Windsor Humanist Society

July 6, 2008

Assisted Suicide of Healthy 79-Year-Old Renews German Debate on Right to Die

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FRANKFURT — When Roger Kusch helped Bettina Schardt kill herself at home on Saturday, the grim, carefully choreographed ritual was like that in many cases of assisted suicide, with one exception.

Roger Kusch & His \"Suicide Machine\"

Roger Kusch

Ms. Schardt, 79, a retired X-ray technician from the Bavarian city of Würzburg, was neither sick nor dying. She simply did not want to move into a nursing home, and rather than face that prospect, she asked Mr. Kusch, a prominent German campaigner for assisted suicide, for a way out.

Her last words, after swallowing a deadly cocktail of the antimalaria drug chloroquine and the sedative diazepam, were “auf Wiedersehen,” Mr. Kusch recounted at a news conference on Monday.

It was hardly the last word on her case, however. Ms. Schardt’s suicide — and Mr. Kusch’s energetic publicizing of it — have set off a national furor over the limits on the right to die, in a country that has struggled with this issue more than most because of the Nazi’s euthanizing of at least 100,000 mentally disabled and incurably ill people.

“What Mr. Kusch did was particularly awful,” Beate Merk, the justice minister of Bavaria, said in an interview. “This woman had nothing wrong other than her fear. He didn’t offer her any other options.”

Germany’s conservative chancellor, Angela Merkel, declared on a German news channel on Wednesday, “I am absolutely against any form of assisted suicide, in whatever guise it comes.”

On Friday, Bavaria and four other German states will push for new laws to ban commercial ventures that help people kill themselves. Suicide itself is not a crime, nor is aiding a suicide, provided it does not cross the line into euthanasia, or mercy killing.

But many here do not want Germany to follow the example of Switzerland, where liberal laws on euthanasia have led to a bustling trade in assisted suicide. In the last decade, nearly 500 Germans have crossed the border to end their lives with the help of a Swiss group that facilitates suicides.

“We want to make it illegal for people here to offer ‘suicide by reservation,’ ” Ms. Merk said. “That is inhumane.”

By helping Ms. Schardt end her life, and then broadcasting the result, Mr. Kusch has, in effect, hung out a shingle. A former senior government official from Hamburg, Mr. Kusch, 53, said he would help other people like her who decide of their own free will to commit suicide.

“My offer, since last Saturday, is to allow people to die in their own beds,” he said in a telephone interview on Wednesday. “That is the wish of most people, and now it is possible in Germany.”

With his penchant for brazen publicity, Mr. Kusch recalls Jack Kevorkian, the euthanasia crusader in Michigan who all but dared the authorities to stop his assisted suicides, and ended up in prison. But Mr. Kusch, who is trained as a lawyer, is careful not to cross the legal line.

In Ms. Schardt’s case, he counseled her about how to commit suicide, but did not provide or administer the drugs. He left the room after she drank the poisonous brew and returned three hours later to find her dead on her bed. He videotaped the entire process as proof that he was not an active participant.

Prosecutors have looked into the case, but it does not appear that Mr. Kusch is in legal jeopardy.

Mr. Kusch also videotaped five hours of interviews with Ms. Schardt, in which she discussed her fears and why she wanted to die. He showed excerpts at the news conference, causing an outcry. “A 10-minute video says more than if I had talked for two hours,” he said.

While Ms. Schardt was not suffering from a life-threatening disease, or in acute pain, her life was hardly pleasant, Mr. Kusch said. She had trouble moving around her apartment, where she lived alone. Having never married, she had no family. She also had few friends, and rarely ventured out.

In such circumstances, a nursing home seemed likely to be the next stop. And for Ms. Schardt, who Mr. Kusch said feared strangers and had a low tolerance for those less clever than she was, that was an unbearable prospect.

“When she contacted me by e-mail on April 8, she had already decided to commit suicide,” Mr. Kusch said, noting that she had also been in touch with Dignitas, the Swiss group that aids suicides.

In a goodbye letter to Mr. Kusch, posted on his Web site, Ms. Schardt thanked him, saying that if her death helped his battle it would fulfill her goal to have “the freedom to die in dignity.”

