Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Compassion & Choices compiles Oregon official assisted suicide statistics

Wesley Smith has just blogged an issue that may explain why the Oregon assisted suicide statistics are being completely whitewashed.

When analyzing the Oregon yearly reports, it is clear that very little essential information is found in those reports and further to that it is also known that the Oregon government has no way of knowing that every assisted suicide death has been reported.

If the information that is reported in Smith's blog is correct, then it will confirm why the annual Oregon reports appear more like a cover-up than a report.

Smith stated:
This could be huge, because it exposes the entire charade that is the Oregon “oversight” over the act of legalized physician-assisted suicide.

Here’s the story: Recently when Scotland was considering legalizing assisted suicide–which failed in the Scottish Parliament–two Oregonians very close to the practice in their state testified by video link. One was Deborah Whiting Jaques, executive director of the Oregon Hospice Association. The other was Dr. Linda Ganzini, a professor of psychiatry and medicine at the Oregon Health and Science University, who has conducted a number of studies on the law. From the International Task Force on Euthanasia and Assisted Suicide Update story (Vol. 4 # 4, 2010), taken from the (9/7/10) transcript of the Scottish Parliament committee hearing:
When the committee asked the two women to describe Oregon’s official doctor-assisted suicide oversight and monitoring procedures, Jaques replied:

We do not have a monitoring committee approach. Physicians are responsible for reporting death with dignity to the Department of Human Services. The Compassion and Choices agency [Me: It is actually a private assisted suicide advocacy group] produces the reports, collects the data and provides them to the State of Oregon, which ensures that the data are published and made publicly available on an annual basis.

Are you kidding me? If this is true, it confirms everything opponents of assisted suicide have said about the unreliability of the Oregon statistics, the paucity of the actual oversight, and how the law should be retitled, The Compassion and Choices Empowerment Act.

Now you know why Stephen Drake of Not Dead Yet refers to C & C as conflation and con jobs rather than compassion and choices

Smith then stated that he will have more information on this soon.

Thursday, December 23, 2010

Finnish Nurse convicted of murdering five patients.

Aino Nykopp-Koski (60), a nurse, has been convicted of murdering five of her patients and attempting to murder another five patients. Nykopp-Koski was sentenced yesterday in Helsinki to life in prison.

The media reported that:
Nykopp-Koski, 60, killed the patients, aged between 70 and 91, with drugs they had not been prescribed, including sedatives and opiates.

The murders took place at various hospitals, care homes and patients' homes between 2004 and 2009, the court heard.

Media reported that the court had not been able to determine any motive for the crimes.

The Finnish media stated:
Between 2004 and 2009, Aino Nykopp medically poisoned elderly people in her care as well as one of her coworkers while working as a nurse.

The District Court published the conclusions of Nykopp’s psychiatric examination at the end of November. Psychiatrists found that she had carried out her actions fully understanding their consequences, though suffering from a sociopathic personality disorder. As such, she is criminally responsible for her actions, which had no apparent motive.

When reading the news reports about Nykopp-Koski, it reminded me of the American serial killing physician Michael Swango.

Swango had no apparent motive, but is estimated to have killed between 35 - 60 patients from 1983 - 1997.

The book "Blind Eye" that was written by James B. Stewart tells the story of Swango, a physician who received countless complaints and accusations concerning his acts of killing, but the medical establishment would turn a "Blind Eye" to the complaints of the public in favor of the good looking charming Swango, he then continued his killing spree. Even after being forced to move from a medical post, he was able to find a new position in another location.

It appears that the Finnish authorities have caught a similar predator.

The real stories of Michael Swango and Aino Nykopp-Koski should be enough to convince society that keeping euthanasia illegal is a public safety issue.

If Nykopp-Koski had been killing patients in Belgium, she would likely get away with the acts, especially now that studies have proven that 32% of all euthanasia deaths are done without explicit request or consent and nearly half of all euthanasia deaths are not reported in Belgium.

The Aquittal of Stéphan Dufour is not an assisted suicide precedent for Quebec.



