Welcome to The Middle Ground-The Agora of the 21st Century

Life is likened unto two roads: one of fire and one of ice. If you walk in the one, you will be burned, and if in the other, you will be frozen. What shall one do? Walk in the middle.


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Quote of the Day

  • Orwell George

    In a time of universal deceit – telling the truth is a revolutionary act.

Latest Articles

Is there a fix for health care in remote areas in Canada?

Five-year-old Brody Meekis died from strep throat. No, this is not a report from 50 years ago or from a third world country. This happened in Canada, May 2014. He lived in Sandy Lake First Nation, 500 kilometres north of Thunder Bay.  Gloria Galloway wrote in the Globe and Mail that his death “casts a critical light” on the inadequacies of health-care delivery on First Nations reserves. Sadly he wasn’t the only child to die from this treatable disease. Five months earlier a four year old from a different reserve had also died from strep.

Ms. Galloway wrote “Many things went wrong in the treatment of Brody Meekis, many of them related to a shortage of medical resources in the remote indigenous community where, as with other Canadian reserves, the responsibility for health care lies with the federal government.”


Accessing the nursing station for people on this reserve is difficult. There is only one vehicle to take them to and from the facility. Weather can delay travel. The Brody’s family was unable to access the vehicle to get to their follow-up appointment the next day. What if…? There is also a shortage of staff at the station. The facility which was constructed for a reserve of 500 people now has nearly 3,000. The nurses are overworked and some of the nurses do not have the training to give the services required.

This lack of training and staff is not specific to Sandy Lake. Galloway reported that “one in 45 nurses working at a sample group of on-reserve nursing stations had completed all of the government’s mandatory training courses; that nurses are being asked to do jobs they are not authorized to do; that the stations had numerous health and safety deficiencies; and that Health Canada does not know whether individual reserve facilities are capable of providing essential services.”

Coroner services are also lacking. Coroners are expected to attend the dead, search for causes of death and report on ways to improve the system. But, like the rest of the health care, coroners are in short supply, especially in Northwestern Ontario where emergency and family physicians fill in when a coroner is not available.  To attend a death requires that these doctors leave their own practice and patients. This is a difficult balancing act. Michael Wilson, the regional supervising coroner for the area said “Where you have geographically a widely scattered population, it is just logistically and geographically not possible to get people to every scene at the time of the death.”  In young Brody’s case, no coroner was able to attend so a member of the Sandy Lake police service sent his observations to the coroner. Brody’s body was then flown to Kenora for an autopsy.

There’s no question there are serious stumbling blocks to providing primary healthcare in remote areas.  And not just logistics. The health care budget is not unlimited, provincially and federally.  According to a report from the Fraser Institute, the average Canadian family is paying $12,000 a year for their “free” health care.

he report noted that health care insurance costs are rising 1.6 times faster than the average Canadian income and as “not all Canadians, including children and dependents are taxpayers …. families earning only $13,742 pay as little as $477 per year. The wealthiest families earning $282,206 contribute $37,180 per year.” I think it’s fair to say that many Canadians are not receiving the health care for which we are paying.  That is no excuse, of course, for lack of primary care for children. But money will not solve all the problems.


None of this takes away the feelings of abandonment by these families. Alvin Fiddler, the Grand Chief of the Nishnawbe Aski Nation of which Sandy Lake is a member said “It is difficult for our communities not to perceive that the deaths of their children are somehow of less importance.”

I am hoping Grand Chief Fiddler is wrong in his perception. As a Canadian citizen,  I believe we value the lives of all our citizens and residents. All of our children should be able to receive timely, good quality health care. I hope this is not a problem specific to First Nations. That would be a travesty.

We have a relatively small population for such a vast country. And most of us live in urban areas along the border between Canada and the USA.  As much as we like the idea of equal and timely access to health care for all, we don’t have it.  It’s very difficult to find a primary physician in many rural areas. Many of us live far from large hospitals. Mental health care is at a premium even in large cities. As we don’t have the money and we don’t have the manpower to provide the same services in remote areas of the country as we do in large cities, what can we do for people who choose to live in remote areas of the province? Are we to force health-care providers to go to these areas and provide care? Or are we to insist that people move closer to populated areas?

In the 12th century Maimonides a doctor and philosopher wrote that one should never move into a town where there is no doctor. That was 900 years ago. We all have rights in this country, but those rights are always tempered with responsibilities. Ultimately we all must be held accountable for our own actions because we live in a democracy where free-will is the underpinning of our culture, so different from other cultures. Do these families who live on remote reserves have choices? If they decide that they want to live in areas that provide much better health care, can they move? If not, then we have a bigger problem than providing quality health care.

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Pastors must return to their roots and preach family to prevent riots

President Obama has responded to the riots in Baltimore by blaming the media. “One burning building will be looped on television over and over and over again, and the thousands of demonstrators who did it the right way, I think, have been lost in the discussion.”


The Baltimore City Council president, Bernard Young, was “heartbroken and disturbed by the way the media is focusing on the negativity of this city.

Blaming the messenger will change nothing.

President Obama then said that the unrest stems from decades-long neglect of urban communities in the U.S.  “We as a country have to do some soul-searching.  This is not new. It’s been going on for decades. We can’t just leave this to the police.” And “if our society really wanted to solve the problem,” the public would pay attention to issues such as early childhood education and criminal justice reform regularly, not just when people riot.

I respectfully disagree.


