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CRIM 2253 PROJECT SUE RODRIGUEZ, EUTHANASIA AND THE CONSTRUCTION OF PUBLIC OPINION 1990-95. CHRIS MCCORMICK. INTRODUCTION. Various forms of euthanasia -- passive – disconnected from life support -- active – high dose pain medication -- choosing the right to die

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crim 2253 project sue rodriguez euthanasia and the construction of public opinion 1990 95

CRIM 2253 PROJECTSUE RODRIGUEZ, EUTHANASIA AND THE CONSTRUCTION OF PUBLIC OPINION1990-95

CHRIS MCCORMICK

introduction
INTRODUCTION
  • Various forms of euthanasia
  • -- passive – disconnected from life support
  • -- active – high dose pain medication
  • -- choosing the right to die
  • Sue Rodriguez petitioned for the right to die
  • Supreme Court refused
  • The public debate, editorial content and commentaries in the Globe and Mail is the focus of this project
topic
TOPIC
  • 1993, Sue Rodriguez petitioned Supreme Court of Canada to hear her case for assisted suicide
  • SCC ruled against her 5-4
  • 1992, similar case heard in Quebec, the case of Nancy B., who petitioned the court for the right to turn off life-sustaining equipment was successful
  • Entered public debate
  • Special senate committee in 1995 recommended euthanasia and assisted suicide remain illegal
significance
Euthanasia seen in moral term

Most private morality taken from the law: contraception, abortion, gambling, homosexuality and alcohol

Seen from society's point of view rather than individual's, overdeterming social wishes onto the person

Sue Rodriguez's case conflated with Nancy B., Robert Latimer, and others

Euthanasia on public agenda again: Quebec provincial commission, Dying with Dignity has begun public hearings in August on assisted suicide and ethics of euthanasia

Provinces can’t change criminal law, but medical care falls under provincial jurisdiction.

Administration of justice also provincial matter, and whether someone is charged for assisted suicide is up to provincial prosecutors

Public opinion in line with change, however Canadian Medical Association doesn’t support euthanasia or assisted suicide  

Two polls, Quebec medical doctors and the public, found 75% of those surveyed in favour of euthanasia.

Muddying the waters are medical practices which skirt definition of euthanasia, eg. palliative sedation

Lining up to debate these questions are groups which have their agendas for or against

Eg. Nancy Beth Cruzan case, US

SIGNIFICANCE
eg street preacher expresses opinions in front of u s supreme court
Eg. “Street preacher expresses opinions in front of U.S. Supreme Court”
  • “Dan Martino, a street preacher from Chattanooga, Tennessee, argues with Adrienne Gillespie, 15, of Layton, Utah, over the controversial “right-to-die” case before the Supreme Court on December 6, 1989. The court heard arguments in the case of Nancy Beth Cruzan, a 32-year old Missourian woman who has been in a coma since a January 11, 1983 accident. Her parents are fighting the state over their right to remove Nancy Beth’s feeding tube. …” (UPI Photo/Matt Mendelsohn/Files)

Source: http://www.upi.com/enl-win/f319affcb6f4507609fb89b712ef1af1/

introduction to media analysis
INTRODUCTION TO MEDIA ANALYSIS
  • Study of how social issues discussed in the news: social constructionist approach.
  • Deviance created as media topic by those with power to define public issues
  • Marginals more easily described as deviant in mainstream media
  • --eg. motorcycle gangs, school dropouts, musicians, drug users
  • However, mainstream issues, actors get 'constructed' as well.
  • --what happens when a middle-class person, who is otherwise law-conforming, engages in a deviant act? Cohen said:
  • "The uneasiness about actors who are not quite in their place can lead to greater hostility. Something done by an out-group is simply condemned and fitted into the scheme of things, but in-group deviance is embarrassing, it threatens the norms of the group and tends to blur its boundaries with the out-group."
  • When a normal person says they want to do something deviant, declares it in public, and asks for permission?
  • --how is that treated, reacted to and defined?
method
METHOD
  • Pilot sample on public debate
  • Globe and Mail, editorial opinion, 1990-95
  • Search used phrase ‘sue rodriguez’
  • Initial search yielded 4 commentaries, 6 editorials, and 11 letters to the editor
  • Second search used search phrase ‘sue rodriguez’
  • Overall: 2 cartoons, 8 commentaries, 6 editorials, 4 illustrations, and 17 letters
  • Excluding overlap, the enhanced sample is about 58 pieces for period 1990-96
preliminary analysis
Most editorials advocated parliamentary discussion

Most letters written in support

Illustrations seemed critical

Overall tone progressive

"The law prohibits assistance to suicide for some good reasons. Society does not look neutrally on suicide as a solution to emotional problems. Society regards such suicides as tragic, and actively seeks to prevent them. The only suicide that might conceivably receive social sanction is that of a terminally ill patent, and even then, deep taboos exist around the taking of a human life. If such taboos were overcome, many practical issues would still need to be addressed to ensure that free will, considered judgment and independent mind prevailed. ... MP Svend Robinson has introduced a private member's bill in the House of Commons that would decriminalize physician-assisted suicides in some circumstances. The Commons is the proper forum for this debate, Ms. Rodriguez' immediate and profoundly sad circumstances nothwithstanding. Mr. Robinson's bill should be granted a generous hearing." (GM 12.31.92)

PRELIMINARY ANALYSIS
editorial analysis
EDITORIAL ANALYSIS
  • six editorials in first sample (Aug 15, 1991; Nov 29, 1991; Oct 2, 1993; Feb 15, 1994; Aug 18, 1994; and, Mar 6, 1995)
  • --editorials call for public debate, and a free vote
  • --do not believe courts should decide (Sue), but that individuals should decide (Nancy)
  • --overall responsibility in medical/political establishment
  • five (new) editorials in second sample (Dec 21, 1992; Feb 11, 1993; Jul 26, 1993; and, May 9, 1996)
  • confirms first: individual rights should be respected, courts should not be the place to make that (moral) choice but rather Parliament, and that there needs to be a public, free debate on the issue
  • However the irony that the courts should not decide (legally) on a moral matter, but that Parliament should decide (morally) on a legal matter, seems to have escaped the editorialist's notice.
conclusion
CONCLUSION
  • This project has looked at the topic of euthanasia, and more specifically at the case of Sue Rodriguez, and its coverage in the national press
  • The editorial analysis shows cautious approval of the individual right to choose, pessimism about the ability of the court to (legally) decide the moral issue, and optimism about the (moral) ability of Parliament to decide the legal issue
  • This topic is important because the law discriminates against a person's right to control their body. We’ve come a long way from when we prosecuted people for attempted/suicide, and maybe we should move further along in allowing assisted suicide in law as it already is in practice.
  • After all, as Sue said, “whose life is this, who owns my body?”
references
REFERENCES
  • "Euthanasia on the public agenda again," Chris McCormick, Daily Gleaner, Crime Matters, September 9, 2010
  • "The history of euthanasia debates in the United States and Britain," Ezekiel J. Emanuel, Annals of Internal Medicine, November 15, 1994, 121,10: 793-802
  • "Dying with dignity: Developments in the field of euthanasia in the Netherlands," H.J. Leenen, Medicine and Law, 1989, 8(5):517-26.
  • "Domestic 'zealotry' and press discourse: Kevorkian's euthanasia incident," Joseph Turow, Arthur Caplan, and John Bracken, Journalism, 2000, 1,2: 197-206
  • Cohen, S. (1973). Folk Devils and Moral Panics. St Albans: Paladin  
  • Videos: Sue Rodriguez and the Right-To-Die Debate
  • 'Who owns my life?'