Wednesday, March 23, 2005

How do be sure you don’t end up like Terri Schiavo

VICTORIA - I’ve never met Terri Schiavo, her husband or parents. She’s 41 now, and has been in what doctors call a persistent vegetative state for 15 years. in a Florida hospital bed.
Through most of that time the woman with a tube in her stomach has been at the centre of a legal tug of war. Should she be left to die, or kept alive? Who knows her best, loves her more? What would she want?
Schiavo’s husband says she always told him that she didn’t want to be kept alive artificially under these kind of circumstances. He’s asked the courts to approve ending life support.
Her parents want Schiavo kept alive, arguing that is what she would want.
It’s a terrible situation. But the courts, in 2000, and 2003 and again sveral times this year, heard from everyone involved and decided the feeding tube should be removed. That is what Schaivo would have wanted, given her condition. Barring a miracle, that would mean she would die within two weeks.
I pray I never have to face that kind of decision.
But I also pray that others will have the courage and love to honour my own views about when life has so little meaning that it is no longer worth preserving through heroic medical efforts. When it is time.
Schiavo is not being granted that kind of respect.
As the courts and family wrestled with this difficult decision, the U.S. politicians rushed into action. They knew little about Terri Schiavo, or what she wanted from her life and death. But they were undeterred by their ignorance.
The U.S. Congress rushed to Washington for a weekend session. President George Bush cut short a Texas vacation to sign a bill ordering another legal review of the court’s decision. Everyone involved made their case on CNN, and the extremists grabbed their media moments. Schiavo as an individual was forgotten; she mattered only as a symbol.
It couldn’t happen here, ethics experts maintained.
But it could. Look at Evelyn Martens, who was arrested, tried - and acquitted - for aiding a suicide. The issues are much the same.
Or listen to the public discussions about the Schiavo case. A nice-sounding woman called into the CBC, to offer her view - based on nothing - that Schiavo would have wanted to be kept alive.
She went on. Even if Schiavo had specified in advance that she did not want to be kept alive, her wishes should be ignored, the caller said.
Some people believe suffering is part of God’s plan, and should be embraced. Some want every medical measure taken to prolong life. Others have decided where they want to draw the line; where pain or emptiness or loss of meaning outweigh the drive to remain alive.
I’d never presume to make this decision for anyone else. But many people would, here as well as in the U.S.
You have an option. Decisions continuing life support, or undertaking desperate medical interventions, are complex. If the patient is uable to make the decisions - like Schiavo - B.C. doctors are required to turn to family members. But as the Schiavo case shows, that does not always provide clear answers. (And it also places family members in a difficult position.)
You can help help. B.C.'s Representation Agreement Act allows you to make a legally enforceable living will, setting out what kinds of treatment and life support you want, given different medical circumstances. You can also specify who should make the decisions on your behalf - a family member, or perhaps a friend if you wish to spare family the pain. (The Representation Agreement Resource Centre - - is a good information starting point. In some cases you may also need a lawyer’s help.)
We’re not keen on contemplating our own deaths. But Schiavo’s plight - and the pain for all involved - shows that it’s important to decide on the way we choose to die, just as we choose the way we live.
Footnote: There’s something quite obscene about the rush by U.S. politicians to capitalize on this case. Thousands die and suffer needlessly every day without attracting their notice. The death of one woman who offers political advantage matters a great deal more, apparently.

