Letters: ’Canada has much to be proud of in its zoos’

Maclean’s readers on zoos and the right to die
Greg South / Edmonton Journal / CP

Dignity and death

In the 20th century, the argument against doctor-assisted suicide cited horror stories of “loved ones” killing someone with a disability for emotional or financial reasons (“Why doctors want the right to pull the plug,” National, Nov. 4). In the 21st century, some health workers care deeply about their patients, but the priority of the large health care industry itself isn’t taking care of people, it’s making money by taking care of people. As someone with a disability called Friedreich’s ataxia (which is like ALS or MS)—having a normal mind but being blind, two-thirds deaf, mostly paralyzed and living in a nursing home—I know that, nowadays, the health care industry wants to keep my body barely functioning, merely because it can get money for doing so.

Rawnie Dunn, Burnaby, B.C.

Most people who work in health care understand the reasons for not delaying the inevitable. As a nurse, I have seen more than my share of families who have subjected their loved ones to much undue suffering in order to “keep them alive for as long as possible.” The lawyers and judges on the Supreme Court—and the psychiatrists, lawyers and laypeople on the Consent and Capacity Board—have never had to suction, daily, the secretions of a patient who is not conscious enough to ask, but is conscious enough to show pain. They have not had to change the adult diapers of a patient on a sometimes hourly basis because of the tube feeds that seems to run right through their digestive tract. They have not inserted tubes into orifices while looking into the eyes of the patient who screams back silently that this is not what he wants. The family members who are so stuck to their beliefs that a life without quality is better than no life at all are not the ones who are responsible for making sure their loved ones stay alive. They quietly leave the room for invasive procedures, and look the other way when the patients’ eyes start to water.

Brooke Nowicki, RN, Calgary

Quebec junior health minister Véronique Hivon believes that palliative sedation and assisted suicide are the same (“The fight for the right to die,” National, Nov. 4). In fact, they are distinct in both purpose and method. The intention of palliative sedation is to relieve suffering by inducing sleep in someone who is expected to die of his disease within a few days or hours. In most instances, sedated patients die naturally and inevitably of their disease, but without unendurable suffering. Assisted suicide, on the other hand, is to act in a way that causes someone’s death, at her request. The “nobility” of this lies in the assumption that death is the right of anyone who is terminally ill. Unlike palliative sedation, assisted suicide can be used, well before death from the disease would naturally occur. Palliative sedation and assisted suicide have completely different intentions and applications, but both can be construed as relieving suffering and contributing to a dignified death, depending on your point of view.

Mary Wallis, clinical nurse specialist, palliative care, Calgary

The enormous resources needed to maintain people who are in near-vegetative states could be used for much greater good for many more people if allocated elsewhere. In ignoring the crucial reality of limited resources, the Supreme Court of Canada has not served us well.

Richard J. Kind, Ottawa

Moving through mountains

You recently ran a letter claiming that “Pipelines trump rails” (Letters, Nov. 4) for transporting oil. However, the railway has roads and services all along its line, whereas the proposed Northern Gateway pipeline goes through the two biggest mountain ranges on the North American continent, through areas where there are no existing supports. We have a hard time keeping our roads open on the lowest passes. Yet people think that a pipeline is safe from the same hazards, and in an area that is even worse than where the rail runs. The railroad is in dire need of maintenance—but even as is, the likelihood of a really big spill is much less than a pipeline over this hazardous area. I’ve spent my working life in these mountains, keeping logging roads open, as well as highways, and after living in them for 78 years, I have learned to respect them.

Dave Marsh, McBride, B.C.

Zoos, for and against

Barbara Amiel gets it mostly wrong in her column detailing her distaste of zoos (“The Canadian slums no one is talking about,” Opinion, Nov. 11). Ask the 11 million people who visit Canada’s zoos and aquariums every year and they would probably take offence at her characterization of these institutions as “slums.” Contrary to her facile assertion, Canada has much to be proud of in its zoos. Some of the most successful species conservation work in the world is done right here in Canada, not only in public institutions, but in private, for-profit ones. Where she does get it right is when she writes: “Our iPads show us a snow leopard, but can’t match seeing it first-hand.” That’s why zoos matter: They do more than educate; they create the kind of emotional bonds between people and nature that give us hope for the future of our natural environment, and the very animals anti-zoo advocates claim to care for.

Massimo Bergamini, Executive Director, Canada’s Accredited Zoos and Aquariums, Ottawa

I couldn’t agree more with Barbara Amiel’s column on zoos. She asks: “Can we justify the suffering of captive animals?” No, we cannot. Zoos, whether rural or urban, are an abomination and nothing more than animal cruelty. As a hunter, fisherman and lifelong outdoor enthusiast during my 65 years, I recall, when my family and I, on vacation in Vermont in the mid-1980s, stopped at one of these out-of-the way, three-acre zoos. While the rest of my family went off to explore, I found myself sitting in front of a caged hyena who paced to and fro for over an hour. The desperation in the hyena’s eyes (and they are not pretty eyes to look at) has left an indelible memory in my mind and convinced me that the mere existence of zoos is wrong. I wish that everyone in Canada and around the world would stop attending zoos for their children’s amusement, since doing so comes at the expense of the freedom of these creatures. Thank-you, Ms. Amiel, for shedding some light on these dreadful places of pain and distress.

Kevin Sullivan, Ottawa

Mountie matters

As a former trainer of a leading Canadian police tactical unit, I am troubled by the number of unacceptable responses to high-risk situations by the RCMP’s Emergency Response Team (“A century of goodwill is getting blown away,” From the Editors, Nov. 4). Whatever happened to the basics of “containment, talk and time,” backed up, of course, by the capability to handle matters if things go awry and become deadly? Using deadly force against an armed person is sometimes unavoidable and necessary, but for a highly trained tactical unit, a win-win conclusion to a dangerous mission can only be claimed if no lives are lost, including that of the perpetrator.

Andrew F. Maksymchuk, Vernon, B.C.

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