To some champions of assisted suicide, Germany’s laws do not allow for enough dignity. Ludwig A. Minelli, a former journalist who runs Dignitas, noted that those assisting in a suicide had to leave the person to die alone or risk being prosecuted. In Switzerland, he said, “the helping person, as well as family members or friends, could stay with the person who has decided to leave.”

The larger lesson of Ms. Schardt’s solitary death may have to do with the way Germany treats its old.

“The fear of nursing homes among elderly Germans is far greater than the fear of terrorism or the fear of losing your job,” said Eugen Brysch, the director of the German Hospice Foundation. “Germany must confront this fear, because fear, as we have seen, is a terrible adviser.”
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…this post forwarded by Windsor Humanist, JoePkr, after a July 3, 2008 article by Mark Landler in The New York Times
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March 24, 2008

Dutch To Publish Do-It-Yourself Suicide Manual

Filed under: Euthanasia - Assisted Suicide - Right-to-Die — moderator @ 4:13 pm

Euthanasia Manual A scientific guide to DIY suicide is to go on sale in the Netherlands to help people end their lives quickly and painlessly.

The book, the first of its kind to be published, is by a group of respected scientists and psychiatrists.
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It contains detailed information on using drugs as well as committing suicide by starvation, including the quickest and least painful way to do it.

There are also chapters on the ethical and judicial questions for those who aid suicides. Its authors are also planning English, French and German editions.

Author and psychiatrist Boudewijn Chabot said: “Doctors learn little about this subject during their training. This book is for people who want to make their own decisions about ending their own lives.”

He said most suicides were carried out with the help of family and friends, with common methods being the refusal of food and drink or the surreptitious collection of prescribed drugs until a lethal quantity is acquired.

There are about 4,400 suicides a year in Holland, broadly the same as in England and Wales, even though it has barely a quarter of the population. Euthanasia is now legal there but with strict rules.
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…this post forwarded by Windsor Humanist, Alexander Neil, after a March 24, 2008 article by Joan Clements in The Telegraph

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March 17, 2008

France Rejects Right-to-Die Plea

Filed under: Euthanasia - Assisted Suicide - Right-to-Die — moderator @ 3:33 pm

A French woman with a severely disfiguring and incurable facial tumour has been refused the right to die. Chantal Sebire suffers from an extremely rare form of cancer.

Chantal SebireMs.  Sebire, a 52-year-old former schoolteacher and mother of three, had asked a court in Dijon, eastern France, to allow doctors to help her die.

But while the French have liberalised legislation governing euthanasia, the court ruled the law still did not allow doctors to actively end a life.

The case of Ms Sebire has, however, sparked intense debate and sympathy.

She suffers from an extremely rare form of cancer in the nasal cavity known as an esthesioneuroblastoma. Only 200 cases of the disease have been recorded worldwide in the past two decades.

Appealing on French television last month for the right to die, Ms Sebire said she could no longer see properly, taste or smell. She described how children ran away from her in the street.

“One would not allow an animal to go through what I have endured,” she said.

But a magistrate in Dijon said such a request could simply not be granted.

“Even if the physical degeneration of Madame Sebire merits compassion, this request can only be rejected under French law,” he said.

Legislation adopted in 2005 allows families to request that life-support equipment for terminally ill patients be switched off, but does not allow a doctor to take action to end a patient’s life.

French President Nicholas Sarkozy, whom Ms Sebire has urged to intervene in her case, said he had asked his chief health adviser to make contact, and help with providing further opinions on her condition.

Ms Sebire, who has said she will not appeal Monday’s decision, has, however indicated she may go to a country such as Switzerland – where assisted suicide is legal.

“I now know how to get my hands on what I need, and if I don’t get it in France, I will get it elsewhere,” she has said.

Sarah Wootton, of Dignity in Dying, which campaigns in the UK for assisted dying for the terminally ill, said: “It is immensely sad that because France has no assisted dying law, Chantal Sebire will continue to suffer.

“It is simply wrong that terminally ill people not just in France, but also in the UK, who are suffering unbearably are not being given the choice to die with dignity.”
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…this post forwarded by Windsor Humanist, Alexander Neil, after a March 17, 2008 article carried by BBC News OnLINE

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March 13, 2008

Royal Oak’s “Dr. Jack” Planning Run for US Congress

Filed under: Euthanasia - Assisted Suicide - Right-to-Die — moderator @ 6:36 pm

Assisted suicide advocate Jack Kevorkian, who spent eight years in prison for second-degree murder, says he’s running for Congress.

