Friday, 28 March 2014

A Letter to MP Rick Dykstra: In response to Steven Fletcher's News Conference

-Dr. Wes Reimer


I happened to catch Mr. Fletcher's news conference today and what I want to pick up on most is his comment that we, as physicians, are basically practicing covert, physician-assisted suicide (PAS) via his "wink wink..." statement.  As a practicing physician in this country and one who deals daily with late stage disease and palliative care, I find Mr. Fletcher's comments misleading of the public, and offensive.

Hearing him speak to this issue today, one would almost think it's flatly illegal to die in Canada!!  It's neither unlawful to live nor to die.  And myself and countless colleagues have the remarkable duty and privilege to care for the dying in a manner that respects their wishes and acknowledges their condition.  
MP tables bills for doctor-assisted suicide
Credits: REUTERS/Chris Wattie
In just the same way that a patient (or their representative) can, at any time, elect to decline any procedure or intervention - even if potentially life saving - the patient also currently has the right to decline any degree of 'medical' management.  At the obvious end stage of illness, many many patients and families decide, in concert w caring physicians, to withdraw all active treatments (eg. feeding tubes, IVs, countless maintenance meds., oxygen etc).  This is not now, nor should it ever be illegal. Some remain in hospital at that point while others prefer a Hospice setting.  The point is, nobody is killing anyone in these everyday scenarios.  Invariably, late stage diseases of all etiologies lead to anorexia and minimal nutrient intake - no winks, no nudges - just the natural, anticipatable sunset of life.  The universal consequence of kidneys and other vital systems shutting down.  "Starvation" would be denying the hungry/thirsty patient proper nutrition when they in fact want it.  That is NOT what we do!  

Now to the use of morphine and related medicines in palliative care.  For centuries, narcotics have been an essential part of compassionate, respectful palliative care.  I thank God for morphine and it's many modern 'cousins' in the realm of controlled substances used appropriately across this country for excellent palliative care every day.  Any increase in rate of such a drug is done because of the often profound escalation of pain in the final days of cancer and other diseases.  Again, no nudging, no winking, and definitely no suicide.  Just good, professional palliative care.  While treating the pain, might the needed dose ever hasten one's passing?  It's certainly possible, but not intentional.  In cases where that has been true, it doesn't change the fact that treating the pain appropriately was the right and compassionate thing to do, in precisely the same way that one may die during necessary heart or limb surgery.  In each case, appropriate, patient-centred care is the intentional act while anticipatable death not infrequently occurs.

Death is an unavoidable, inevitable and entirely natural part of life, and one where physicians, nurses and care givers of all sorts can play a crucial, compassionate role in guiding patients through the process.  Please advocate for the truth on this issue.  That there is no clandestine death club among physicians.   For my part, one of the best things that could arise from the recent resurgence of interest in PAS, is that more funding and emphasis be directed to excellence in palliative care in this country.  As we support and empower caregivers in this art (and it is that), I believe we'll find that the perceived need for and volume of cases relevant to PAS will diminish.

As a conscientious professional in the life science of medicine, I don't ever want to see the day when I and my colleagues are forced by the state to take the life of any patient.  Thank you for receiving this and I trust you can advocate to that end.

Dr. Wes Reimer

Monday, 24 March 2014

Our Impetus in the Euthanasia Debate

-Lester Liao

Over the past few weeks I have been thinking a lot about the discussion on euthanasia and physician assisted suicide (PAS/E). The topic is so controversial in our society because of the many things that are misunderstood. People have a poor appreciation for what palliative medicine is actually able to do throughout the late-stage disease process, people are swayed by the use of emotionally charged language that paints euthanasia/PAS in a positive light (not unlike using the term “therapeutic” abortion), people misunderstand the whole notion of what a “right” is, and people fundamentally have a flawed grasp on what human life is, both ontologically and practically. This is of course, just a brief sketch of issues I have encountered with colleagues. I am sure that many of us have heard so many other reasons. So what should we do? 

This morning in my daily reading I was reminded of God’s Word through Micah as he addressed Israel, saying, “He has told you, O man, what is good; and what does the LORD require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God?” (Micah 6:8). The Israelites were living arrogantly in a time of wealth during the reigns of the Judean kings Jotham, Ahaz, and Hezekiah (1:1). They oppressed the poor (2:1-2), they sought preaching that would only suit their ears (2:6; 3:11), and they offered meaningless sacrifices to God that were empty rituals in light of their wider actions (6:6-7). In response to all these things, God reminded them what His desire for them had truly been – to do justice and love kindness and walk with Him. 