Willful blindness is the cause of much of the rot that led to the riots. We are refusing to look at the real problem. We have lost connection to the importance of religion in our society. It is religion that strengthens the family in the USA and Canada. I’m not talking about dogma, creed, and the definition of God. I am talking about the morals and values that come from Judaism and Christianity.

Alexis de Tocqueville discovered in his travels in America in the 1830s that religious leaders in America were heavily involved in strengthening families, building communities, and starting charities. They inspired people to a sense of the common good, educating them in “habits of the heart,” and giving them what he called “their apprenticeship in liberty.” He wrote, “In the United States religion exercises but little influence on the laws and the details of public opinion but it directs the customs of the community and by regulating domestic life it regulates the state.”

Instead of talking about family breakdown which leads directly to community breakdown, we listen to a plethora of reports stating lack of education and resources like parks and playgrounds as contributors to the problems. Anything to avoid stating the truth as it is politically incorrect.

Fatherless families are in abundance in Baltimore and too many other communities. Single mothers are raising their children. The Baltimore Mom, Toya Graham, who denounced the vandalism and violence against police officers, became famous for going into the street to drag her son home. Baltimore Police Commissioner Anthony Batts said “I wish I had more parents who took charge of their kids tonight.”  Yet this Mom is a single mom of six children.

The family is the smallest unit of authority in a community. If the basic building block is under stress what do you expect? Single parent families find themselves living in the same communities-ones that tend to be poorer than two-parent families. Single parent families not only have half the income, they have half the adults available to monitor their children, and participate in after school activities-like playing pick-up ball at the local park or parking lot.

Research shows definitively that children do better when fathers are present. “Even from birth, children who have an involved father are more likely to be emotionally secure, be confident to explore their surroundings, and, as they grow older, have better social connections… Children with involved, caring fathers have better educational outcomes…Numerous studies find that an active and nurturing style of fathering is associated with better verbal skills, intellectual functioning, and academic achievement among adolescents.”

Ronald Rohner is professor emeritus of family studies at the University of Connecticut, and co-author of a study that appeared in the May 2012 journal, Personality and Social Psychology Review. After analyzing 36 international studies from 18 countries that took place between 1975-2010 and included 1,400 parents between 18 and 89 years, and 8,600 children from 9-18 years they concluded that the need for a father in a child’s life is one of the most important factors in developing healthy children, emotionally.

Researchers at the University of Oxford also report that boys who have involved fathers are less likely to get in trouble with the police as they get older, adopt a healthy gender identity as well as a better awareness of their feelings and emotions.

Where are the fathers? I had hoped for more input from the many Pastors in Baltimore. I fear they are no longer preaching about family. Rather they agree that “the city’s African-American churches have a special role to play in the search for social justice.”  Melvin Russell is a pastor as well as a police officer who commands the relatively new Community Partnership Division, which pairs faith leaders with police on projects such as ride-alongs through the community. Many pastors say that it’s their job “to serve as “a moral compass” in the community and as a voice for those who lack one.”

I hear a great deal from them about better relations with the police, but so little about the breakdown of black families in America.

What would de Tocqueville say today?

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CBC Ombudsman-CBC falls below journalistic standards

Here is the link to the Ombudsman's Report agreeing with my complaint against their October 24 "Q" panel discussion onmental illness and terrorism.

Hold the Diagnosis: Linking mental illness and violent acts reinforces stereotypes; precise and careful reporting is required



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I don’t know Jian Ghomeshi but…

The past few weeks readers have been deluged with the diagnoses by lay people regarding mental illness. According to many pundits at the Globe and Mail, the National Post, the CBC,  the two men who murdered our soldiers were not terrorists, they were mentally ill.
The few facts available pointed to a lone wolf terrorist, based on expert opinion that was available at that time. There was not one fact that could justify the diagnosis of mental illness. Not one. I say this as a mental health advocate. I have written extensively about mental illness and have a six part radio series "The Many Voices of Mental Illness." I also have a mental illness with a familial history of mental illness and have experienced suicidal ideation. In my role as a chaplain I have worked with people with mental illness.
Now we are being learning more about Jian Ghomeshi. I have no particular feelings either way about him. But an article by Margaret Wente in the Globe and Mail opened a window onto his life that no one else had exposed
First, that he had a therapist-someone the "mentally ill" terrorists didn't have.Second, the teddy bear. He had a teddy bear as a child named "Big Ears." And he had a teddy bear as an adult named "Big Ears" to help him with his generalized anxiety that had plagued him for years. And it was his therapist who suggested he get that teddy bear. Mr. Ghomeshi said,


“Big Ears has played a really important role in my life.”


“Two of his accusers say he invited her to his house and proceeded to assault her. Each alleges that before he began, Mr. Ghomeshi turned the bear to the wall and said, ‘Big Ears Teddy shouldn’t see this.’” Wente found this to be “beyond creepy." So do I. All my alarm bells went off when I read that. If a patient of mine in hospital had shared those stories with me I would have run, not walked, to speak to the psychiatrist on call.


I cannot be the only one who wonders why Mr. Ghomeshi said “Big Ears Teddy” should not see this? Did it not raise suspicions? I wondered right away what had little Big Ears Teddy seen? I have no idea if he was abused as a child, in front of teddy, but reading this, I have lots of questions.  Was his mother abused by his father? Did he beat her? Did Jian see this? Do you think a childhood like that might trigger generalized anxiety and then lead to his behaviour? This isn't a justification. It is a possible explanation, mitigating circumstances-a "root cause."
For me, there are so many hints of a mental illness, but up until the fifth estate report on November 28, I hadn’t heard a word about the possibility of mental illness. 


