Wednesday, 21 October 2009

Rights becoming wrongs

I first encountered Hungarian-Canadian author George Jonas in the late 1980s when I read his book on famous Canadian defense lawyer Eddie Greenspan, Greenspan: The Case for the Defence. Jonas, who is also Jewish, was a refugee from the Communist regime as a result of the 1956 Hungarian revolution.

I now read his columns in the National Post, and typically enjoy (while not always agreeing with) his forthright analysis and acerbic wit. Today's column (National Post, Oct. 21, 2009, p. A14) on the egregious Roman Polanski contained the following remarks which sent my mind a-skittering:

The Pill, along with the "make love, not war" generation of the Vietnam years, propelled Western societies from their quiet quasi-Victorian 1950s lagoons to a virtual Sodom and Gomorrah within a decade. The solemn pillars of misdeeds buttressing society's moral edifice either crumbled or metamorphosed into "choices" one by one:
- Divorce "progressed" from a scandal that cost Nelson Rockefeller his political career in 1964 to a statistical commonplace (about 50% for first marriages in the U. S.);
- Pre-marital sex changed from a taboo to standard practice for teenagers (including Polanski's 13-year-old victim);
- Adultery was reduced from a grave marital misconduct to an irrelevancy in no-fault divorce;
- Fornication grew from biblical prohibition to fashionable spouse-swapping venues at Plato's Retreat and, eventually, the Internet;
- Abortion turned from a crime into a civil distinction (a medal for Dr. Morgentaler); and
- Homosexuality from a love that dared not speak its name into one that couldn't shut up about it.

None of this mitigated what Polanski did, but by the time he was detained in Switzerland, his misdeeds were virtually the only sexual offences left. The rest became human rights. Polanski's pillar was holding up society's edifice of sexual mores. When Hollywood tried to knock even this one down with Whoopi Goldberg's "rape but not rape-rape" plea, something snapped. The next thing on the screen was a lynch mob --and dumb me, with nuances about ages of consent.

Although I lived through this whole period (I can even vaguely remember the Hungarian Revolution), I was nevertheless struck with how quickly society can change its collective mind on any number of controversial issues, transforming the status quo from bad to good (as in Jonas' examples), or from good to bad (such as the racism and sexism I also remember well from the 1950s and 1960s).

But if the changes Jonas mentions came over a period of decades, we are now watching the latest installment of what constitutes women's rights morphing within months.

First the status quo, circa 2007: Women's inalienable human rights are full and equal with those of men. Therefore women are entitled to reproductive rights, full access to abortion services, and the unhindered right to choose.

But much to my astonishment, the ardent feminists who argued most for the status quo have now begun to place restrictions on the right to choose (although they would deny my assertion, and its rationale, if challenged of course). Here's how:

Restriction no. 1 - An Alberta MP has introduced a private member's bill that would allow charges to be laid in the death of an unborn child if the mother is a victim of a crime. Known as the Unborn Victims of Crime Act, the bill is in response to repeated calls from the families of murdered pregnant women to recognize that their unborn children were victims too, Conservative MP Ken Epp said in a news release Wednesday (Canwest News Service November 22, 2007).

Mr. Epp modeled this bill (which his political party initially supported but eventually abandoned) after U.S. legislation. Remember that in the U.S. access to abortion is a constitutional right.

What was at stake was whether a mother who had made her choice (i.e. to carry the baby to term) would now have protection from those who might otherwise be tempted to treat her violently, simultaneously harming or even killing the unborn baby. This has happened several times in Canada in recent years, and Epp's bill received much support from these victims and their families, including those who maintained a pro-choice position themselves.

I anticipated that the bill would be well received because it honoured choice and even gave it added protection. But to my surprise, the supporters of choice came out with guns blazing, attempting to paint the bill as either a hidden attack on choice or a slippery slope towards restricting women's rights. Here, for instance, is the response in Parliament by keepers of the flame:

Ms. Meili Faille (Vaudreuil-Soulanges, BQ):
Mr. Speaker, I rise today to speak to Bill C-484. I will start by saying that, as a woman, I would have never believed that I would still be here fighting for the rights of women. It has been a fierce battle, waged by so many women before me.
The Conservatives, with this bill, are implicitly trying to achieve an objective, that is, restrict the right to abortion. . . It is up to women to decide. They have their own reasons for their choices. This is a pro-life bill that is trying to hide behind the concept of the unborn child. This bill opens the door to limiting women's power to be free and to make the choices they have the right to make. . . I urge the House not to support this bill, which opens the door to the criminalization of abortion. There is a hidden objective in this bill to prevent a woman from choosing whether or not to have a child.