Yesterday, the acquittal of Stéphan Dufour for allegedly assisting the suicide of his uncle Chantal Maltais, was unanimously upheld by three judges on the Quebec Court of Appeal.

The Quebec court of appeal judges correctly stated:
assisted suicide is a specific intent crime and the Crown had to prove the accused had the intent to cause the death of his uncle. The judges noted Dufour didn't want his uncle to die and his limited intellectual capacities prevented him from resisting to pressures from Maltais any longer.

Assisted suicide is dealt with under section 241 of the criminal code of Canada. Assisted Suicide is when one person directly and intentionally, aids, abets or counsels another person to commit suicide, whether suicide occurs or not.

Cases, such as the death of Nadia Kajouji (18) whereby William Melchert-Dinkel had admitted to intentionally counseling Kajouji, via the internet, to commit suicide are clear, whereas Dufour had limited capacity, and he did not want his uncle to die.

Some people are falsely stating that the Dufour acquittal is a sign that the assisted suicide law will not be upheld in Canada.

The Dufour acquittal should not be treated as a precedent, but rather a sign that the law is being properly upheld.

From the beginning, based on the facts of the case, the Euthanasia Prevention Coalition (EPC) questioned whether Dufour's charge of assisted suicide was appropriate.

When Dufour was found not guilty (December 12, 2008), EPC stated:
The Euthanasia Prevention Coalition is convinced that this case is not a straight forward case, that there are questions as to whether Dufour intented or had the mental capacity to intend to participate in the death of his uncle - Maltais.

We are convinced that no precedent has been set in this case. The facts would lead one to question whether there was intention to break the law or whether the harassment by Maltais and his limted mental capacity was a reasonable limit on his intention.

When, on December 30, 2008, the Crown decided to appeal the acquital of Dufour EPC stated:
The Euthanasia Prevention Coalition (EPC) reacted to the acquittal of Stephan Dufour on December 12, 2008 by challenging the comments by the euthanasia lobby that this case was a precedent setting case. EPC recognized that Dufour set-up the suicide device for Maltais, his uncle, but he did so under extreme duress and did not encourage his uncle to commit suicide. EPC also considered Dufour's diminished mental capacity as a mitigating factor, making him less capable of resisting the pressure from his uncle.

EPC welcomes the appeal, if the Crown brings new evidence into the case but without new evidence this will only be a re-trial of a questionable case.

This case did not put assisted suicide on trial but rather the defense was based on the capacity of Dufour to break the law. This cannot be a jury nullification of assisted suicide but rather a question of Dufour's mental capacity to commit the crime.

Once again EPC does not consider this case to be a precedent setting case in Canada because it is riddled with mitigating factors that make its outcome uncertain under any circumstances.

On January 5, 2009, EPC agreed with editorial in the Montreal Gazette published that stated that the Dufour acquittal was not a precedent setting case and that the people of Quebec should reject assisted suicide.
The editorial in the Montreal Gazette correctly stated:
Dufour's case is staggeringly sad. The 31-year-old mentally-handicapped man was browbeaten by his uncle, Chantal Maltais, until he agreed to rig up a contraption which Maltais used to hang himself.

Maltais, crippled by polio, was confined to a wheelchair, but evidently could, and did, end his own life. He was able to get his way by abusing his nephew for weeks until Dufour agreed to help him.

One can easily understand why the jury acquitted Dufour. How could they condemn to jail a man described by a leading psychologist as socially, intellectually and emotionally a child. Under pressure, Dufour was three times more susceptible than a normal person, the psychologist said.

In acquitting Dufour the jury was surely acting out of a desire to spare an intellectually-incapacitated young man, more than from any wish to increase legal access to assisted suicide. But Dufour should never have been tried on this charge; he should have been declared unfit for trial. If supporters of assisted suicide choose this case as a template, they're in trouble.

EPC is concerned that the Dufour case will be falsely treated as a precedent, and seen as an example the court refusing to convict someone who assists a suicide.

EPC was concerned from the outset that charging Dufour with assisted suicide was an inappropriate charge.