According to Chris Boyce, head of CBC Radio, Ghomeshi lied when he posted to Facebook that he had been offered the chance to walk away quietly before he was fired, to leave the impression it was his own decision.


“That is untrue,” said Mr. Boyce. He said Mr. Ghomeshi was offered 24 hours to provide more information, possibly about a mental illness.


They were looking for a possibility of mental illness? Unlike their diatribes on air declaring that the terrorists were mentally ill without one fact, the CBC was not prepared to jump to the conclusion that Mr. Ghomeshi had a mental illness despite facts?


Interviews with two former producers, Sean Foley and Brian Coulton, describe how Mr. Ghomeshi “broke down” and confessed to them while on location in Winnipeg last spring, saying he likes rough sex and an angry ex-girlfriend is “threatening to tell everybody.” He said he was confident he had done nothing illegal.


Sounds like a man unraveling to me. Is it a mental illness? Why was he not accorded by the CBC the same courtesy of a fact-free diagnosis of mental illness from the very beginning, like the terrorists?


And I am left wondering about the rights of employees. It is my understanding as a lay person that employees found to be suffering from a mental illness must be accommodated in the work place. If the CBC had any inkling at any time that Mr. Ghomeshi was dealing with a mental illness that had overwhelmed him were they not obligated to help him? To make it a better work-place environment for him? Before firing him?


This is not an article that is meant to take away the pain from all those who have alleged that they have been hurt by Mr. Ghomeshi. Yes, there are some people who are born without a scintilla of empathy and none will be developed with life experience. These are people who will not improve with medication or therapy. But millions of people with mental illness, from schizophrenia to generalized anxiety and depression, improve with the right medication and therapy and live great lives.


The media was sure that the men who murdered our soldiers were mentally ill; yet, when it comes to Mr. Ghomeshi, not a peep. Why? Does Mr. Ghomeshi, a man who has a teddy bear whom he turns away during “sex,” sound normal to you?


Of the two, I am prepared to suggest that Mr. Ghomeshi has mental health issues and that perhaps his therapist missed a few signs, long before I would ever accept the media’s diagnosis, (especially the CB C)of mental illness as a root cause of the terrorism that took place on Canada’s soil. What does the CBC gain by calling terrorists mentally ill but not offering that possibility to Mr. Ghomeshi?

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Mental Illness and the Decline in Journalistic Standards in Canadian Main Stream Media

We have come to rely on the media to keep us informed of local and world events-with an unprejudiced, unjaundiced eye.  It behooves them to investigate before they pontificate. No simple task.


I write a great deal about media bias because it’s dangerous. The Fourth Estate plays a pivotal role in maintaining democracy by keeping all levels of government on their toes and informing the citizenry.


Today more than ever we need ethical journalists prepared to fact check in a world where social media brings world events into our lives within seconds of occurring; where facts are fast and loose –or totally missing. I accept that in social media-but not the Fourth Estate and certainly not in Canada.


I can’t imagine Marshall McLuhan’s response to media messaging, today.


Yet, today, we have Canadian journalists who write without over-site-no ombudsman, no outside organization to insure that complaints about content and context will be answered in a timely manner. This is happening at the National Post; much to my surprise and dismay.


The National Post has published articles about the mentally ill-connecting us to terrorists, criminals and suggesting that the mentally ill need pity. Their articles are fact-free with opinions based on feelings or singular anecdotes that universalize the particular.


I previously shared my concerns with Matt Gurney, with no background in mental illness as far as I am aware, regarding his comment that we need a snitch hot-line to report on people we think may be mentally ill, thus turning our community into criminals and increasing the fears of others toward us. Re-stigmatizing. It was his opinion that families won’t report family members.  Yet, how many mentally ill people have committed murder the past two years? How many instead committed suicide? How many were treated like Sammy Yatir?

How many people were killed just because-these past two years?


Then came the deaths of two of our soldiers, murdered by terrorists-so the facts declare. But the National Post didn’t let facts get in the way of their worldview. Couldn’t be a terrorist! No, instead these people are mentally ill. And how did they know? Well, regarding the murder of Corporal Cirillo by Zehaf Bibeau, his mother told us on October 25th

And that was the foundation upon which the National Post editorial board wrote their “opinion.”


It seems the editorial board came to their conclusion based on the mother’s letter published in the paper. I didn’t see any studies or experts to whom the board referred in the article to back their feelings or the statement that he was:

 "unstable, untrained and engulfed in personal turmoil that  blurred the line between religiously inspired terrorism and purelypsychotic acts of violence."


I would give you the link to the editorial "Zehaf-Bibeau's rampage, in perspective" but I can no longer access it. Perhaps dear reader, you can find it on line. Despite all the facts that were “discovered” after this editorial, not once was there an apology for conflating terrorists with the mentally ill, in particular this terrorist and mental illness 


Even the National Post had published articles that demolish their mental illness theory. But the connection has been made. The damage has been done.


In my humble opinion, the paper chose to plant a seed of fear for the mentally ill in order not to cast aspersions on Muslims and Islam, or be accused of Islamophobia. To deflect, to pivot away. To be politically correct in a time when we should demand that facts prevail over feelings. Or more disconcerting, not trusting their readership with the ability to deduct that two lone-wolf terrorist attacks do not make for “a deluge of mass-casualty Islamist terrorism.”