Jack KevorkianJack Kevorkian, who will be 80 years old in May, picked up petitions from the Oakland County Clerk’s Office on Tuesday to run as a candidate with no party affiliation.

“I plan to,”
Jack Kevorkian said Tuesday afternoon. “I wouldn’t do this otherwise. We need some honesty and sincerity instead of corrupt government in Washington.”

Jack Kevorkian said he would have more to say about his candidacy next week. “Everything’s in a formative stage,” he said.

Jack Kevorkian
, a Pontiac native now living in south Oakland County, will have to gather a minimum of 3,000 signatures on nominating petitions by July 17 to appear as an independent on the November ballot, the Michigan Secretary of State’s office said.

He lives in the 9th Congressional District. The seat is held by eight-term incumbent U.S. Rep. Joe Knollenberg, R-Bloomfield Hills. Democrats currently filed to run include former Michigan Lottery Commissioner Gary Peters.

The district encompasses Oakland, Bloomfield and West Bloomfield townships; parts of Orion and Waterford townships; the cities of Farmington, Farmington Hills, Orchard Lake, Keego Harbor, Sylvan Lake, Pontiac, Auburn Hills, Rochester Hills, Rochester, Troy, Clawson, Royal Oak, Berkley, Birmingham, Bloomfield Hills and Lake Angelus; and the villages of Franklin, Bingham Farms and Beverly Hills.

Michigan law doesn’t prevent Jack Kevorkian from running for office, or from voting, now that he’s been released from prison.

Jack Kevorkian was sentenced to 10 to 25 years for second-degree murder April 13, 1999, for the assisted suicide death of Thomas Youk, which he filmed and which was broadcast on national TV.

He was paroled June 1 last year and remains on parole until June 1, 2009, according to the Michigan Department of Corrections.

Oakland County Prosecutor Dave Gorcyca, whose office was responsible for sending Jack Kevorkian to prison, was dismissive of Jack Kevorkian’s candidacy.

“I would place Jack Kevorkian’s candidacy in the same ranking with (Texas U.S. Rep.) Ron Paul’s (presidential run),” Mr. Gorcyca said.

“It’s probably more of a publicity stunt. To call attention to himself is standard protocol for Jack when he doesn’t have the limelight focused on him. I would not consider his candidacy to be a legitimate one.”

A Jack Kevorkian candidacy, however, is likely to draw more attention to what is already expected to be one of the more closely contested congressional races in the country.

National Democrats targeted the district this election after Joe Knollenberg won re-election in 2006 with 51.5 percent of the vote.

Joe Knollenberg spokesman Mike Brownfield said the congressman has no immediate comment.

“Everybody has the right to run,” Gary Peters spokeswoman Julie Petrick said. “Right now, Gary is focused on bringing real change to Oakland County.

“Knollenberg has heaped mountains of debt on our children, disastrous trade policies that have destroyed our manufacturing sector, and gotten us into a protracted war with no end in sight. It’s time for real change in Oakland County and that’s what we’re focused on.”
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…this post forwarded by Windsor Humanist, Alexander Neil, after a March 12, 2008 article by Charles Crumm in The Oakland Press

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February 14, 2008

Judge Says ‘Maintain Life-Support” – Rules Doctors Must Take All Measures To Keep Man Alive Pending Trial

Percy Golubchuk and sister Miriam Geller praised yesterday’s decision by a judge to keep their father alive.  Doctors wanting to pull life-support from the 84-year-old Winnipeg man have been blocked by a court ruling and told to do everything necessary to keep him alive.

Percy Golubchuk ~ Miriam GellerIn issuing an order to continue an injunction preventing doctors from taking Samuel Golubchuk off a ventilator and feeding tube, Justice Perry Schulman of Manitoba Court of Queen’s Bench said if Mr. Golubchuk was allowed to die before a full trial is held on the issue, “no relief at trial could adequately compensate him or his family for the loss.

“If the injunction is continued, the plaintiff may, during his lifetime, be afforded an opportunity to be heard fully on his legal, religious and charter positions,” Justice Schulman said on Wednesday.