Whereas, we question whether Chantal Maltais was given adequate support by society, EPC believes that based on the facts of the case, that justice has been done.

Monday, December 13, 2010

Dying Well: Witnessing death enhances the lives of palliative care workers.

The Calgary Herald printed an incredible editorial yesterday. The article, Dying Well, reports on a recent study by University of Calgary Researcher Shane Sinclair, that found that caring for dying people gave greater meaning to the lives of the care-giver.

The article stated:
The idea of dying is a source of discomfort for many, but as a new study proves, death instils in its witnesses a healing wisdom which defies our habitual attempts to deny or control it.

University of Calgary researcher Shane Sinclair completed a cross-country study on the impact of death on palliative care workers and the results, recently published in the Canadian Medical Association Journal, prove how wrongheaded society's ingrained thinking about end-of-life issues remains.

Sinclair's study is based on interviews with palliative care staff from doctors and nurses to janitors and volunteers in five major Canadian cities, including Calgary.

Overwhelmingly, workers revealed that constant exposure to dying patients allowed them to see meaningful truths which vastly enhanced their own lives.

Participants spoke of learning to live in the now and of having their minds opened to the

unfathomable mysteries of existence. Many felt that being forced to confront their own mortality through their patients made them better people and more effective, compassionate caregivers. While this exposure did not relieve their own fears of death, it did teach staffers about the important things in life and how to value them.

Philosophers have known for millenniums that the frenetic concerns of this world shrivel before the unchanging face of eternity but practical experience obviously drives this home better than any treatise.

One truth which was not mentioned in Sinclair's study can easily be drawn from its findings -- how euthanasia devalues human life and the enriching experiences which form so vital a part of it.

There are no lack of proponents arguing that medically assisted suicide ought to be legalized, even though helping someone to plan their own death amounts, no matter how you spin it, to premeditated murder.

People should spend their final days with their loved ones in a safe, comforting palliative environment with dedicated medical professionals present to make sure patients near death die in a manner as pain-free and dignified as possible, when their time has come.

To do otherwise, to enable the terminally ill or weary to take their own lives with professional help is to shift the focus at the end of life purely to the grief and anguish we already associate with death.

Euthanasia robs everyone -- both the living and the dying -- of the wisdom and positive, life-affirming experiences so richly attested to in Sinclair's study.

Death is not something to be actively embraced or sought out, but this doesn't mean the subject should be shunned the way it often is.

The dying have invaluable gifts to offer the living, as the living who spend time with the dying know well.

Shane Sinclair's study was titled: Impact of Death and Dying on the personal lives and practices of palliative and hospice care professionals.

Seniors groups are calling for a National Elder Abuse report line in Australia

The Canadian government has identified elder abuse as a serious societal problem and is making significant investment into elder abuse prevention programs.

The Australian newspaper reported today in an article written by Jared Owens that Seniors groups in Australia are demanding a toll-free Elder Abuse report line.

The article reports that there have been a string of high-profile manslaughter prosecutions of carers accused of killing their bed-ridden mothers. In Queensland authorities have laid at least five charges in recent months, all were accused of neglecting elderly women in their care.

The Australian reported that: Council of the Ageing chief executive Ian Yates yesterday called for a national approach to deal with the problem of "elder abuse", which he said was likely to continue with the ageing population.

Yates stated to the Australian newspaper:
"One of the problems is that when people suspect elder abuse, they don't know who to call, what we need is a national 1-800 number."

Lillian Jeter, executive director of the Elder Abuse Prevention Association, called for mandatory reporting legislation, which would compel carers and health professionals to report any suspected abuse.

Jeter stated to the Australian:
"But the first step has to be 1-800 lines that people can call if they see something,"

Mandatory reporting currently exists only in residential care in Australia, as a result of revelations in 2006 that elderly residents of a Victorian aged care home had been sexually abused.

National Seniors chief executive Michael O'Neill told the Australian that:
every death was a tragedy but questioned the practicality of increasing oversight of carers.

"People often underestimate the demand placed on carers and the stress levels they have to deal with, particularly if they're caring for someone with a significant illness."

The issue of elder abuse is a primary concern for people who care about the vulnerable. The Euthanasia Prevention Coalition recognizes that the scourge of elder abuse within society needs to be effectively dealt with in Society.

Euthanasia would become the ultimate form of elder abuse.

Dying with Dignity Canada opens office in Vancouver BC

Dying with Dignity (DWD)Canada has hired a new executive director and opened a new office in Vancouver BC.

Wanda Morris, the former Vice-President and chair of the Fundraising committee, has now been named executive director (50% position). She will travel regularly to Toronto but also operate a part-time office from Vancouver.

At the same time DWD hopes to have their charitable status reinstated after experiencing a review of their charitable status by the Canada Revenue Agency.

The fact is that DWD has been directly involved with lobbying and encouraging their membership to lobby the government to change the Canadian assisted suicide law.

Their current newsletter is also full of direct lobbying activities for the change of Canadian law. DWD has every right to lobby the government, but charitable status, in Canada, only pertains to groups that limit their political activity to 10% of their total time or resources.

The newsletter even reports that DWD Canada made a presentation in Victoria BC with a 92 page submission to the Parliamentary Committee on Palliative and Compassionate Care.

The newsletter is also encouraging the Quebec government Dying with Dignity committee to ignore the criminal code by turning a "blind eye" to euthanasia deaths in Quebec.

It appears that DWD Canada will continue to skirt the CRA guidelines by being directly involved in political lobbying, which by the way, is part of their mandate.

Monday, December 6, 2010

Lords leaping into a euthanasia review are like a pair of turkeys reporting on Christmas

George Pitcher has written an interesting and funny letter concerning the Falconer Dying in Dignity commission in the UK which is composed of pro-euthanasia/assisted suicide members and funded by the euthanasia lobby.

Pitcher's article in the UK Telegraph is titled: Our two Lords leaping into a euthanasia review are like a pair of turkeys reporting on Christmas. Pitcher states:

I was on radio last week to argue against the two peers who have done most to introduce euthanasia legislation to the UK – Lord Falconer on BBC Radio 5 Live and Lord Joffe on BBC Radio Wiltshire.

Joffe, it seems to me, wants to replace the comprehensive (and independent) House of Lords report that accompanied his own euthanasia bills in 2005 with Falconer’s entirely bogus and just launched “Commission on Assisted Dying” (bogus because it’s simply a euthanasia campaign group in thin disguise). During the course of our radio conversation, Joffe accused me of “inventing” stories. I had just said that Holland euthanised those who could not ask for it, including new-born babies.

So I went back to the 2005 Joffe Report, which did most to blow Joffe’s bill out of the water, and there it was – Irene Keizer, a senior policy officer at the Dutch Ministry of Health, said this in evidence to the committee:
“There are some cases in which it is not careful euthanasia, but in most cases are people who are not able to make a request because they are not seen as being able to make a request – for instance, people who are suffering from a psychiatric disease or people who are in a coma. Also new born babies are not capable of making a request.”

There’s more than that, but the point here is that Lord Joffe accuses me of “inventing” evidence that was in the very House of Lords report that accompanied his own bill. Doesn’t fill you with confidence, does it?

Lord Falconer is a cannier old bird. He asked me on-air to give evidence to his “Commission”. This is schoolboy-level politics, but is nevertheless a cunning tactic. If I give evidence to his “Commission” I am granting it some credibility. If I refuse, then how can I object to its findings?

But its findings are already a done deal, of course. To recap: not only is Lord Falconer a well-known advocate of euthanasia, who has tried to introduce it into legislation in the Lords, but he is chairing the “Commission”. At the last count, nine of the 12 “Commission” members are on record as supporting some change in the law to allow some form of euthanasia in the UK (the remaining three are best described as neutral-to-wobbly, so there are no actual opponents of a change in the law here). The “Commission” is bankrolled by Sir Terry Pratchett, the novelist who believes those of infirm mind should be put to death, and sponsored by the death-on-demand lobbyists Dignity in Dying.