Ms. Alexa McDonough (Halifax, NDP):
Let me say the evidence is very clear that the bill not only could become a thin edge of the wedge in the direction of re-criminalizing abortion . . .There are many more things I could say, but I think that in the final analysis the point is that women need to be protected far more effectively and aggressively against violence, and that is the best way to protect vulnerable fetuses. If that were the objective, then we would be very much wanting to support such a bill. . .I, for one, am very uncomfortable with where the bill is intended to go and what its real purpose is.

Mr. Raymond Gravel (Repentigny, BQ) (n.b. Gravel is also a Roman Catholic priest):
As a Catholic priest, I find it somewhat difficult to relate to this bill quite simply because the member who tabled it belongs to a pro-life group, the Campaign Life Coalition, which, in my humble opinion, is a fairly extremist and fanatical group. I am pro-life, but I do not belong to that group.
In my opinion, this bill will open the door to re-criminalizing women who have an abortion, and that is not a good thing. I am against abortion, but I do not believe that is how we will deal with the problem of abortion. I have always stated that we need education, support and assistance for women dealing with unwanted pregnancy. In my opinion, the problem of abortion will be solved with these types of measures and not by re-criminalizing abortion. I absolutely do not want that.
When a pregnant woman is assaulted or killed and her fetus is killed at the same time, I agree completely that it is an abominable crime. It is revolting, but at the same time I believe that when the fetus is in its mother's womb, they are one being. Only when it leaves her womb does it become a child. I believe that is the Supreme Court definition of 1969.
I know that killing a pregnant woman, like any murder, is a serious matter. However, I believe it is dangerous to establish a new law that would treat the murder of the fetus and of the mother as a double murder. I believe that it is dangerous and that is not how we will put an end to abortion. Not in this way.

These quotes are representative of the many made in opposition to the bill. What was at stake, in the view of the opponents, was that the bill might open the door to recognizing a fetus as a person. Thus, the added protection it gave to a choice made was sacrificed for the sake of the issue of personhood (or not) and the fetus.

Restriction no. 2 - I won't go to the same length with my next two examples. The first has to do with the practice of some South Asian women (and others) who sought an abortion if the fetus was determined to be female. I found this phenomenon to be reprehensible on several levels, but it never occurred to me that it would be opposed by the pro-choice movement. Look at the quotes above. Women should be free to choose and not to be judged for it--until now!

No less a spokesperson than former British Columbia Premier, and federal Liberal Minister of Health Ujjal Dosanjh led the charge. What follows is an excerpt from CBC News, April 2, 2008:

Among those who believe that sex-selective abortion is also a problem in Canada is federal opposition health critic Ujjal Dosanjh. A prominent member of British Columbia's South Asian community, Dosanjh says Canada needs to be concerned about imbalances in the ratio of boys to girls in Vancouver, Greater Toronto and elsewhere.

The former federal health minister and B.C. premier says newly available DNA tests that determine the sex of a fetus at six weeks or less could easily lead to more abortions among couples seeking to have sons, a practice he describes as "absolutely irresponsible".

Speaking to CBC 's The Current, Dosanjh said the tests need to be regulated and a debate launched about whether it's acceptable to have an abortion because of the gender of a fetus.

"The women's' right to choose, for me that's paramount," he said, "[but] I believe we need to make sure that [if] people are aborting simply for gender selection, that is absolutely not supported.

"This is about gender equality. If there is a medical need for these tests, I have no difficulty … to deal with disease," Dosanjh said. "Being a female absolutely is not a disease."

Dosanjh's logic in this case was so convoluted that pro-life advocate John Hof welcomed the former premier to the pro-life movement. While Dosanjh testily rejected Hof's teasing, there is no question that he was advocating a restriction on choice, in the case in the interests of gender equality.