Monday, March 21, 2005

Poll shows Liberals won battle for the middle

VICTORIA - Things are looking brighter for the Liberals.
The latest Ipsos poll found the BC Liberals have opened up a significant lead on the New Democrats. The Liberals have the support of 46 per cent of decided voters, compared with 39 per cent for the NDP.
With the election less than two months away, that's a significant breakthrough. Those kind of poll results suggest a substantial Liberal majority in the May election, with about 50 Liberal MLAs facing some 29 New Democrats.
The results aren't shocking. Voters dumped all over the New Democrats in 2001, and a quick rehabilitation looked unlikely.
But only a year ago the NDP was at 42 per cent support, slightly ahead of the Liberals at 39 per cent. Since then, the polls have found the two parties in a virtual dead heat, until the Liberals pulled ahead.
What's changed? One factor is simply the nearness of the election date. Voters angry at the Liberals who said they would vote New Democrat are now taking a harder look at both parties, and coming down on the side of Campbell and company.
The Liberals themselves have also changed. A steady stream of press releases have announced and reannounced money for health care, education and social services, as the Liberals try to look more like Santa and less like the Grinch. They want voters to see them as a party that's moved to the middle of the political spectrum.
Meanwhile, the New Democrats, perhaps heartened by their poll results over the last year, haven't made the same move. The party's election platform remains under wraps until the campaign starts. The ties to unions, which concern many potential moderate supporters, haven't been loosened. And the party has nominated candidates - like Harry Lali, Erda Walsh and Adrian Dix - who are symbols of the last bad government.
That's looking like a mistake. A year ago, about 20 per cent of voters were undecided or didn't offer an opinion when Ipsos called. That's fallen to 13 per cent in the current poll, and it appears most of the people who formed an opinion have opted to support the Liberals.
New Democrats ae still taking satisfaction in their progress since the last election. In 2001, the party took 22 per cent of the popular vote, as even traditional NDP supporters stayed home or voted for another party.
Getting back up to about 40 per cent is a significant achievement. That level means the party has won back the faithful, and convinced some swing voters that it could form a credible government.
But the New Democrats - despite a lot of public concern about the Campbell Liberals - haven’t come close to the level of support that would allow them to form government.
Maybe climbing out of the political graveyard is enough for many New Democrats this time around. Even that didn’t look like a sure thing barely four years ago.
Still, the poll may be marked as an early indicator of a new era of political stability in B.C. The Liberals, despite alienating a huge chunk of the public, have established a broad enough base to ensure re-election.
And the New Democrats, despite the kind of crisis that encourages cruel self-evaluation, have not done much to win the critical support of swing voters, perhaps counting too much on people angry at the Liberals, and not enough on people inspired by the NDP.
The poll found voters were evenly divided on whether the Liberals have done a good job. But only 13 per cent of the public strongly approve of the Campbell government’s record. More than one-third offer “moderate approval.” Those are potential swing voters. (The resuts are still good news for the Liberals. Their approval rating has jumped in the last six months.)
There are still almost two months until election day, and potential pitfalls for both parties.
But the latest Ipsos poll suggests the Liberals - if they stay in the middle - are on track for a second majority.
Footnote: The poll showed a divided province. In the Lower Mainland - representing more than half the seats - the Liberals are at 51 per cent and the NDP at 37. Across the rest of the province the parties are tied. The NDP has meaningful leads on the Island and Coast and in the southern Interior.

Ottawa refuses to protect children from sexual predators

VICTORIA - What is wrong with the federal government, that it is so unwilling to take ons emall, important step to protect children from sexual predators?
The excuses keep changing, as the federal Liberals twist and turn to avoid making one legal change that would save young girls from sexual exploitation.
For years people have been pleading with the federal government to raise the age of consent, so grown men can’t claim that they have the right to have sex with 14-year-old girls.
And for years, Ottawa has come up with nothing but increasingly lame excuses.
We won’t let a 14-year-old drink, or drive a car, or vote. The reason is that they are children, without the maturity or judgment to consistently make sound decisions.
But Canada does think it’s fine for a 14-year-old to have sex with a man four times her age, and that it is a decision she’s fully capable of making. At an age when she should be thinking about her Grade 8 graduation, a girl is fair game for any man who can persuade her she’s in love, or dazzle her with praise and promises
Provinces, opposition parties, parents and police have been pleading with the federal government to raise the age of consent to 16 for at least nine years. With no success.
I’ve been writing about the issue for at least five years, and have watched - in genuine bafflement - the federal Liberals evade their responsibility.
Former justice minister Martin Cauchon said there wasn’t a clear provincial consensus on the change, so the government wouldn’t act. That was after every province but Saskatchewan and Quebec had supported raising the age to 16. The Liberals also said they were protecting cultural or ethnic groups with "different sexual mores," without identifying the cultures that have a valued tradition of sex with children, or why that is worth protecting.
Now the story has changed, and the supposed defence for inaction is downright insulting. Current Justice Minister Irwin Cotler says changing the age of consent could mean thousands of teenagers could be arrested each year for consensual sex with each other. Instead of protecting children, a new law would victimize them, says the justice minister.
It is patent rubbish. The U.S., Britain, Australia - Thailand, even - have higher ages of consent, without the problems Cotler predicts. Sex between individuals within two or three years of each other in age is exempted from prosecution, avoiding the issue entirely.
Yes, teens are going to be sexually active, no matter what parents or others think about their judgment. A survey of B.C. teens found nine per cent of 13-year-old girls and 14 per cent of boys had already had sex. That’s worrying, and points to other needs, like early, detailed sex education. But it’s no excuse for government inaction on the issue of adult predators.
Police have the common sense to recognize that if they find two 15-year-olds having sex in the park, that’s not a criminal matter. If they find a 15-year-old girl having sex with a 50-year-old man in a parked car, that likely is.
Changing the law would make a huge difference, giving police and parents a new tool to fight against adults who target children for sex or profit.
Parents could use the threat of criminal charges to face down a sexual predator interested in a young daughter, an option that does not now exist.
Pimps and johns would both have to factor one more risk into the equation when they put young girls to work, or hired them for sex.
And police would have a reason to intervene before children were lost.
The age of consent was lowered from 18 almost two decades ago, a move that has proved damaging to children’s best interests. The solution is obvious and widely supported.
The federal government’s stubborn refusal to protect children is shameful.
Footnote: The age of consent in Canada was only lowered from 18 in 1987. The move to 14 was clearly too far, and the result has been increased exploitation of children. Liberal MPs need to hear directly from Canadians who think it’s wrong for men to have sex with children.