“I think that most reasonably informed members of the public would support my finding on the questions of irreparable harm and balance of convenience.”

Justice Schulman said he wants to see the matter come to trial “as quickly as possible.”
Mr. Golubchuk’s son, Percy, and daughter, Miriam Geller, expressed relief after hearing the judge’s decision.

“God is with us,” Ms. Geller said. “This is for all the people in Canada and the world.”

Percy Golubchuk said “doctors are not always right.”

“God is the main doctor.”

When asked what their father would say about the decision, Percy Golubchuk said “he would be very proud of us — he would say ‘way to go.'”

Mr. Golubchuk has been treated in the intensive care unit of Grace Hospital since October after coming there suffering from pneumonia and pulmonary hypertension.

But after doctors decided further treatment would be futile — and Mr. Golubchuk’s family disagreed, saying pulling life-support is against their Orthodox Jewish religious beliefs — the case landed in court.

The medical dispute is being followed by people from around the world with even an online petition on the Internet garnering more than 2,800 signatures of support just days after being set up. And when you Google ‘Golubchuk’ and ‘petition,’ 421 websites pop up.

The family’s lawyer, Neil Kravetsky, used Justice Schulman’s decision to criticize The College of Physicians and Surgeons of Manitoba who just two weeks ago issued guidelines to physicians giving them the right to pull life-support.

“I think the college was irresponsible,” Neil Kravetsky said.

“They better smarten up before they issue directives that may border on criminal.

“This decision means any doctor who comes to that hospital has to maintain (Golubchuk’s) life.”

But Dr. Terry Babick, deputy registrar of The College of Physicians and Surgeons of Manitoba, said the college won’t be reviewing its end-of-life guidelines in light of the judge’s decision.

According to the college’s new guidelines on withdrawing life-support, released in January, the final decision to end support lies with the physician.

Terry Babick said the guidelines allow a four-day window giving families a chance to seek other counsel and in rare cases, a court injunction.

If patients or families are dissatisfied with a physician, Dr. Babick said they also have the option of filing a formal complaint to the college.

“At the end of the day, as happened here, the family appealed to the courts,” Dr. Babick said. “So where there is disagreement in rare circumstances, that’s why we have the courts.”

Pat Murphy, a medical ethicist based in St. Boniface General Hospital, said the court’s decision upholds the idea that physicians must seek mediation before ending treatment. She said it’s essential for patients and doctors to build consensus instead of pitting patients and their physicians “against one another.”

More importantly, Ms. Murphy said, the judge clarified that there is no law that gives doctors the right to have the final say on when to end a life.

“It’s not settled in law that doctors have the final say in these matters,” she said.

There are no Canada-wide guidelines on withdrawing life-support, and the practice differs between most hospitals and provinces.

Click here to download Justice Schulman’s decision.

New College of Physicians & Surgeons’ of Manitoba Guidelines for doctors wanting to withdraw life-support:

In the event a patient could achieve the “minimum” quality of life but the physician concludes the treatment should be withdrawn, as in Mr. Golubchuk’s case, the doctor must first get a second opinion from another physician.

If the second physician agrees treatment should be withdrawn and the family still disagrees, physicians must offer a time-limited trial of treatment or involve a patient advocate or mediator to help resolve the process.

If no consensus can be reached and the doctor concludes life-support should be withdrawn, the physician must provide the patient’s family with written or verbal notice 96 hours before life-support is stopped.

The guidelines apply to all Manitoba physicians and came into effect Feb. 1.

Backgrounder On Mr. Golubchuk’s Situation:
Four years ago Mr. Golubchuk fell down a flight of stairs and hit his head, sustaining injuries that resulted in his becoming both physically and mentally disabled. Confined to a wheel chair, he requires assistance for the most basic of needs. Communication with the outside world has been a challenge for him since he can no longer speak more than a word or two at a time, and even then usually only in response to others.

When living in a long-term care facility, he hadn’t been confined to his bed. His family visited with him, takes him on outings, and bringing him home for holidays and other family celebrations. It’s not always easy for outsiders to tell how he feels about these excursions, but his family says they always can. Every now and then he manages a smile. Recently, when his family brought him bowling, he even tried to push a ball down the lane. Some might say that he wasn’t very successful in his attempt, but not his children. For them, they say small acts like this bring the greatest joy.