Restriction no. 3 - This example takes us back just to August of this year. The Quebec provincial government was attempting to impose uniform standards of safety on all out-patient medical clinics. The huge irony was that the abortion clinics opposed the bill--just for themselves. Here is some commentary from the excellent blog ProWomanProLife:

Bill 34 in Quebec was an attempt to legislate the same standards for all out-patient medical clinics. The bill, it's worth noting, never mentioned abortion, but that didn't stop abortion activists from shifting into high-gear apoplexy. Those who purportedly stand for women's rights jumped to demand lower standards for their exclusively female patients. And on Aug. 17, they won. Quebec's beleaguered Health Minister Yves Bolduc retreated, and will now wait for the Quebec College of Physicians to create new guidelines.

Now Bolduc made it clear he's not pro-life. Bill 34 wasn't an end-run attempt to curtail access to abortions. That's a laughable idea in Quebec of all places, the province with the country's highest abortion rate. This was an attempt to apply uniform standards to all medical clinics.

No doubt, it would have been a sweet irony for pro-lifers that a law from a pro-choice politician which failed to mention abortion even once could potentially have caused the closure of three abortion clinics.

Yet the more telling irony is that those who run abortion clinics have rushed not to criticize the proposed legislation in general, but only to demand that they be exempt. The rules for out-patient eye surgery clinics, oral surgery offices and dermatologists meet with their approval. In short, the new standards are just fine for other facilities, but they mustn't be applied to clinics that perform surgery on women's reproductive organs.

The restriction on choice in this case is that women are not necessarily entitled to safe access. If the choice is between full access or safe access, full access trumps. [I'm tempted to ask, What's next? Back to coat hangers? But I won't.]

So we see between November 2007 and August 2009 that the pro-choice movement modified, and was even prepared to restrict, unhindered choice in these three ways:
1. No to protected choice.
2. No to choice for any reason (all reasons are OK except for gender selection).
3. No to guaranteed medically safe choice.

Do I sense a hidden agenda at work here? Stay tuned.

Thursday, 15 October 2009

On pulling plugs and other difficult decisions

It was a year ago yesterday that my eighty-seven year old father, having just voted in the 2008 federal election, suffered a stroke from which he died four days later. It is a testimony to my father's lifelong love affair with politics generally, and with the Conservative Party in particular, that one of the last things he ever said before lapsing into a coma was, "Did our local member win?" She did.

On the day before he died, Dad's doctor gave us the grave news that my father would not recover. Or if he did, he would live in an unendurable state (at least from the doctor's point of view). He suggested that the medical people cease to give him the medications necessary to keep him breathing--in other words, to metaphorically pull the plug.

This led to quite a discussion among my siblings at the hospital, my son, and even a nephew and niece who were present. Two other siblings were phoned as well. Apparently my father had told some of his children that if he were very ill and certainly dying, he did not want any extraordinary measures taken to keep him going. This is not uncommon, even among strongly committed pro-life and anti-euthanasia folks.

Some, out of nothing but love and compassion, wanted to let him die. Others felt that the doctor had not outlined anything extraordinary to keeping him alive, and had not made a convincing case for discontinuing medical intervention. My son's succinct "I'd treat him" carried the day. Nevertheless, Dad died the next morning.

Less than three months later, I was at another bedside, that of a woman in her mid-twenties, gasping for life as her lungs, a gift from another person who had died about ten years earlier, lost their ability to function. This dear young friend had cystic fibrosis. Another transplant was impossible. Keeping her hooked up to numerous machines was the only way for her lungs to function at all. She was in an induced coma or she would have torn out all of the tubes coming out of various places in her wasted body, leading to certain death. The decision was made, literally this time, to pull the plug. No one disputed the decision.

As the time neared for the young woman to die, a large group of her friends and those of her mother and step-father gathered in the waiting room of the ICU. The room was as quiet, if I may use the expression, as the grave. Some began to cry. One clutched a rosary. Another asked me if I would pray just before 6:00 p.m., the appointed time for letting the young woman go. Feeling incredible emotion, and an overwhelming sense of responsibility, I recited the 23rd Psalm (The Lord is my shepherd, I shall want for nothing...I will dwell in the house of the LORD forever) and prayed for her and the family. I'll never forget it.

