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Paul Schratz - Life In The Schratz Lane

The euthanasia plot should be thickening

Voices March 7, 2019

All sides of a story need to be heard if a complex issue is to be understood, such as assisted suicide, writes Paul Schratz. Jody Wilson-Raybould testifies before the Commons justice committee. (ParlVU screenshot)

Not only was the testimony of Jody Wilson-Raybould before the Commons justice committee a lesson in courage, it was also instructive on the need to hear all sides of a story.

Initial Globe and Mail reports about political interference in the SNC-Lavalin case, and Prime Minister Trudeau’s quick denial, told only part of the story. As we saw a few days later, the narrative developed into something with many more perspectives than initially thought. Add the testimonies of the PM’s former principal secretary and the Privy Council Clerk, and it became apparent the more people you heard from, the more complex the story became. 

So why do Canadian journalists insist on using a Grade 1-level narrative to tell another tale worthy of Shakespeare – to the country’s peril?

The introduction of assisted suicide in Canada is just such a story. Imposed by the courts and unleashed by government, the plot has been a simple one from a media perspective. The arrival of assisted suicide has been painted as a great human rights victory, and the only thing better would be more of it, for as many people and reasons as possible.

In recent weeks there have been one-sided accounts of a Halifax woman who ended her life with euthanasia, but not before she and pro-assisted suicide group Dying with Dignity made a heart-breaking appeal to change assisted dying rules to allow those who can’t give late-stage consent to still get medical assistance in dying. Major media outlets carried the story without a word of opposition from critics of assisted suicide.

The biased reporting continues from coast to coast.

In Alberta the number of assisted suicide cases has reached 600, report the media. No mention of any cause for concern.

On the east coast, the PEI government no longer tracks how many Islanders request assisted suicide. As far as the media coverage goes, this is nothing to be alarmed about.

In the span of a week, the Vancouver Sun ran four articles with glowing accounts of assisted suicide or the need to expand it, most of them tying in Svend Robinson’s history on the issue and his running as the New Democrat candidate for Burnaby North-Seymour in the federal election this fall.

What accounts for this credulous approach toward something that should at the very least be seen as morally uncertain?

It’s partly the fact Dying with Dignity does a better job telling its story. The group speaks passionately and tells compelling stories of those suffering from an imperfect health-care system. If we can’t heal them, or at least comfort them, we should at least end their suffering by euthanasia. 

But it’s also due to the lack of interest by news organizations in telling all sides of the story. Equal parts bias and laziness explain journalists’ indifference to the unavailability of national figures on the number of Canadians who died by assisted suicide in 2018. The most recent data came out last summer and only reported until the end of 2017. If this was any other case of government obscurity, the media would be sounding alarm bells about lack of transparency.

It’s tragic, because there are compelling stories out there waiting to be told. Instead of pushing for more and easier “death with dignity,” why not investigate the reasons so many people are “choosing” to die? Or report on complications from failed assisted suicide, or incidents of coercion, or the impact euthanasia is having on medicine, health care, law, and human rights in Canada? How about finding medical providers feeling compelled to participate in killing? Have patients been killed without explicit request?

Rather than writing puff pieces about Svend Robinson’s role in softening Canadians up for euthanasia, how about asking him his thoughts on euthanizing children or those with mental illnesses, as more medical interests are urging?

It’s easy to write articles that make emotional pleas for expanded euthanasia. It’s more demanding to investigate the implications and consequences of the existing law and what it says about our medical system, and about us. It also disrupts a media narrative that presents assisted suicide as a good and desirable thing.