Last October, Mr. Golubchuk got sick. Although not serious at first, it quickly developed into a life-threatening case of pneumonia and he was moved to Winnipeg’s Salvation Army Grace Hospital, where his life hung in the balance for some time. With treatment, he beat the pneumonia.
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…this post forwarded by Windsor Humanist, Alexander Neil, after a February 14, 2008 article by Kevin Rollason & Jen Skerritt in The Winnipeg Free Press

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December 15, 2007

Medicine & Religion Clash Over Another End-of-Life Issue

Filed under: Euthanasia - Assisted Suicide - Right-to-Die — moderator @ 5:51 pm

Medical science and religion clashed this week over whether to switch off life-support equipment that is keeping an 84-year-old man alive in a Canadian hospital.

The Complete Works of ShakespeareIn a court case in Winnipeg, which doctors say could set a legal precedent, the family of Samuel Golubchuk argues it would be a sin under their Orthodox Jewish faith for doctors to halt treatment and “hasten death.”

Doctors say Mr. Golubchuk has only minimal brain function and his chances of recovery are slim. They want to disconnect his ventilator and remove his feeding tube. They also argue he is in pain and that ongoing invasive procedures constitute abuse.

The conflict, a medical ethicist said, is becoming increasingly common as science extends its ability to prolong life.

“Increasingly so — over the past few years as technology allows us to keep people alive with more complex medical situations for longer — I think we’re seeing more really difficult end-of-life type cases,” said Dr. Jeff Blackmer, executive director, office of ethics, for the Canadian Medical Association, which represents 65,000 doctors.

“Our viewpoint is that we want to make sure that clinical decisions are left to physicians and not judges,” he added. “These decisions are not made lightly and they’re not made in haste, and they’re not made with anything except the best interest of that individual patient at heart.

But Mr. Golubchuk’s family disagrees.

“The family sees it as when there is life there is hope. He is breathing, his brain functions, he holds their hands,” Neil Kravetsky, the family’s lawyer, told the CBC.

Lawyers don’t know when the ruling could come.
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…this post forwarded by Windsor Humanist, Alexander Neil, after a December 15, 2007 article by Carla Tonelli in Reuters

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December 6, 2007

Robert Latimer Denied Day Parole: “..Hasn’t Developed Insight Into His Actions..”

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Robert and Tracy LatimerRobert Latimer, the Saskatchewan farmer who killed his severely disabled daughter in 1993 and sparked a national debate on euthanasia, was denied day parole from the minimum security William Head Institution outside Victoria Wednesday.

A three-member National Parole Board panel told Mr. Latimer they were “struck” that he had failed to develop any insight into his crime during his seven years in prison.

“We were left with the feeling you have not developed the kind of sufficient insight and understanding of your actions,” said Kelly-Ann Speck, one of the members of the panel.

The board recommended Mr. Latimer take counselling and participate in prison programmes to better understand his actions and learn not externalize blame to the legal system and government.

The decision means Mr. Latimer, 54, will not be able to spend days in the community and nights in a halfway house.

According to Evelyn Blair of the National Parole Board, Mr. Latimer likely will not have another opportunity at parole for two years.

Robert Latimer killed his daughter Tracy Latimer in 1993 by placing the 12-year-old in a truck on the family farm in Wilkie, Sask., and pumping exhaust into the vehicle until she died of carbon monoxide poisoning.

He contended it was an act of mercy because Tracy Latimer was severely disabled and suffered from cerebral palsy caused by brain damage at birth. She was a bed-bound quadriplegic who could not speak or feed herself and suffered from a twisted spine, malnutrition, seizures and chronic vomiting.

Robert Latimer had requested he be paroled in Ottawa, where he said he wanted to continue to press the federal government and the courts to more fully explain a 2001 Supreme Court ruling that upheld his conviction.

Robert Latimer has long rejected the court’s suggestion he could have used different pain medication instead of killing his daughter. No such medication existed, he contends, because pain relief drugs reacted with his daughter’s anti-seizure medication.

When asked why he did not ask to be paroled near his wife Laura and their three children in Saskatchewan, Mr. Latimer said he wanted to be in Ottawa for advocacy work and that he hoped to spare his family the constant media attention of his release.

Wednesday was Mr. Latimer’s first appearance before a parole board panel. His institutional parole officer said he presented a low risk to the community, but would need counselling to take responsibility for his actions.

The parole officer recommended he be granted day parole. That the parole board eventually denied this request is unusual — about 80% of the time the board follows the parole officer’s recommendations, said a board spokesperson.

Mr. Latimer was at times uncooperative at the hearing, either refusing to answer questions or simply talking about something else until a board member asked the question again. Mr. Latimer declined an assistant for the proceedings and chose to represent himself. Neither his wife nor his sons attended.

Mr. Latimer also appeared confused and tired. Sitting with his back to the public gallery in a multipurpose room at the prison, he was unable to answer simple questions or even cite the exact date he killed his daughter and how he felt while committing the murder.

His thoughts and feelings were private, he said, adding that his case had been “exploited by the entire country.”

When a board member asked Mr. Latimer if he was a risk to kill again in a similar situation, he only said it was unlikely that such a situation would occur again.

He remained unapologetic and angry at the legal system.

“The laws are not as important as Tracy was,” he said.

“I still feel don’t feel guilty because I still feel it was the best thing to do,” Mr. Latimer told the board earlier.

The three-member parole panel — Ms. Speck, Maryam Majedi and Ben Andersen — cited Mr. Latimer’s belief that his actions were above the law as one reason for denying him parole.

“If a person has no remorse, if they don’t feel they’ve done anything wrong, often what goes hand in hand with that is they don’t feel like they need to change anything,” said Patrick Storey, National Parole Board spokesman.

“Parole is all about change. The parole board wants to see evidence of some significant lasting change from the man who committed the offence to the man who appears before them today. In this case, the lack of remorse is perhaps linked to what the parole board felt was a lack of change.”

Mr. Latimer’s full parole date is Dec. 8, 2010. He has been in prison since December, 2001, but has also accumulated time served during a seven-year journey through the legal system that involved multiple trials, sentences and appeals.

Mr. Latimer’s case sparked a vigorous national debate on what extent, if any, euthanasia could be justified. Supporters across the country signed petitions urging the government to grant Robert Latimer clemency and raised more than $250,000 for his family. Others, including many disabled rights groups, condemned his actions.

“We’re pleased with the decision,” said Rory Summers, president of the B.C. Association for Community Living, which supports people with development disabilities.

Mr. Summers and BCACL executive director Laney Bryenton were two of the only people in the public gallery for the hearing other than corrections staff and 18 journalists.

“Coming in today we assumed, I guess, he was going to get parole,” said Laney Bryenton. “But what we saw was such a profound lack of remorse for his actions, that it was deeply disturbing to both of us.”

The Saskatchewan farmer’s journey through the Canadian legal system was long and complicated.

Robert Latimer was convicted of second-degree murder on Nov. 16, 1994, and sentenced to life with no eligibility for parole for 10 years. He lost his first appeal on July 18, 1995. He was given a second trial amid allegations of jury tampering, where he was again convicted of second-degree murder. But this time a Saskatchewan judge exempted him from the minimum sentence and instead handed him a lesser two-year sentence — one year of house arrest and one year in jail.

Robert Latimer appealed to the Supreme Court, which in 2001 not only upheld his conviction but also changed his sentence to the minimum 10 years without parole required under Canadian law.

The Supreme Court also rejected Robert Latimer’s bid to have the case re-opened in 2002, and he has since refused to formally apply to the government for clemency out of protest at his treatment.

Mr. Latimer started his prison term in 2001 at the federal Saskatchewan Penitentiary in Prince Albert, where his wife said he ran the 512-hectare family farm using a calculator and a telephone behind bars. He was later sent to the medium-security Bowden Institution in Innisfail, Alta., before being transferred to the minimum-security William Head Institution Oct. 9, 2003.

Once settled in William Head, Mr. Latimer studied to become an electrician and stayed mostly out of trouble, said his parole officer. William Head is well known for its community-based rehabilitation and work programs. Mr. Latimer has been staying in a five-bedroom bungalow where inmates are allowed to cook for themselves and live in relative independence.
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…this post forwarded by Windsor Humanist, Alexander Neil, after a December 5, 2007 article by Rob Shaw in The Victoria Times-Colonist

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November 8, 2007

Has DIGNITAS gone too far?