And yet before God calls them to these actions, He reminds them of their identity and what He had done for them. In 6:3 God rhetorically asks the Israelites, “O my people, what have I done to you? How have I wearied you? Answer me!” In contrast to harming them, He had actually brought them out of Egypt and redeemed them from slavery and saved them from oppressors (6:4-5). He called them to remember who they were as God’s covenantal people and reminded them of what He had done for them. It was only after they recognized this that they would have had the heart to go out and do justice and love kindness. And so it is with us. 

CMDS has been making many efforts to be vocal against euthanasia/PAS. This is a great thing. It is great because it is in the heart of God that we stand for those who are unable to protect themselves and who are being oppressed. God’s call to the Israelites is something we must remember. We must remember who we are as the adopted children of God (consider the National Conference this year from May 1-4!) and remember all that Christ has accomplished for us. For if we forget who we are, we will act without a foundation, forget why we even strive, and grow weary and discouraged. It is when we recognize our identity that we can then begin to organically act out of our nature, namely to love and care for others. 

This is what we should do. Engage colleagues and be vocal. Voice your stance on CMA forums. Do not let this debate go by without standing for justice and kindness to those who are in need of advocacy. For Christ took the initiative to save us in our helpless condition. 

If we find ourselves with little desire to engage in this wider discussion, let us consider our identities and remember who we are in Christ. For we are in a unique position to make contributions to this topic. And while I do not want to confound the fundamentals of being a Christian with being vocal about opposition to euthanasia/PAS, I do believe that when we recognize that God has appointed us to be physicians in Canada, our hearts will begin to stir. As we return to the awesome truth that is the Gospel, let’s pray that we’ll be empowered by the Holy Spirit to let our actions flow from our identity so that we may be light in this world. 

Thursday, 20 March 2014

CMDS Executive Director on CBC Radio

-Jennifer Derwey

Listen to CMDS Executive Director, Larry Worthen, point out the risks of legalizing euthanasia in Canada here on CBC's Information Morning, Nova Scotia.

Don't forget to email your comments and questions on this debate during tomorrow's public forum to

Tuesday, 18 March 2014

Upcoming Event: Public Forum on Euthanasia

-Jennifer Derwey

Values and Vision: Is Doctor Assisted Suicide a Right?
MARCH 21 @ 7:00 PM, Halifax, NS

Values and Vision: Is Doctor Assisted Suicide a Right? – A public forum on end of life issues, co-sponsored by the Halifax Shambhala Centre, The Universalist Unitarian Church of Halifax, St. John’s United Church and St. Andrew’s United Church, will be held at St. Andrew’s United Church (Corner of Robie St. and Coburg Rd.) on Friday March 21st at 7pm. Halifax, NS. 

Wanda Morris, Executive Director of Dying with Dignity Canada will be joined by academics, advocates and religious leaders (representing a variety of points of view) for a panel discussion. 

The Christian Medical and Dental Society of Canada's Executive Director, Larry Worthen, will be participating in this event. He will also be interviewed on this topic on Thursday, March 20th on CBC's Information Morning Nova Scotia. You can listen live to that event here on Thursday morning.  

We urge all supporters of the dignity of life to attend. If you cannot attend in person, potential questions for the panelists can be emailed in advance to

Friday, 7 March 2014

Medicine as Vocation

How do you view vocation? 
Vocation, simply described, is a calling. It is God who calls us and calls us to be the person we have been created to be, to fulfill God’s plan for us. It is what we in our deepest most central part of ourselves, actually most desire. The match of those two is our vocation, one and the same when our will and God’s will are one for what we should do in life. Everybody in that sense has a vocation. 
There are particular kinds of occupations that are more particularly viewed as ministry. Those are the kinds of traditional ministries of being in the clergy, or being part of the liturgy, being in the choir, being a deacon within a church. But then there are also, at least within the Roman Catholic tradition, particular kinds of works that are classified officially as ministries and those works are what we call the “corporal works of mercy” which come from the list of Christ’s own discourse about where we find him. We find him, we’re told, when we visit the sick, when we clothe the naked, when we feed the hungry. Healthcare is one of those particular kinds of “corporal works of mercy” that is ministerial. When your call in life is to be a minister and your total work is doing that particular work, it is one of those special vocations–vocation with a capital “V”—that is every bit as equivalent to the vocation of being a minister.
From the beginning of recorded history, the roles of priest and doctor were unified, right? The shaman was the healer and certainly it has been significant in the history of Christianity that this work of being a healer has been seen as spiritual kind of work. There is something special about illness and death and those who minister to it and those who are able to heal. It is central to the Christian message, and it is part of the good news. It is part of what Christ announced, and it is part of what he sent the apostles out to do – to heal the sick and preach the good news.
(Full article available here: