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March 2: Minded to die. Plus other letters to the editor

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Minded to die

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Re Should Right-To-Die Law Apply To Mentally Ill People? (March 1): Margaret Wente has waded into the trickiest quicksand of the right-to-die issue.

I agree with her that mental illness should not be included in this legislation – with one exception. That is the mental deterioration of dementia.

People with severe depression can, and do, end their lives themselves. Often, however, their illness is treatable or their suicide attempt is a cry for help.

Dementia, however, is progressive at varying rates. Many such patients are mentally incapable of ending their own lives by the time they might like to do so. We know they suffer in the early stages but we don't know what they are thinking in the advanced stages.

I think there is a cast-iron case for an advance directive, made while someone is totally compos mentis, that their life be ended mercifully when they can no longer communicate meaningfully with their family or others. That is certainly my personal wish. I have seen little comment on the terrible suffering a family undergoes when a loved one is slowly shrivelling into a shadow of the person's former self.

We hear a lot from the anti-assisted death group about providing better palliative care, but far less about providing adequate mental health services, which, in my opinion, is more important.

Charles Simpson, neurologist (retired), Victoria

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As someone who has worked in mental health all my life, and as a mother whose 40-year-old daughter has been diagnosed with a severe mental-health illness, I agree with Margaret Wente. People with mental health issues cannot be dealt with in the same manner as those with terminal illnesses who are in chronic intractable pain. There is hope for those with mental health issues: State of mind changes and fluctuates as part of the process and complexities of the disease. We absolutely cannot allow those in deep states of despair to follow through with the desire to end it all.

As health care professionals, our job is to continue to give hope and find ways to alleviate their suffering. This was something I was taught early in my career and although I have worked with many who do not agree with me, time and time again I have seen severely depressed people make a complete recovery and go on to live long, productive lives.

I have also seen those who are not given the support, and abandoned by family and the medical community, die by suicide – with much pain and suffering for those left behind.

Penny Macfarlane, London, Ont.


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The right-to-die objection is made that the mentally ill are more likely to change their minds than the physically ill. In the case of another profoundly life-affecting decision, gender-identity surgery, a moratorium of one year is often required to ensure that the decision is not the product of a transitory dissatisfaction with one's life. If a similar provision were required for the mentally ill, respect for patient autonomy demands that the right to die be extended to those who, for valid psychiatric reasons, cannot bear to go on living.

Mark Thornton, Toronto


Dictates on death

Re Assisted Dying Report Goes Beyond Scope, Ignores Evidence (online, Feb. 27): The Provincial-Territorial Expert Advisory Group on Physician-Assisted Dying (PTEAG) was in fact convened by and had the formal involvement of 11 provinces and territories (except B.C. and Quebec). Its recommendations were based on extensive research, evidence and consultation.

Although federal action is not required by the Supreme Court of Canada decision in Carter v. Canada, the PTEAG report called for significant federal action. It also recommended far more robust safeguards than, as represented in this commentary, "two physicians operating under guidelines from their regulatory colleges."

Jennifer Gibson, Maureen Taylor, co-chairs, Provincial-Territorial Expert Advisory Group on Physician-Assisted Dying


The Klippert verdict

Thanks for the extended history of Everett Klippert (In 1965, Everett Klippert Was Sentenced To A Life Behind Bars. His crime? Being Gay – Focus, Feb. 27). Another piece of the story might be of interest: The person who defended him was William (Bill) Wuttunee, the first native Canadian called to the bar in Western Canada.

Mr. Wuttunee had worked closely with Saskatchewan premier Tommy Douglas after the Second World War, building bridges between local indigenous and non-indigenous communities. After the Klippert verdict, Mr. Wuttunee told me in an interview that he reached out to Mr. Douglas, who was back in the Commons, and Mr. Douglas raised the issue in the House. I like to think that their efforts also helped persuade the PM to change the law.

Mr. Wuttunee went on to help found the National Indian Council, a precursor to the Assembly of First Nations.

Penney Kome, Calgary


Don't begrudge …

Re Don't Begrudge The Carriage Trade – Welcome It (March 1): Marcus Gee's advice to "leave them [the super rich] alone and smile at the folly of it all" may be an approach people who are reasonably well off can embrace. His point and that of Boris Johnson, London's mayor, that the economy benefits from the tax revenues they produce is well taken.

However, for those who, for example, work two minimum wage jobs to barely keep a roof over their heads, it would be difficult to view the situation with such equanimity. Having the fact in their faces on a daily basis that the 1 per cent have so much and that they have so little can't help but exacerbate feelings of life being unfair, even hopeless.

Ann Sullivan, Peterborough, Ont.


Sins of the fathers

Re Cardinal Says Bishop 'Protected' Him (March 1): The gospels make it absolutely clear that bringing harm to a child is deemed so horrendous an act that Jesus himself underscored the gravity of it by telling his disciples an offender of this ilk would be better off tied to a millstone and cast into the sea.

One would have thought such stark condemnation of child abuse coming from Christ's own lips would have long ago galvanized the Catholic Church to openly and vigorously confront the issue of pedophile priests.

But apparently not.

Orest Slepokura, Strathmore, Alta.


'Getting' the Donald

Re Starring The Donald (March 1): A letter writer addressing the issue of Donald Trump's popularity says the "sophisticated and knowledgeable political pundits" as well as the mainstream media have become "the voice of the 'establishment' which no longer appreciates or relates to the concerns of ordinary people." Um, seriously? The freak show that is the Kardashians is also hugely popular. Why? Because the "people" want it, watch it, wallow in it.

That, too, is unexplainable to me. But then, I guess I've somehow risen above the "ordinary" people and just don't "get it."

Karen Wright, St. Catharines, Ont.

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