Filed under: Euthanasia - Assisted Suicide - Right-to-Die — moderator @ 3:44 pm

The Swiss Dignitas organization has long been controversial for its assisted suicides and the legal grey area that practice inhabits.

However, a report on Swiss television on the assisted suicide of two Germans at a car park in the woodlands near Zurich has caused a fresh storm of protest.

The two men, aged 50 and 65 years and from the southern German states of Bavaria and Baden-Wuerrtemberg across the Swiss border, took their lives in a car in a parking lot in the town of Maur, east of the city of Zurich.

Active euthanasia is banned in Switzerland. However, under Swiss law a terminally ill person wanting to die can be offered a poison, which they then take voluntarily.

The mayor of the 9,000-strong community of Maur, Bruno Sauter, has called the car deaths “impious and distasteful”.

Ludwig MinelliIt is not the first time Herr Sauter has encountered assisted suicide. Dignitas founder Ludwig Minelli, 75, lives in his district and Minelli is said to have earlier permitted a German woman to die in her car in front of his house, Blick newspaper reported on Wednesday.

“Now Dignitas has gone too far,” a Swiss legislator said on the radio, while also announcing new initiatives against “dying tourism.” Minelli issued a statement rejecting the accusations.

Even undertaker Urs Gerber, who is otherwise prepared to admit that one has to “put up with a lot” in his line of business, criticizes the car park death. He speaks of “undignified surrounding conditions”, for instance when he has to pull the bodies out of the car and stretch them out on the ground.

Many think it likely that Signor Minelli wanted to cause provocation. After all, Dignitas has constantly been in the headlines over the past weeks because more and more communities in the Zurich area had been refusing to give their permission for the so-called dying rooms in rented apartments.

This is where the Dignitas boss used to take his clients to receive their deadly poisoned cocktail. The clients have to take the cocktail themselves, fully aware of what they’re doing.

Many residential areas have seen protests because there was a constant stream of ambulances and hearses, so Dignitas finally moved into industrial estates. However, there were protests there too.

Then the organization began to use hotels, only to find their owners appeal to Signor Minelli to leave them alone.

So now it’s a car park in the woodlands.

Herr Sauter wants to prevent another incident like this with the help of his watchful citizens. However, public prosecutor Juerg Vollenweider doesn’t see a chance to stop such a public suicide.

“Those who want to die outdoors or in their beloved car are free to do so”, he says. The law is clear on that and Signor Minelli knows that too.

However, there are also dissenting voices. Supporters of euthanasia say euthanasia organizations can help people to die in dignity who would otherwise not be able to do so.

“It is part of a self-determined life to have a self-determined death in dignity as well”, Urs Lauffer, a legislator from Zurich, says.

The numerous local parliamentary initiatives to prevent the practice from getting out of hand could soon be followed by an initiative in the chambers of the national parliament.

Critics want organizations like Dignitas to be licensed, and they demand “quality standards” and stricter supervision of their activities.

Those who demand better controls are backed by reports that people willing to die were left to suffer for a long time because the natrium pentobarbital that was administered had not worked properly. Some 15 grams of the strong soporific are dissolved in water.

Signor Minelli fundamentally rejected any such accusations in a letter to the Neue Zürcher Zeitung daily in one of his rare public statements.

However, he admitted that there were a few incidents – “maybe one in several hundred” – in which it took a long time for someone to die. But there was no apparent reason for it.

The paper wrote that experts found this hard to understand. Hans Muralt, branch manager of the euthanasia organization Exit in Zurich, told the paper that he was not aware of anyone having suffered during his long time in the office.
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…this post forwarded by Windsor Humanist, Alexander Hodgins, after a November 8, 2007 article from DPA – Deutsche Presse Agenteur GmbH

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November 3, 2007

Ontario MD Argues for Debate on Euthanasia as Public Policy

Filed under: Euthanasia - Assisted Suicide - Right-to-Die — moderator @ 1:32 pm

Right to die vs. health costs

A national debate on balancing the right to life with skyrocketing health care costs could endanger services for the elderly and fuel demands to legalize euthanasia, some experts say.

