Supposed ‘rights’ and current needs in the euthanasia debate

by Adam Giancola

Adam is in his second year of studies at the University of Toronto and an Executive member of the University of Toronto Students for Life.  He is volunteering in NCLN ‘s Head Office as our Administrative Assistant.

A recent article in the Montreal Gazette has brought my attention back to one of main focuses that needs to be addressed in the ongoing debate across Quebec over euthanasia and doctor-assisted suicide.  Time and again we find ourselves drawn only to the polemics of this debate, in which the status of those involved is often relegated to the back burner. I find myself, every now and then, having to remember that politics aside, when it comes to end-of-life issues, we are talking about human lives, and it is not enough to chant our chants and wave our signs unless we have considered the lives of those whom we are defending.

As the Quebec hearings begin to wrap up, I am forced to reflect on the goods they have provided Canadians with over these past few months. It has been, to say the least, informative having had the rare opportunity to really delve into the issue with our eyes open.  I think both sides of this debate, at bare minimum, have grown to recognize the immense difficulties that end-of-life concerns face, and it is from this premise that we begin to assess the repercussions of a prospect like legal euthanasia.

Two participating associations in the Quebec hearings have recently raised concerns about this very prospect. Both organizations have the benefit of providing an internal perspective on this issue, yet what sets them apart is recognition that the difficulties that arise from a question like euthanasia cannot simply be resolved by instating a legal sanction that pays no attention to the fundamental question at hand: quality of life.

For example, “the Association quebecoise de gerontologie, which includes more than 300 health professionals, called instead for the expansion of palliative care services to provide comfort to the terminally ill. And the Association de spina-bifida et d’hydrocephalie du Quebec argued that a debate on euthanasia is premature, given that health services for the disabled are lacking everywhere.”

While the Quebec hearings have certainly done wonders in terms of promoting discussion, what it has failed to accomplish is the fact that concern over end-of-life issues begs a further discussion on the quality and consistency of health care (particularly palliative care) that is presently accessible to Canadians. Catherine Geoffroy, president of the association of gerontologists reminds us that, only 10 per cent of Quebecers have access to palliative care at the end of their lives, and that many elderly die in nursing homes where there is little palliative care.” Furthermore, she explains, “that adequate palliative care can decrease the factors that lead a small proportion of people to demand an end to their lives… Palliative sedation, carried out in a strict medical manner, can respond to the concerns about dying in uncontrollable pain.”

Marc Picard is the president of the association that represents 9,000 people living with spina bifida and congenital hydrocephalus in Quebec. He argues that the government should “fulfil its obligations to provide basic psychological and health services to the population before talking about the possibility of legalizing euthanasia and assisted suicide.”

While most advocates of assisted suicide and euthanasia are often concerned with the enlargement of rights and the increased privatization of individual liberty, it is clear that we need to step back and think about the best ways to enlarge the health and good will of the lives that are at stake in this debate. As both Catherine Geoffroy and Marc Picard have asserted, changing a law that would give doctors the right to assist in the suicide of their patients is not only premature, but pays no attention to the actual needs of a patient.

As we look back on this unfolding drama that has for the first time in years, put the issue at the forefront of discussion, I cannot help but wonder whether this really has been the case. Ultimately what is required is a careful analysis of the needs of patients, and assisting in their deaths, simply for the sake of upholding their supposed ‘right’ does nothing to mediate the current underlying problems with Canadian healthcare. As Geoffroy herself articulates, “In a society where ageism is rampant, where the elderly are often held responsible for the difficulties in access to health care . . . how can we believe that consenting to euthanasia would be free of all societal pressures?”

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University of Toronto Students for Life: Epigenetics and the sanctity of life

This post was written for University of Toronto Students for Life by Danny Ricci. It does not necessarily represent the views of NCLN.

This past Tuesday, Dr. Clem Persaud was on the U of T campus and gave a talk regarding epigenetics and its relationship to the life issues. I will give a summary of the talk and then give a little bit of commentary.

Basically, epigenetics is a new wave of science dealing with gene expression. It is now becoming more apparent that things in our environment, such as stress, the food we eat, exercise and maybe even plants in a classroom can change the way in which our genes are expressed. These changes can affect our health and even how we act and think. Dr. Persaud gave some intriguing studies demonstrating epigenetics and its effects on gene expression (these effects can even span two or three generations!).