Within three months, I twice faced the decision of whether to euthanize a loved one. Nothing in life prepares you for this. And that's the trouble. The Canadian government, for the seventh time in eighteen years, is confronted with a private member's bill seeking to legalize some form of euthanasia. The Member of Parliament in question has cancer herself. Apparently the vast majority of Canadians believe that she has the right idea. But our political masters have always backed away from allowing these bills to see the light of day. Thus, necessary research of the experience of other countries with such legislation, an exploration of the ethical and legal facets of the issue, and a good debate have not happened.

Our nation needs a thorough examination of this topic. Really, most Canadians know little or nothing about the matter. People throw around terms like "death with dignity" without understanding what ramifications could come from choosing one form of euthanasia over another, or banning it entirely.

Euthanasia can't just grow surreptitiously until its acceptance become inevitable without any real debate. Just as abortion gets little genuine discussion in our society, neither does euthanasia. The feds run for cover when either topic is raised. And we're left with Robert Latimer and Sue Rodriguez as our exemplars.

Where will a useful forum for discussion of these critical life matters come from? With the greatest respect to my late father's political passion, not Ottawa apparently.

Saturday, 3 October 2009

15 and counting

Like many of you, I have just become aware of a book about to be released entitled Impossible Motherhood: Testimony of an Abortion Addict. It involves a New York woman of Puerto Rican heritage named Irene Vilar who had fifteen abortions in fifteen years before finally getting help for her addiction, as well as ridding herself of a husband who didn't want children, and giving birth to two live children

I don't want to go into the details of the book. They are complicated and very, very sad. A few salient points are these:
1. She seemed like a prime candidate to be addicted to something. Her mother, who was depressed, was addicted to Valium. While still a young woman with small children, she jumped out of a moving car and died. Her father was an alcoholic and addicted to gambling. Two of her brothers are heroin addicts.
2. She married a 50 year old man who didn't want children. She did want them, however, and found herself between the proverbial rock (maternal instinct) and a hard place (potential loss of her husband). It led her to allowing herself to becoming pregnant again and again and then aborting. She said that getting pregnant, despite the inevitable result, was an attempt to retain some control in her relationship.
3. All but one of her abortions were performed in New York state, sometimes by the same doctors.
4. She remains ardently pro-choice.

I suppose that in pro-life circles this woman will be labeled as a monster, or else some pathetic soul duped by the abortion industry into murdering fifteen real persons. Some pro-choicers will turn her into a kind of hero for recognizing that her aberrant behaviour does not take away from her strong belief in the rightness of their position. I'll leave them to slug it out.

What strikes me about this horror story is this:

1. Whatever obsessions and compulsions Ms Vilar had, her first husband did not. He was a professor. Presumably he loved her. He didn't know about all the abortions, but he was aware of some of them. What is it about our culture that made him comfortable with these serial abortions, at least for a while? Was he just another psycho, or did he view abortion as that trivial an activity?
2. Who were these doctors performing multiple abortions? I believe even the most committed pro-abortionists admit that the likelihood of physical and emotional damage from abortions increases with each such surgery. Are abortions not tracked? Is the mother's health of such little consequence? I know that there is big money in the abortion business (just look at Planned Parenthood U.S.'s financial statements), but doctors also take the Hippocratic Oath. Are medical ethics that corrupted in some circles?
3. The article reviewing the book quoted studies of woman who have multiple abortions as considerably more likely to have experienced physical abuse, sexual abuse, or coercion. We also know that most abortions (and I got this from pro-choice literature) are done for someone else--an unwilling partner, embarrassed family, inflexible school authorities, hardhearted boss, etc. Does an abortion really solve such problems? Did they for Ms Vilar?

What do I take from this book? First of all, woman are still being taken advantage of in ways that I can hardly imagine as an educated white male. Secondly, women pay a big price, and take huge personal risks, in availing themselves of the most recommended option--to abort. Finally, how often does an abortion solve the problems that led women to securing one in the first place? I suggest seldom if ever.

There must be a better way. Not that our present provincial and federal governments are interested.