In what circumstances, exactly, is this bunch of euthanasia enthusiasts likely to come up with a report that says “Y’know, it turns out we were quite wrong and have changed our minds. Euthanasia is a wicked and ghastly institution and there’s no need for a change in the law.” No, it’s a bunch of like-minded people deciding that they’re right and publishing a report to “prove” it.

You’ve got to hand it to Falconer – he’s a chutzpah champion. This is the man, after all, who advised Tony Blair on the lawfulness of the Iraq war. Last week, as he launched his “Commission” he described it as “objective, dispassionate and authoritative” and even called it “independent”.

There is an alternative view and it’s this: No it isn’t. It’s like putting together a collection of turkeys to decide whether Christmas should be changed. Or asking the Belvoir Hunt whether the fox-hunting ban should be repealed. And asking Prince Charles to chair.

I know several peers have written to Lord Falconer asking him to consider his position. By parading the “Commission” as an exercise of the Lords, he is bringing it into disrepute. Since I’ve been asked to give evidence to his “Commission” I will be writing to him too. I will publish my letter here.

Saturday, December 4, 2010

Belgium euthanasia: Study finds that nearly half of all euthanasia deaths are unreported.

By Alex Schadenberg
International Chair - Euthanasia Prevention Coalition

A study on the practise of euthanasia in Belgium that was recently published in the British Medical Journal found that nearly half of all assisted deaths in the Flanders region of Belgium were not reported.


This study combined with the recent study that was published in the CMAJ in June 2010 that found that 32% of all assisted deaths in the Flanders region of Belgium were done without explicit request suggests that the Belgium euthanasia model is broken.

Recently retired Belgium professor and pro-euthanasia activist Jan Bernheim toured Quebec, telling audiences that the Belgium euthanasia law is operating without problems or abuses. When I was doing my speaking tour of Australia Bernheim had also just completed a similar speaking tour. I responded to Bernheim's comments by stating that he is intentionally misleading the public.

Jan Bernheim
The authors of the study analyzed the death certificates in the Flanders Region of Belgium. After determining that the death was related to euthanasia, the authors of the study sent a five page questionnaire to the treating physician. The physicians were guaranteed total anonymity and asked to respond to the questionnaire.

The study determined that euthanasia deaths were reported 52.8% of the time, even though reporting is a requirement of the law. The most recent study in the Netherlands indicated that the euthanasia deaths were reported 80.2% of the time.

The study indicates that the reasons for euthanasia deaths not being reported were:
  • 76.7% - the physician did not perceive their act as euthanasia.
  • 17.9% - reporting was considered an administrative burden.
  • 11.9% - the legal, due care requirements, had possibly not all been met.
  • 8.7% - euthanasia is a private matter between the physician and patient.
  • 2.3% - because of possible legal consequences.
The study determined that unreported euthanasia deaths represented a different demographic group than the reported euthanasia deaths. The study stated:
"However, in a bivariate analysis there was a significant relation between reporting euthanasia and the patient's age, with deaths of patients aged 80 years or older reported significantly less often than deaths of younger patients."
The CMAJ study found that 32% of all euthanasia deaths in Belgium were done without explicit request also indicated that these assisted deaths were rarely reported and were also more likely to be done to:
"patients 80 years or older who were mostly in a coma or had dementia."
The study concluded that this:
"fits the description of "vulnerable patient groups at risk of life-ending without request."
It is interesting that 97.7% deaths that were done by a physician were reported, whereas 41.3% of the unreported cases were done by a nurse alone, which is illegal in Belgium. 

This confirms the result of the other recent study that found that 45% of euthanasia deaths that were done by nurses were without request or consent.

This study challenges the findings from the Belgium official reports. According to the data, physicians who reported the euthanasia death were more likely to practise euthanasia carefully and in compliance with the law. Since the data indicates that only 52.8% of all euthanasia deaths were reported and since physicians admitted that in at least 2.3% of the cases the euthanasia death was not reported due to possible legal consequences and 11.9% of the cases were not reported because the legal requirements were not met, therefore it is clear that physicians are only reporting the euthanasia deaths that comply with the parameters of the law.