I’d like to say that this was the end of psychiatric diagnoses by the staff of the National Post. But no. Matt Gurney gave his opinion on Mr. Gervais, the man who pretended to be a soldier on Remembrance Day and was interviewed so that all of us got to know him. According to Matt Gurney, Gervais didn't act this way out of a desire to be a soldier without going through the training. No, he's not a fake, fooling people with a false identity like so many do. He's mentally ill. This was Gurney’s diagnosis based on a woman whom he knew way back who acted sort of like Gervais. That's almost as good as calling the terrorists mentally ill based on a mother's musings.

He demeans those of us with mental illness with his glib talk.  He puts us in harm’s way when he compares us with criminals and now declares from on high:

"There is a very very good chance that Gervais is a sick man, not an evil one... a deeply troubled one...Some are delusional."

So terrorists and charlatans are really just mentally ill people?

Then to add salt to the wound he suggested that we pity people like Gervais. Pity? As one with a mental illness, once suicidal, I don't want pity. None of us want pity. We just want to work at participating in the world, as productive members of society-who happen to have a mental illness, not to be confused with those who are immoral and unethical.

Sadly, there is no recourse for me at the National Post. Don McCurdy of the Ontario Press Council told me the Post is not under their umbrella. I have to assume when I sent my complaint to Gillian Akai in the legal department and then followed up with complaints to all the editors who may have been contributors to the piece that they all laughed. They knew from the beginning they weren’t obligated to respond to my concerns. Imagine my surprise when I discovered that the person finally responding to my complaint was Anne Marie Owens, Editor of the National Post. She offered to have the editor of letters help me write a letter.



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Schizophrenia: a Chronic Terror Syndrome, Not Genetic

Here is a link to an article about schizophrenia.

Schizophrenia is a Chronic Terror Syndrome, Not Genetic: by By Bertram P Karon PhD


I leave you to come to your own conclusions. Here is an excerpt but please read the entire article. If nothing else it will give you another perspective on therapy and the work that goes into it.


"Schizophrenia is not genetic, 85% of patients do not have a first-order relative who has the diagnosis.  Schizophrenia is not primarily a physiological disorder, the disordered physiology is the result of the chronic terror. The physiological changes are the same that everyone experiences when we are terrified. Of course there are also physiological changes which are the effect, usually destructive, of the psychiatric medications.

"It is now known that schizophrenics typically have suffered multiple traumas, as well as lesser bad experiences.  Most of the traumatic experiences do not get in to the hospital record, but if you listen to the patients you will eventually learn about them. I have never treated a schizophrenic patient whose life as experienced by the patient would not have driven me, or anyone I could conceive of, crazy. People do not get sick because life has been good to them."

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Niqab Is it an affront to democracy?

During the summer of 2014, Professor Natasha Bakht of the University of Ottawa wrote in Convivium, a magazine to which I contribute, that Muslim women have the religious right to cover up. She describes the Canadian reaction to the niqab as “illogical” and “bias-laden.”


Now, Zunera Ishaq, a Pakistani woman living in Mississauga, is suing the Conservative government. She says the ban on wearing her niqab while swearing allegiance to Canada violates her Charter rights by failing to accommodate her religious beliefs.

Ishaq’s lawyer, Naseem Mithoowani, told federal court Justice Keith Boswell at a hearing in October in Toronto “The true motivation of the policy is to compel Muslim women to abandon, albeit briefly, their religious adherence.” He added “The failure to remove the veil is at the heart of this policy, more than being seen taking the oath… This is about Kenney deciding that niqab does not fit into the mode of Canadian citizens.”

Her lawyers added Kenney is “Confusing his personal beliefs with his obligations as a minister of the Crown.

Lorne Waldman, co-counsel for Ishaq,  pointed out that the Citizenship Act does not require people to be seen or heard taking the oath. True. When Canada became a country in 1867, no one thought to write in the constitution that one must not cover one’s face when taking the oath because no one covered their face at that time except perhaps bank robbers. When our Constitution and its new Charter of Rights and Freedoms were brought home by Pierre Elliott Trudeau, I doubt anyone thought to add that admonition either. It would have been mocked.


While Professor Bakht tries to justify wearing a niqab at court, at citizenship ceremonies, when voting or in public service, and lawyers for Zunera Ishaq take to the courts for the rights of women to wear the niqab, we must keep in mind the niqab by its very nature, is a priori intrinsically objectionable in a democracy. It is a symbol, diachronically and synchronically, of suppression and oppression and the statement that women are “lesser than.”

I do agree with the Professor that there is a bias. And that bias toward promoting and protecting Western culture was clearly stated by Jason Kenney. He said “to segregate one group of Canadians or allow them to hide their faces, to hide their identity from us precisely when they are joining our community is contrary to Canada’s proud commitment to openness and to social cohesion.”

The most important job for our government is the protection of Western culture; balancing the freedoms we have in this country, (freedoms for which I assume immigrants come to this country), with personal rights. How quickly new immigrants learn about demanding personal rights yet have no understanding of responsibilities to the underlying foundation of democracies. The social contract.

Rousseau’s social contract, one of the building blocks of democracy, is the agreement with which a person enters into civil society. “The contract essentially binds people into a community that exists for mutual preservation. In entering into civil society, people sacrifice the physical freedom of being able to do whatever they please, but they gain the civil freedom of being able to think and act rationally and morally.”http://www.sparknotes.com/philosophy/socialcontract/characters.htm

The social contract by its very nature requires trust.

