Press Feed
Pages Menu

Ian Dowbiggin

History remains relevant in the euthanasia debate

PAH readers may remember that I recently posted an article which accused the right-to-die movement of deliberately destroying its own historical paper trail. In the piece, I asked if the same individuals and organizations deserve to be trusted when they tell the public that legislation—such as the Quebec government’s Bill 52, which permits doctors to give patients lethal injections—is just good medical practice. Now, euthanasia advocate Stuart Chambers, a professor at the University of Ottawa, has responded by unfairly characterizing my writing on the subject as little more than dressed-up dogmatism. To give Professor Chambers credit, he does acknowledge that, if true, the intentional destruction of the euthanasia archives would constitute “a terrible act against truth.” Yet, rather than call on his allies to engage in a heavy dose of soul-searching and issue an apology for such an insult to scholars everywhere, Chambers bizarrely goes into attack mode by shifting the focus from the destruction of the euthanasia archives to my own scholarly work. My research on the history of euthanasia, he says, is too “selective.” By documenting in my two books—both published by respected academic presses—that up to the present people associated with the right-to-die movement have advocated the euthanasia of people with disabilities, I allegedly ignore that defenders of the “sanctity of life” doctrine have been guilty of terrible crimes in the past. As evidence, Chambers cites the Inquisition and the Crusades. This is all well and good—as long as we’re talking about propaganda. But Chambers’s romp through medieval history isn’t good enough to pass as a high school student’s term paper. Calling it “selective” is a gross understatement. First, let’s dispense with that old canard, used by euthanasia enthusiasts like Chambers, that opponents of euthanasia are all “sanctity of life” proponents. It simply isn’t true; just ask disabilities… Read More

A scandal in the euthanasia archives

Imagine for a moment that reporters broke the news that the Vatican had destroyed the bulk of its archival records. Researchers around the world justifiably might accuse the Roman Catholic Church of a deliberate cover-up. Well, the Vatican has done no such thing. But it appears as if the right-to-die movement has. If so, one might well ask; why did people in the movement do it? Are they trying to hide something about their past? One thing is clear: if the euthanasia movement’s records have indeed been destroyed, a lot of history has vanished, Orwell-like, down a cavernous memory hole. And with it, information the right-to-die movement doesn’t want you to know. I should know, because I saw these records and I know what was in them. I wrote up my findings in my 2003 book on the history of the movement, published by Oxford University Press. The story of my involvement in these valuable records begins about fifteen years ago when I was given permission to explore the archives of what used to be called Partnerships for Caring, Inc. PFC was a successor organization to the defunct Euthanasia Society of America (ESA). The ESA records, housed in a law firm in Baltimore, consisted of 15 large cardboard boxes holding correspondence, financial records, press releases, published materials and minutes of meetings, much of it uncatalogued. There were literally thousands of items in these boxes documenting the entire 20th c. history of the U.S. and non-American activists who advocated the legalization of various forms of euthanasia. The ESA archive contained materials relating to the careers of noteworthy social activists such as Derek Humphry, the founder of the Hemlock Society (now called Compassion and Choices), Joseph Fletcher, the founder of “situation ethics,” Alan Guttmacher (after whom the population-control Guttmacher Institute in New… Read More

Still right about euthanasia

I applaud the Prince Arthur Herald for publishing Stuart Chambers’s attack on me and all others who oppose the legalization of physician-assisted suicide (PAS) or mercy-killing. The PAH’s commitment to open debate is admirable and should serve as a beacon to other media outlets in a day and age when it is more important than ever to speak clearly and concretely about the circumstances surrounding end-of-life care in today’s society. Too often, the debate has been dominated by heart-rending, human-interest stories in the mainstream media about people in pain. What has been missing is plain talk and clear language. I should know. I have spent the last fifteen years studying and publishing on the history of the euthanasia movement. That history includes the story of now-defunct organizations which paved the way for today’s Compassion and Choices, the leading North American group in favor of permitting assisted suicide. So Chambers’s attack on me is something I’m used to. He is right about one thing: Based on my empirical studies, I have occasionally warned that, if our courts and other interest groups get their way, Canada will soon embrace the belief that some lives are not as valuable as others. Put another way: that some lives are more worthy of death than others. One thing I have learned is that, historically speaking, the most vocal advocates of assisted suicide and other forms of euthanasia would not be happy until they could get society to accept the killing of people with a wide range of disabilities, with or without their consent. Jack Kevorkian was not alone in saying this. He was only more candid. Now that the Canadian Supreme Court has struck down the Criminal Code ban on assisted suicide, I think most thoughtful people would agree that, regardless of their moral preferences,… Read More

Jean Beliveau – A Legendary Career

The news that Montreal Canadiens great Jean Béliveau died on 03 December was poignant on a number of different counts. One that stands out is that he was one of the last prominent sports figures in history who was truly deserving of the description “gentleman.” (His contemporary Los Angeles Dodger Sandy Koufax also comes to mind in that regard) Today, when so many athletes, professional or amateur, cultivate the look of hoodlums, it is refreshing to view images of Beliveau as a player and in retirement. The fact that he had an open invitation to be Governor-General and join Canada’s Senate testifies to the deep respect in which he was held by virtually everyone whose life he touched. Although his personal statistics are impressive enough, Béliveau tended to be overshadowed by the stars he played with and against. During Béliveau’s early years as a player Maurice Richard enjoyed a special status among Montreal hockey fans until he retired in 1960. Gordie Howe’s goal totals were better than Béliveau’s, Bobby Hull, Bernie Geoffrion, and Frank Mahovlich were more flamboyant, and in the last years of his career stars such as Bobby Orr understandably got more headlines. Béliveau appeared content to be the consummate team player, someone who supplied leadership without stealing the limelight. Yet, at playoff time Béliveau was impossible to ignore. Having watched him over the years in person at the Montreal Forum and on television, I can tell you there was no better money player in the entire history of the NHL. The tributes have poured in and Béliveau’s many accomplishments on and off the ice are being duly noted. Allow me to mention what I believe to be his greatest distinction. He was Montreal Canadiens captain during what I like to call the “forgotten dynasty”. From 1964-65 to… Read More