The Third International Symposium on Euthanasia and Assisted Suicide in Vancouver (June 3 – 4) was a tremendous success. The goals that were set-out before the Symposium were surpassed. The DVD’s of the Symposium will be available in early July for $50 for the complete set. The Third International Symposium was organized by the Euthanasia Prevention Coalition (EPC).
The International leaders had a meeting on Thursday, June 2, that was chaired by Alex Schadenberg. The meeting examined issues related to the language of the debate and common directions for the group. There was general agreement concerning the language of the debate and the group agreed to appoint Hugh Scher, the legal counsel for EPC, to work on branding and common ideas.
We discussed our need to strengthen the international leadership of the group. The group agreed that Alex Schadenberg would continue to be the Chair of the Euthanasia Prevention Coalition – International. Paul Russell – HOPE Australia, Peter Saunders – Care NOT Killing Alliance UK, Margaret Dore – Seattle Attorney, Nancy Elliott – New Hampshire and Mark Pickup – Human Life Matters agreed to complete the new international leaders team. Paul Russell was appointed as Vice-Chair.
The Friday sessions were mainly devoted to establishing what has occurred over the past few years. These sessions of the Symposium celebrated our many successes.
Rita Marker, the leader of the Patients Rights Council, spoke about the history of the euthanasia movement in America. She also urged the participants to focus on the language of the debate.
Henk Reitsma, from the Netherlands, uncovered the changes that have occurred in the Netherlands over the past 10 years, since euthanasia was officially legalized. He showed us how dutch citizens have the lowest death rates in Europe during the medium years of their lives but they have the highest death rates at birth and they are now dying at a younger age. He also uncovered the fact that the rates of euthanasia by sedation and dehydration have risen dramatically. It appears that Dutch physicians prefer to end the lives of their patients in that manner to avoid filling out the paper work.
Paul Russell, the leader of HOPE Australia spoke about the successful defeat of the euthanasia bills in South Australia. He emphasized how effective it has been working with Margaret Dore and EPC. He also explained how the euthanasia lobby is changing and how he is adapting his message.
Peter Saunders, the campaign director for the Care NOT Killing Alliance in the UK, spoke about the many development in Europe and in the UK. He spoke about how the assisted suicide prosecution guidelines in the UK are being abused. He informed us of the current directions in Europe.
Gordon Macdonald, the leader of the Care NOT Killing Alliance in Scotland spoke about the successful defeat of the Margo Macdonald euthanasia bill. He explained to us what worked and he emphasized how the next challenge by the euthanasia lobby will be more difficult.
Nancy Elliot, a former three term representative from New Hampshire, who worked to defeat the assisted suicide bill in her state, emphasized how maintaining a focused message enabled her to successfully convince the legislature to oppose assisted suicide.
Bradley Williams, the leader of Montanans against Assisted Suicide explained that assisted suicide is not legal in Montana and how his grass roots approach is building a strong opposition to assisted suicide in his state.
Linda Couture, the director of Vivre dans la Dignité in Quebec explained how they have built a strong opposition to euthanasia and assisted suicide in Quebec. They continue to challenge the Quebec government – Dying with Dignity committee to not allow euthanasia through the backdoor.
Harry van Bommel spoke about the founding principles of the hospice movement and urged us to maintain the founding principles. He emphasized the importance of caring for your friends and family and how the experience of caring for others is positive both personally and for society.
Dr. Margaret Cottle, the VP of EPC Canada spoke about the long and caring heritage of medicine. She spoke about how doctors can be healers or killers. She then coined the term “cultural green” and explained the reasons why there is a long history of doctors refusing to kill their patients. She said that the ethical heritage is like an old growth forest that took a long time to grow but is easy to cut down.
Alex Schadenberg spoke about a series of studies that have been published in the literature over the past few years. He proved that people who live with depression are dying by euthanasia in the Netherlands and assisted suicide in Oregon. He proved that more than 30% of all euthanasia deaths in Belgium are done without request or consent and nearly 50% of all euthanasia deaths in Belgium are not reported. He explained the history of the Groningen Protocol, the protocol that allows for the euthanasia of infants with disabilities in the Netherlands and how the language of the Protocol is eugenic.
The Friday dinner featured Senator Helen Polley from Australia who spoke about the long history of the euthanasia lobby in Australia continuously pushing on a territory, state and federal level for the legalization of euthanasia. Senator Polley was truly inspiring.
Saturday morning began with a presentation from Msgr Barreiro from HLI who spoke about the nature of the human person.
Joe Comartin, the NDP co-chair of the Parliamentary Committee on Palliative and Compassionate Care shared with the group some of the findings of the parliamentary committee. He emphasized that Canada needs to implement many changes in the care it provides to people in vulnerable conditions and that if the government can commit to a program of change, that the demand for euthanasia would drop substantially if not nearly completely. He stated that we have a lot of work to do but he has hope.
Krista Flint from Inclusive Humanity and Rhonda Wiebe with the Council of Canadians with Disabilities spoke about how to re-frame the debate around the issues of euthanasia. They emphasized the importance of the lived experience and how images, stories and messages can imprint on a culture. They showed us how similar messages presented in a different way can produce a very different response.
Margaret Dore spoke about the importance of language and how to frame your message in a way that the mainstream society will agree. She used examples of the recent campaigns in Montana, New Hampshire and Washington State to give examples of the messages that worked and the messages that didn’t work. She emphasized that we need to maintain message discipline.
Nick Goiran, a Liberal member of the Western Australian state legislature, spoke about the successful defeat of the euthanasia bill in Western Australia. Nick emphasized the importance of one on one meetings and explained how he effectively compared the issue to the capital punishment debate in Australia.
Hugh Scher spoke about the current court challenges in Canada. He spoke about EPC’s involvement in the Hawryluck vs Scardoni and Rasouli court cases. He emphasized the importance of these precedent setting cases and how they are affecting medical decision making in Canada. Hugh also spoke about the recent court challenges by the Farewell Foundation in BC and the BC Civil Liberties Association. The current court challenges are designed to strike down Canada’s laws prohibiting euthanasia and assisted suicide.
Mark and Laree Pickup spoke about their life experience with disability. Mark was diagnosed with MS nearly 30 years ago and experienced a roller coaster ride from being an active and athletic man to requiring assistance and support for many of his daily tasks. Mark stated that if euthanasia had been legal in those early years that he would have taken the lethal dose in his time of despair. Laree admitted that during the difficult times that she considered divorcing Mark to start a new life without a husband with disabilities. Mark stated that he is thankful that euthanasia was not available to take his life in his time of despair. Now that he has accepted his disabilities he has found great dignity and happiness in his life.
Mark called on the participants to be part of an interdependent community and not buy into the ideology of the euthanasia lobby that values life only in what you do, rather than what you are.
The Third International Symposium concluded with an announcement by Peter Saunders and Gordon Macdonald that the Euthanasia Prevention International will co-host a European Symposium in Scotland, possibly in June 2012 and an announcement by Paul Russell that the Euthanasia Prevention Coalition International will co-host a Australasian Symposium in Australia, possibly in September 2012.
The Third International Symposium was a tremendous success because it brought together most of the world leaders who updated and challenged the participants of the Symposium. It also created an effective, unified and active group of leaders who will continue to build successful campaign to defeat bills to legalize euthanasia and turn the tide on the cultural paradigm of euthanasia and assisted suicide.