What does all of this have to do with the sanctity of life? Well, Dr. Persaud mentioned the abortion-breast cancer link and health defects in IVF babies. In the first case, a full-term pregnancy, according to Dr. Persaud, protects a woman from breast cancer. Inversely, an interrupted pregnancy, such as abortion, can increase the risk of breast cancer. The reason for this is that during pregnancy the woman has a high level of estrogen. Once a pregnancy is interrupted, this high level of estrogen has no where to go and can influence gene expression, potentially leading to the generation of cancer cells.

In the second example of IVF babies, Dr. Persaud mentioned that defects occur during the prepartion of the embryo before implantation into the womb. The manipulations of the embryo during the IVF process can lead to changes in gene expression, leading to birth and health defects of the IVF baby.

My commentary:

Dr. Persaud was both engaging and intriguing while discussing the topic of epigenetics. I was impressed that he could take something as complex as epigenetics and turn it into a presentation that everyone understood and enjoyed. From what Dr. Persaud discussed, epigenetics could be another avenue in science that shows how treating life as a means to an end (such as IVF and abortion) can lead to negative consequences. UTSFL thanks Dr. Persaud for a great talk!


Read the comments at the University of Toronto Students for Life website.

University of Toronto Students for Life: An evening discussing stem cells

This post was written for University of Toronto Students for Life by Danny Ricci. It does not necessarily represent the views of NCLN.

Tomorrow evening (October 19) the Toronto Right to Life Association and the University of Toronto Students for Life will be hosting Dr. Clem Persaud at Hart House. He will be discussing stem cell research and how this relates to ethics. Be sure to check it out if you can. Here is the poster:


Read the comments at the University of Toronto Students for Life website.

University of Toronto Students for Life: Working Together To Build A Culture of Life: The NCLN Campus Blogs Aggregator

This post was written for University of Toronto Students for Life by Blaise Alleyne. It does not necessarily represent the views of NCLN.

In August, I helped the National Campus Life Network launch the campus blogs section of their new website. I’ve been meaning to write about this for a while, and many pro-life students already know about it. These past couple weeks, with the arrests at Carleton, it’s been great to see it serve as a way for pro-life students to band together across campuses.

A feed aggregator is a software application that pulls in syndicated content from a variety of sources and displays it in a single convenient location. You can install a feed reader on your own computer to read content from all sorts of different blogs and websites in one place (an “inbox for the web”), but in this case, we used a web-based feed aggregator to display content from all of the Canadian campus blogs on the NCLN website.

We started off with six blogs—Brock, Alberta, Queen’s, Ottawa, Victoria and Toronto (that’s us!)—but we’ve already see two more campus pro-life blogs appear in the last few weeks—Calgary and Carlton.

The campus blogs aggregator has been a great hub of information with recent events at Carleton, with a preview of GAP from Calgary Pro-Life, our posts appearing alongside uOttawa Students for Life’s show of support, more support from Queen’s Alive, Brock University’s perspective on freedom of expression, and of course posts from Carleton Lifeline itself. I decided to caption some of the photos (which I believe were taken by Ania Biernacka of the University of Alberta on behalf of the CCBR), and Brock Students for Life showed that the students were in good company, by comparing photos of those arrests to the arrests of civil rights activists for “protesting without a permit” in 1963.

And beyond Carleton, there are just some great posts coming from campus blogs, whether it’s UVic’s recap of clubs day conversations, uOttawa spreading the word about 40 Days for Life or finding encouragement from a fortune cookie, Calgary Pro-Life sharing news of their ongoing battles with the university administration, or our own Danny Ricci spreading news from a UTSFL club member about an information series for expectant mothers provided by the U of T Family Care office, or our own Gianna Marks highlighting a remarkable article from the NY Times who refused prenatal testing to screen for Down Syndrome.

I am so impressed by pro-life students from campuses across the country, and we’re only getting started. I’m working with NCLN a bit to help get other clubs online and blogging (more on that later), and I hope that the campus blogs aggregator helps to strengthen the community ties between groups across the country, and challenge us all to keep sharing information, supporting each other and ultimately working to build a culture of life together in our own communities.

Together, in our own communities—that’s what’s so cool about this project to me.


Read the comments at the University of Toronto Students for Life website.