Dr. Robert Cushman, CEO of the Champlain Local Health Integration Network in eastern Ontario stirred a hornet’s nest this week with a call for a serious debate on the right to die with dignity as a matter of public policy. He said seniors deserve independence and dignity in the twilight of their lives and the debate should take place in the context of ballooning health costs.

His comments drew condemnation from Physicians for Life, which accused him of promoting euthanasia. The group says “dying with dignity” is often a code for allowing frail, elderly and often helpless people to take their own lives, or get strangers to do it for them.

The doctors’ group says Dr. Cushman is playing into the hands of right-to-die advocates who want to legalize euthanasia, which Canadians have already rejected. And tying the issue to the rising cost of health care is a rather ingenious way of broadening its appeal.

“Those who say people have a right to die with dignity are saying you have the right to demand death at a time of your choosing,” Dr. Will Johnston, president of Physicians for Life, said from Vancouver. “Dr. Cushman seems to be hinting at a personal bias toward legalized suicide and he is trying to open the debate. Our health care costs are not high because of a lack of assisted suicide. He is doing the work of the extremists. He is softening public opinion by raising a false issue of costs. ”

But others say with seniors now consuming about a third of health care resources, a healthy debate is needed to get a grip on all the possible ramifications of ballooning health costs.

“It is clear that the cost of health care is not sustainable for our society and the society is going to have to make some tough decisions. Dr. Cushman is right to open up the debate,” said Dr. Andrew Falconer, deputy chief of staff at Ottawa’s Queensway-Carleton Hospital. “I would assume that a debate like that is going to lead us in the direction of caps on some services but, quite frankly, it is a debate that ought to go on.”

Ottawa Hospital chief of staff Dr. Chris Carruthers acknowledges a debate on the health needs of seniors could veer into taboo subjects such as right to die and caps on some treatments. But it is necessary to have such a debate to provide a clear road map on what choices and consequences lie ahead.

Dr. Carruthers points out that because of limited resources, a U.S. state such as Oregon ranks health services in order of what is important enough to treat. Other countries have faced the issue and devised different solutions and Canada must follow the same path.

“If you come to our hospital and say ‘don’t put me on a ventilator’ we won’t put you on one even if we know it will save your life,” Dr. Carruthers said. “But, on the other side of the coin, if you are very sick and elderly and you continue to want all the care, no holds barred, what should happen? At the present time we will treat people. But with limited resources how do you manage that? We have not had that discussion and Dr. Cushman is only asking for that debate.”
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…this post forwarded by Windsor Humanist, Alexander Hodgins, after a November 3, 2007 article by Mohammed Adam in The Windsor Star

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July 3, 2007

No charges in assisted suicide case

Filed under: Euthanasia - Assisted Suicide - Right-to-Die — moderator @ 11:26 pm

The RCMP has cleared a retired Anglican minister in Nova Scotia of any wrongdoing in his wife’s suicide death in Switzerland.

The investigation began after Windsor, N.S. resident Eric MacDonald accompanied his wife Elizabeth MacDonald to Zurich so she could end her life. She died June 8 in his arms.

Assisted suicide is legal in Switzerland, and the RCMP have concluded that no crime was committed in Canada.

“There was no one that actively participated in getting her to the clinic in Switzerland or were instrumental in orchestrating that whole thing,” Const. Les Kakonyi said Tuesday.

“It would appear that this was done through her insistence and primarily through her own wishes.”

Elizabeth MacDonald, 38, had a severe form of multiple sclerosis that left her in a wheelchair. Her throat was also beginning to paralyze.

Staff at The Dignitas Clinic gave Elizabeth MacDonald a glass of barbiturates and told her she would die if she drank it, but she did it without any hesitation, her husband has said.

Eric MacDonald says police acted the way he thought they would. “I would question somewhat why the police were involved,” Mr. MacDonald said, “but I realize they have to follow up on complaints.”

The RCMP received a complaint from The Euthanasia Prevention Coalition in Ontario (link here) after Ms. MacDonald’s obituary was published with mention of the Swiss Dignitas clinic. Canada’s Euthanasia Prevention Council lobbies against assisted suicide.
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…this post forwarded by a Windsor Humanist (N.Hod) after a July 3, 2007 piece on CBC News.

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