And here in the West much of that trust has developed because we recognize, we “see” one another. Police, judges, members of parliament, all those in public service are uncovered. Democracy, sui generis requires that for the ability to trust.

A niqab does not meet the standard for the social contract. It denies me the very basic right to see you. And that right to see you must trump a “religious” belief that a woman must or should cover her face. I fear if women in Canada are choosing to wear a niqab, then it speaks to the very failure of the ability of our culture to inculcate the great legacy of freedom to our citizens.

Former Archbishop of Canterbury, Lord Carey of Clifton, recently lamented: “For too long we have been self-conscious and even ashamed about British identity. By embracing multiculturalism and the idea that every culture and belief is of equal value we have betrayed our own traditions of welcoming strangers to our shore.”

Canada, like all Western countries, is founded on the same principles as Britain: ethical monotheism, the Judeo/Christian ethic that has evolved over thousands of years. We have opened our doors to embrace “the other.” But there seems to have been a misunderstanding. Inclusiveness does not include the right to destroy from within, a culture that is open. It isn’t incumbent upon our culture to accept all the values of another in the name of tolerance. Rather, it’s incumbent on the other, who has chosen to come to the West, to be open to all of its possibilities. And it’s up to the host, to assist in every way possible, to help newcomers to let go of the ties that enslave them to their past in order that they can embrace the freedom that the West embodies.   
Ironically, the seeds of destruction of Western civilization lie in its basic principles of free will, freedom, security of person. Democracy is fragile because we have within us an innate fear of freedom; what Erik Fromm calls the “flight from freedom” which too often leads to submission.

The Russian author, Dostoevsky, in his novel, The Brothers Karamazov written in 1880, explored submission. In his parable within the novel, The Grand Inquisitor, he writes about the burden of freedom. Jesus comes to Seville, Spain at the time of the Spanish Inquisition in the late 15th century. He is taken prisoner by the Grand Inquisitor and questioned. 

John Gray in his 2002 book “Straw Dogs” wrote “The Grand Inquisitor tells Jesus that humanity is too weak to bear the gift of freedom. It does not seek freedom but bread-not the divine bread promised by Jesus, but ordinary earthly bread. People will worship whoever gives them bread, for they need their rulers to be gods. The Grand Inquisitor tells Jesus that his teaching has been amended to deal with humanity as it really is:

‘We have corrected Thy work and have found it on miracle, mystery and authority. And men rejoiced that they were again led like sheep, and that the terrible gift that brought them such suffering was, at last, lifted from their hearts’”

The terrible gift?  Free-will.

Multi-culturalism is a misnomer. Yes, Canada is a diverse country, but in ethnicity not culture. We are one culture. While Western culture has evolved over time improving on the implementation of equality for all, Islamic culture, a culture based on submission, is devolving. While the majority of nuns are no longer wearing a habit and more Christian and Jewish women in Canada are taking on positions once held only by men, women in Islamic countries have been losing their freedoms. One just need look at photos of Muslim women in the 1970s and compare them to today.

A culture of freedom cannot open its doors to a culture of submission. And make no mistake; this is a question of culture, not religion. It behooves us to follow the advice of Lord Carey. We must “recover a confidence in our nation’s values.”

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Will that be assisted suicide-or murder at the hands of the state?

Gillian Bennett, 85 years old, took her own life wishing that assisted suicide had been available to her.  Bennett left behind her husband, two children, six grandchildren, and two great-grandchildren.

"Today, now, I go cheerfully and so thankfully into that good night” and "I need no more," were her parting words on her website. 


She needed no more. Her children her grandchildren her great grandchildren might have needed or wanted more. But that didn’t matter. It is all about her needs and wants. I remember my mother nearing 90, not terribly well. But she lived to see three great grandchildren. I watched her as she looked on in wonder at the last great grandchild she lived to embrace. She held that little baby close to her, gently opened the receiving blanket and looked at the hands and feet and marveled at how perfect she was. My mother was in awe over the ten little fingers and toes as if she had never held a baby before. My mother left me a glorious memory and a hope that I too will one day marvel at the fingers and toes of great grandchildren. To do that, I must live.


Gillian Bennett chose otherwise. She did not want to live in a body that wasn’t perfect with a mind that was failing-but far from failure. These are some of her last words:


“Dementia gives no quarter and admits no bargaining. Research tells us that it's a “silent disease,” one that can lurk for years or even decades before its symptoms become obvious. Ever so gradually at first, much faster now, I am turning into a vegetable. I find it hard to keep in my mind that my granddaughter is coming in three days’ time and not today. “Where do we keep the X?” (coffee / milkshake-maker / backspace on my keyboard / the book I was just reading) happens all the time. I have constantly to monitor what I say in an attempt not to make some gross error of judgment.”


I don’t know about you, but I don’t always remember the dates of my grandchildren’s birthdays or which day I will be seeing them.  I have lost memories. Someone will refer to a place or event and I will respond with a blank look. “Did I have fun?” would be my question. And if the answer is yes, that’s great. I constantly lose track of time. There are times I don’t know what day it is in the week. Perhaps because I don’t have a rigid schedule and the luxury of not needing to know the time or the day. I have absolutely no sense of direction or distance. I used to. I have many days when words fail me. It’s like playing charades as I try to get others to understand.


For someone afflicted with dementia, may I say that Ms. Bennett had a wonderful way with words. Poetic. How many more beautiful pieces might she had written if she hadn’t quit-on herself and her family who said they will greatly miss her. And of the granddaughter-do you think she cared whether her grandmother knew what day she was visiting? Or do you think the granddaughter just loved to be with her, garner memories of her, listen to her lyrical speech, enjoy her embraces?