This study creates suspician concerning the administration of the assisted suicide laws in Oregon and Washington States.

In Washington State this study would be difficult to do because the law requires physicians to lie on the death certificate. The death, is required by law, to be listed as related to the illness the person had (ie. cancer) rather than the cause of death (assisted suicide by lethal overdose).

In Oregon and Washington state there is no mechanism to determine whether all assisted sucide deaths are reported. Similar to the Belgium reports, the official reports are based on the reported deaths only and it is unknown how many assisted deaths are not reported.

In Oregon, where the assisted suicide law has been in place since 1998, Compassion and Choices, formerly the Hemlock Society, are the "gate-keepers" of the law. Last year (2009) 57 of 59 assisted suicide deaths in Oregon were facilitated by Compassion and Choices and in 2008, 54 of 60 assisted suicide deaths were facilitated by Compassion and Choices.

When the group that lobbies to legalize assisted suicide is also the facilitators of the assisted suicide law in Oregon, it is very unlikely that they would self-report cases that fall-outside of the law or cases that do not fit the paradigm that they are promoting throughout the United States and world-wide.

This study indicates that even when legalized and regulated, that abuse and under-reporting is common. The abuse is hidden from the public by the medical practitioners who only report the deaths that are considered acceptable or legal by society.

The only way to protect vulnerable people is to prohibit euthanasia and assisted suicide and to improve the care that society offers its citizens.

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Scottish Parliament rejects MacDonald euthanasia bill

The Scottish parliament, today, stunningly defeated Margo MacDonald's End-of-Life Assistance bill, that would have legalized euthanasia in Scotland.

The bill was defeated by an astounding 85 to 16 vote, with two abstentions.

The defeat of the euthanasia bill in Scotland comes after the recent defeat of a euthanasia bill in South Australia by a vote of 12 to 9. In September, a bill that would have legalized euthanasia in Western Australia was defeated by a vote of 24 to 11. On April 21, the Canadian parliament defeated bill C-384, that would have legalized euthanasia and assisted suicide in Canada, by a vote of 228 to 59. Last January, a bill in New Hampshire that would have legalized "Oregon style" assisted suicide was defeated by a vote of 242 to 113.

One of the reasons for the success of our campaigns has been the willingness of groups who oppose the legalization of euthanasia and assisted suicide, which allows physicians to directly and intentionally cause the death of people, to work together.

Gordon Macdonald of the Care Not Killing Alliance commented on the vote:
'This is a fantastic result and a victory for the most vulnerable in our community. The detailed scrutiny and exhaustive investigation that this bill has had over many months and the sheer magnitude of its defeat should settle this issue in Scotland for a generation.

MSPs have voted overwhelmingly today to reject in principle the legalization of physician-assisted suicide and euthanasia in Scotland recognizing that such a move would seriously endanger public safety. They have instead sent a ringing endorsement to making the very best palliative care widely available and accessible.

The key argument that decided this vote and the similar votes in the House of Lords in 2006 and 2009 is a simple one. The right to die can so easily become the duty to die. Vulnerable people who are sick, elderly or disabled can so easily feel pressure, whether real or imagined, to end their lives so as not to be a burden on others.

Parliament's first responsibility is to protect the vulnerable and that is what they have voted to do today.'
Edward Turner
The article in the BBC news stated:
Some critics have claimed it could have led to Scotland becoming a "suicide tourism" destination, along with other countries where the practice is legal, such as Switzerland.

There have also been concerns it could fail to safeguard frail, elderly people.
MacDonald failed to mention that Edward Turner, a leader of the assisted suicide lobby group, Dying in Dignity, expressed his opposition to the language the Scottish bill because it allowed "suicide tourism" in a similar manner as Switzerland.

My assessment of the MacDonald euthanasia bill was that it was written in an intentionally vague and confusing manner in order to allow people with disabilities and those living with chronic conditions to be killed by euthanasia.

The only explanation I could come up with to explain the radically vague language of her bill is that Margo MacDonald lives with Parkinson's disease and she was designing the law so she could have herself killed by euthanasia, even though her condition was not terminal.

