious distractions to any driver operating a moving ton of metal, at speed, on a roadway.

Mr. Clark’s jab at police officers – “this crackdown may be the result of some mysterious doughnut lobby” may be tongue-in-cheek, but having endured countless jelly-filled doughnut jokes during my career, my threshold for anyone challenging distracted driving laws while poking fun at the police has waned. Public safety is paramount, and to that end fast-food takeout should never translate into a “behind the wheel” dining experience.

Frank Kreisz, OPP staff sergeant (retired), Orillia, Ont.


Native violence

AFN National Chief Perry Bellegarde has done a great service to native people by focusing on the issue of violence by native men against native women (Aboriginal Violence – letters, Feb. 4) . While other factors are involved, the crucial one is the abuse and violence suffered by many native men in residential schools.

Through the abuse, many of them became abusers when they came out. Native people are only now becoming aware of the role played by colonialism and residential schools in their lives. The psychological effects are long-lasting and pervasive, leading to intergenerational trauma.

I am a grandmother and former resident of one of these schools. I was affected and so was my family. There is no cutoff date for this kind of trauma. It might be time for non-native people to learn of the effects of colonialism.

Elizabeth Lightning, Edmonton


Hmm …

Re A Divided Front Is Playing Into Putin’s Hand (Feb. 6): When it comes to Russian President Vladimir Putin, maybe German Chancellor Angela Merkel, French President François Hollande, and U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry are all taking the sage advice of Mae West: “Give a man a free hand and he’ll run it all over you.”

Heinz Senger, Surrey, B.C.

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