I think what I find so upsetting about the talk of death with dignity being equated with state sponsored murder is the sense of entitlement of these people who don’t want to suffer-but won’t take their own lives. They want us to do it.  Maureen Taylor, widow of Dr. Donald Low, is urging the Supreme Court of Canada “to acknowledge that this is the right of all Canadians who want a choice to die.” Dr. Low died from a brain tumour. Before he died he left us a video talking about the right to die. I looked at that and wondered. A doctor. Access to all kinds of pain medications. But he didn’t take them. He died of his illness a few days later. Why didn’t he take his own life? What stayed his hand? Why did he put it upon the rest of us to take lives of others; the state to get into the business of killing the weakest amongst us? In Canada, we abolished the death penalty and yet here we are talking about state sanctioned murder of a different kind.


For those with ALS, MS, MD, Parkinson’s, Alzheimer’s, dementia; yes, these are difficult diseases to bear. But you know the progression of the illness. You know what will happen. Maybe not when, exactly, but you know. So if you are one of those who does not want to suffer, at all or a little, then by all means end your life.  Refuse treatment. Don’t go on the respirator when told that is the last resort. Don’t take antibiotics when you have pneumonia.


If you are well enough to write lovely notes, or travel to countries where the state takes lives, then you are well enough to end your life without my help-the doctor, or the state. There are so many who have died by their own hand-alone, afraid, helpless, hopeless-such terrible loss of life. But they didn’t ask for my help. Perhaps if they had they would have chosen life. But you want and expect everything. You get that last drop of life and then ask someone else to end it when you can’t. Such entitlement at the expense of the humanity of those upon whom you make these demands.


I would never deny a person the right to end their life. I would wish that they would find reasons to carry on-if not for themselves, then their loved ones. But for those who fear suffering, being a vegetable, then please take your own life. Collect your pills, your painkillers. Buy over-the-counter sleeping aids, in large quantities. Sit down, write a sorry-for-yourself suicide, take the pills with a lovely glass of Merlot and then go quietly into that good night.   But don’t wait so long that you ask me, a citizen in Canada to take it for you. That is cowardice.


And for those of you who say you don’t want to be a burden-please-you aren’t thinking of others. If as a parent you taught your children gratitude then they will be grateful in their care for you. And they will take that love and share it with others, strangers, in need of comfort and companionship. If being a burden is a reason to end life, then how many others will we take? How many people are “burdens” on the state, on nurses, the health care system? On family?


Before we turn state murder into something dignified, let’s spend our efforts on ensuring that life, from beginning to end is dignified. That the last days are filled with comfort and compassion and as much love as possible.

It is not only for the dying that we must be concerned. It is also for the living. Those who remain behind. We care for those who are the weakest amongst us so that we, our community, our society, our country, remain kind, compassionate and above all, human.


Often it is fear of the unknown that pushes still healthy people into asking for state-sanctioned murder. It is fear of pain, and disability. And that fear hides all that can be wonderful at the end of life.


Very few of us end up in a vegetative state without warning. And those who do; don’t know it. We care for them so that we remain kind, compassionate and charitable. Human.

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We Are One
We Are One Family BringBackOurBoys

Picture: Yael Karol
“The Jews are a story we tell ourselves about who we think we are. The story is the secret of Jewish survival. Without a coherent narrative, we risk disintegration.” Yossi Klein Halevei
Who are we as Jews? How do we define ourselves? 

June 19, I attended the BringBackOurBoys rally in Vaughn, sponsored by UJA and CIJA. There was an outpouring of love for the three boys, Eyal, Gilad and Naftali. We heard from Mark Adler, MP and Irwin Cotler,for whom there are not enough words to describe: a true mensch. And I was so pleased to see the Sikh community represented at this event by the Vice President of the World Sikh Organization, Prabmeet Singh Sarkaria.
 Looking at Sakaria, I was reminded of the IDF soldiers I had recently met on my trip to Israel. The Sikh community is much like ours. Small; like us. Maligned; too often. Family oriented. And like us, believe in caring for the other as well as themselves. I see the Sikh community as great friends of the Jewish people. 

It was glorious to see young people there; young children brought by their parents so that they can learn, almost by osmosis, of the importance of Israel and the meaning of caring for one’s brother; also the name of the operation to find our children. Because they are our children. For we, the Jewish people, are one people: Am Yisrael.

Rabbi Jonathan Sacks, former Chief Rabbi of Great Britain tells us to look at Abraham to understand who we are. The Torah says that God told Abraham “Walk before me.” (Gen 17-1) The Rabbi interprets that to mean taking collective responsibility as well as moral and personal. And he tells us that “They will stumble over each other” ( Lev. 26: 36), teaches us that “all Israelites are responsible for one another.” 

Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz sees us as a family. “Throughout the Bible and Jewish literature, the Jewish people are referred to as ‘the Children of Israel’ a reference to the fact that we are all the physical or spiritual descendants of the Patriarch Jacob who was later called Israel. In other words, we are part of his extended family.”

There are responsibilities and obligations that come with being one family. As we care for each other, we also share in all our joys and sorrows, collectively as Am Yisrael, Kol Yisrael.

I recently reread Rabbi Joseph B Soloveitchik’s Kol Dodi Dofek: It is the Voice of My Beloved That Knocketh, in which he reminds us over and over that we are one. “Haverim kol Yisrael. All Israel are knit together.