Margo MacDonald
After the defeat of her bill, MacDonald was reported by BBC to have said:
"I'll cut to the chase and condemn as unworthy and cheap, the contribution made by the publishers and authors of this catalogue of linguistic contortions, headed 'Care not Killing'.
The debate in the Scottish parliament was robust and a free-vote was given to every member. The BBC reported:
Scottish Health Secretary Nicola Sturgeon said she was opposed to the bill, adding the Scottish government's view was that it did not support a change in the law.

She said: "I personally find myself particularly concerned and fundamentally concerned about the difficulty I think would always and inevitably be present in determining that someone choosing to end their life had not been subjected to undue influence."

During the debate, MSPs from all parties spoke out for and against the bill.

Labour MSP Michael McMahon described it as "dangerous and unnecessary", while the two Green MSPs - Robin Harper and Patrick Harvie - said current laws were unclear and "served nobody".

Lib Dem MSP Ross Finnie, who convened a special Holyrood committee set up to scrutinise the legislation reiterated its conclusion that it was "not persuaded that the case had been made to decriminalise the law of homicide as it applies to assisted suicide and voluntary euthanasia".
The next big trial in the UK will be dealing with the Assisted Dying committee that has been established by Lord Falconer, that is being funded and funded by the assisted suicide lobby and operated by pro-assisted suicide politicians.

Latimer case haunts us still

The Regina Saskatchewan Leader-Post newspaper printed a godd editorial today about Robert Latimer, the man who killed his daughter Tracy in 1993. Tracy lived with cerebral palsy.

The Leader-Post editorial states:
Robert Latimer begins a new life on full parole next week, but his name will always figure when euthanasia is debated.

Robert Latimer might be hoping for a quiet life of anonymity when he gets full parole next week, but it's unlikely to happen.

Controversy still swirls around Latimer, the Wilkie-area farmer who spent years in prison for killing his severely disabled daughter in 1993.

Latimer called it an act of mercy to end 12-year-old Tracy's suffering. Born with cerebral palsy, Tracy weighed just 40 pounds, endured regular convulsions and was about to have a permanent feeding tube installed in her stomach and undergo surgery to remove parts of her dislocated hip. Latimer insisted, "There are wrong things and there are right things and I did the right thing (in ending her life)."

The law disagreed -- and so do we. An eight-year roller-coaster ride through the legal system culminated in January, 2001 with the Supreme Court of Canada upholding Latimer's life sentence for second-degree murder, with no chance of parole for 10 years. After a National Parole Board panel denied his application for day parole in 2007, the board's appeals division reversed that decision early in 2008 and allowed his day release.

The case proved fiercely divisive. Latimer supporters said his actions were motivated by love and a desire to not see Tracy suffer further. They also argued for a change in the law to enable judges to impose a lighter sentence in extraordinary circumstances. Indeed, a Saskatchewan judge tried to exempt Latimer from the minimum sentence after his second conviction in 1997, imposing instead a sentence of one year in jail and one year served in the community. That sentence was struck down the following year by the Saskatchewan Court of Appeal and upheld by the Supreme Court.

Latimer's critics -- particularly advocates for those with disabilities -- said Latimer had rightfully been convicted and anything less than the minimum sentence would send society the wrong message that it was OK in certain circumstances to end a life purely because someone else decided it was not worth living.

"To me it is a greater crime to kill somebody who is fragile than to kill somebody out of anger, especially when there are medical treatments and social programs that will assist," said Dr. Tom Koch, a bioethicist for the Canadian Down Syndrome Society.

The Supreme Court noted that despite Tracy's condition, there was evidence she enjoyed music, could use a radio with a special button and would "express joy" at seeing family members.

In any future debate on euthanasia the name Robert Latimer will figure prominently. He'll be sought out for comment and held up as an example of what many fear could lie ahead if the door to "mercy killing" is ever opened.

It's one thing for people to decide to end their own lives -- quite another for those like Tracy Latimer to have that decision made for them.

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