He says we learn from Psalm 91:15:”I will join him in trouble” that “There is unity.” We must share in the troubles of our community, a burden that we must all carry. WE. AM YISRAEL.

He tells us in his avuncular way that “A collective ethico-halakhic responsibility devolved upon the entire Jewish people. The individuals coalesce into one ethico-halakhic unit, possessed of one conscience…all Jews are guarantors of one another.”

He said “A special covenant was made in order to effect the mutual arevut (suretyship) of all Jews for one another…From peoplehood, the covenant of mutual arevut directly followed…We are all mutually responsible for one another, we are all each other’s guarantors, as the verse states: ‘but the things that are revealed belong unto us and our children for ever, that we may do all the words of the Law‘ ” (Deuteronomy 29:28).

He is telling us that we are never alone, left to fend for ourselves. No one will be abandoned as long as we remember that we are responsible for each other: “If boiling water is poured upon the head of a Jew in Morocco, the fashionably attired Jew in Paris or London has to scream at the top of his voice, and through feeling the pain he will remain faithful to his people.”

We have been one family, held together over the centuries and the millennia by a collective sense of joy and sorrow, shame and guilt. It is in our emotional DNA. Last night, at the rally, I felt that oneness, again.

We were all at the mountain where the cloud hovered, and the Presence was felt, and the Word was given. And all of us, we, together brought those revolutionary morals and values out of the desert, what Thomas Cahill calls the Gifts of the Jews to humanity. “The Jews gave us the Outside and the Inside-our outlook and our inner life. We dream Jewish dreams and hope Jewish hopes. Most of our best words, in fact-new, adventure, surprise; unique, individual, person, vocation; time, history, future; freedom, progress, spirit; faith, hope, justice-are gifts of the Jews.”

We must never forget our eternal, absolute response to God: “We hear and we will do.” We hear the call of our Jewish family in Israel and we will do whatever it takes to BringBackOurBoys.

Originall published at http://shalomtorontoweeklynewspaper.blogspot.ca/
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Let's Bring Birth and Death Back into the Circle of Life

We are losing our connection to the cycle of life. Medicine has sanitized and sterilized our relationship, our intimacy with birth and death.

There was a time when we brought new life into the world at home, and we cared for our elderly and sick in their own beds. We experienced joy and sorrow first hand. We embraced all that was set before us and learned to accept that life is not fair. That what mattered was our response to the good and bad that befell us. That closeness to the smallest details of life and death, the knowledge that life and death are but a breath away from each other gave to us the sense of the sanctity of life.

We now live in a society that does everything possible to limit those experiences of pain and loss-be it physical, emotional or spiritual. And that leads to the fear of the unknown. And fear distorts reality. We hear stories of painful, prolonged death, usually in a hospital where doctors push all treatment possible because they fear failure-and death to them is failure, so we conclude that we must be able to take our own lives-for fear of that pain.

The narrative around euthanasia tends to be religious. And the non-religious say they want no part of a god telling us what to do. I agree. This is not a religious discussion. This is a value discussion. What do we value in our society? How do we in this country view life?

It is not a leap to move from valuing life in and of itself, to using it for other purposes. We know this because we are witnessing this in our world. There are millions of people in this world who do not attribute specialness to life; who do not see life as sacred in the sense that we respect life intrinsically: there is value in "being" not just doing.We have read too often of terrorists who use their children as human shields, in lieu I suppose of a Kevlar vest, or hide missile rockets in a hospital or school yard, or encourage their children to blow themselves up in a crowded street, café or mall. We have read about Boko Haram abducting girls in Nigeria and forcing them to marry their abductors; of boy child soldiers and girls pushed into prostitution in the Democratic Republic of Congo. Honour killings, by stoning of young women. In other words, we hear often of those who use people as objects rather than caring for them as subjects.

Let us always keep in mind that life is not a thing, to be used and abused, or be tossed away when it passes its "usefulness." This is anathema to our belief in the dignity and integrity of the individual.

To accept the state taking the life of those who fear death is to devalue life, not only the one who is dying but the lives of those who will remain behind. Instead of giving into the fear of a bad death, an undignified death, let us find ways to bring death home, to bring it back into its place of honour in the circle of life. Let us spend our time and money on making dying less frightening, less painful for all.

Euthanasia should not be our first response to fear of death, fear of pain and pain itself. It should be the very last. After all else is tried. We have not begun to learn about palliative care. We have not spent enough money on going gently into that good night. Let's take a step back. Let's rethink end of life, how to embrace it and return it to the organic cycle of life.

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Abusing Mental Illness to Promote Mysogyny

Toronto Star columnist, Heather Mallick, turned the case of a young man with what appears to be mental health issues into the story of raging misogyny. Little did I know that I am hated just for being female. It's almost a relief. I can think of other reasons, but it seems to pale in the reflection of misogyny. Her uninformed rant is nothing less than left wing ideology gone awry.

According to Mallick, people with Asperger's tend to misinterpret that which is around them. So Mallick has decided that Rodger, the young man who went on a killing rampage, had focused on a group of women at a party because of his desire to have sex with a beautiful blonde and tried to push girls off a cliff when rebuffed. That his leg was broken by the men who stopped him seems to be irrelevant to his focus. He killed because of the women not because of the men who broke his leg.

Mallick is busy using the tragedy of poorly managed mental health to push her men-hate-women agenda. She does it at the same time she demeans women. In her world she pictures the women that Rodger sought as "draped by the pool, always on display." To her it's misogynistic for women not to work outside the home. The desire to be a girlfriend or wife, some kind of "domestic role" is beneath her contempt. She manages to attack women who might actually choose "domestic life," raising a family, with the same brush as those with mental illness. Is she subtly suggesting these women are mentally ill? I don't know which fallacy brings me more tears, or despair.

I just read "My Life With Asperger's" by John Elder Robinson, written December 17, 2012. He wrote: "It's not a "lack of feeling" disorder. In fact, most clinicians who work with people on the autism spectrum will tell you autistic people tend to care deeply for people in their lives, and have a sweetness; a childlike gentleness - something totally at odds with what you'd expect in a cold blooded killer." Studies show that "autistic people are far more likely to be victims of violence than perpetrators."

Eric Butter of Nationwide Children's Hospital in Columbus, Ohio, who treats autism, including Asperger's said "Research suggests people with autism do have a higher rate of aggressive behavior -- outbursts, shoving or pushing or angry shouting -- than the general population. .. These types of tragedies have occurred at the hands of individuals with many different types of personalities and psychological profiles."

In other words there is Asperger's and there is autism, both of which can be characterized by poor social skills, repetitive behavior or interests and problems communicating. And then there are those who also deal with some mental health problems, including depression, anxiety, bipolar disorder or obsessive-compulsive disorder. Which would explain Rodger's "obsessive" desire to be liked by young women. As if he were different from any other young man in that desire. Mallick further muddies the water by disparaging those who live well with Asperger's, autism and mental illness by blaming the parents. Where is Freud when you need him?

It's Mallick who suffers from an obsession. And she has projected that obsession on to a young man whose parents tried to provide all the help he required-including self-help books given by the father-whom she mocks as clueless- a clue to her view of men. I must ask how much she knows about caring for one with a mental illness. About providing them with therapists and books to help them learn about themselves? And according to the story, these parents watched over him, worried about him and called for help. And what happened? The police diagnosed him and chose not to listen to the concerns of family and left him alone.

Asperger's and misogyny do not go together. How sad that too often we look for simplistic answers to difficult questions, but even more worrisome is the leaps in logic made by people like Heather Mallick-respected columnists-turning a tragedy that seems to have been triggered by errors in the manner in which we treat people with mental illness into a moment of feminist propaganda. There seems to be no taboo against belittling or demeaning mental illness and then we wonder why there is a stigma.

The young men and women who died did not die from misogyny any more than Amanda Todd died from bullying. They died from our inability to provide appropriate treatment for mental health disorders.

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Mother's Day-A time of compassion

Mother's day is around the corner. For too many children whose families are restructuring all they want for the day to be happy is their father. They want their dream back. They want to be able to love both parents equally without guilt. We owe it to our children to put their rights, their best interests first.

As Barbara Kay wrote there is "persuasive evidence showing that the single most important 'interest' of children is to continue to love and to be loved by both their parents. Relationships cannot flourish without significant time in each other's presence." Sadly, according to sociologist Paul Millar who analysed the Central Divorce Registry, mothers are 27 times as likely as fathers to obtain sole custody of the children.

Children lose because too often fear of change from the upheaval of divorce turns to anger by one or both parents. About 30 years ago I was listening to two friends, female doctors: one a GP and the other a psychiatrist discussing the effects of divorce on their female patients. The psychiatrist said she'd felt great empathy for her patients and hurt for them. Then she found herself going through her own divorce and said that for all that she had felt for her patients, she had no idea how terrible it was to go through the process. The hurt and anger she felt. The GP pointed out many of her female patients going through divorce spoke to her about wanting their husbands dead. How much better it sounds to say I am a widow than to say I am a divorcée. At least it was back then. She recommended a book that spoke to those feelings. A book? Can you imagine the number of women who'd expressed that wish for there to be a book?

Shocked? Don't be. I recently spoke to another woman who was so distraught, so anxious and fearful of divorce that she'd wished her husband, who flew for business, would be in a plane crash. Then she felt terrible right away. The guilt and shame -- how unfair to wish a plane crash with innocents dying because she could not bear the divorce process.

And then comes the remorse for wishing the death of the spouse. Yes, it might get rid of your problem but that means wishing a whole set of problems and pain on your children-mourning a father whom they still love and need and want.

For many men and women, divorce triggers a sense of shame and guilt from failure and then fear of the unknown. That fear is come by honestly-genetically, from the days in the cave. We are the ancestors of those who respected fear of the unknown. Back then if you didn't listen to that instinctual fear coming from your soul, you could be dinner. Fear, anxiety, anger keep us alive.

The three emotions live together in the deepest and oldest part of our brain; the amygdala, the reptilian brain. Imagine feeling imprisoned in a marriage -- like an animal caught in a trap. First there's fear. Then anger, which is needed to increase adrenalin and start the fight-for-life process. In divorce, feeling trapped can do the same thing. Anger develops and you reach for the closest weapon to defend yourself. Too often that weapon is the children. They become the pawns in a battle that gets out of hand between two adults.

Brian Ludmer, a co-founder of the group Lawyers for Shared Parenting (L4SP) asks "Why do this to children who are used to seeing both of their parents every day?"

That is the question to ask yourself this Mother's Day, while you look at those beautiful children. In Hebrew the root of the word womb, mercy and compassion are the same; for a reason. Are you ready to let go of the anger, let go of the hurt, and embrace your children's love and need for their father? It would be a beautiful mother's day gift.

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