Ruth von Fuchs
President and Secretary
Brian Finnemore, MD
The group has about 400 members.
Victoria writer John Hofsess founds the Right to Die
Society of Canada to meet the need for a choice-in-dying group that will
not be constrained by the prohibitions affecting charitable organizations.
He creates a very professional and substantial magazine, Last Rights, to be the voice of the Society.
Victoria ALS sufferer Sue Rodriguez contacts John and
together they plan a court challenge to the law forbidding assistance with
suicide. John and the Society spend $25,000 on this project, most of it
for legal fees. Sue is very successful in building public awareness of
the problems caused by Section 241(b) of the Criminal Code.
The Society polls MPs and senators regarding euthanasia
and assisted suicide. When returning her questionnaire, Senator Joan Neiman
informs John that she feels it is time for a thorough examination of Canada's
laws on euthanasia and assisted suicide, and she thinks the upper house
of Parliament would be a good place to do this work. (The House of Commons
has repeatedly shown itself unwilling to consider the issue.) A committee
is formed and begins to hold hearings. The Society is one of the groups
that makes a presentation to the committee.
Windsor MS sufferer Austin Bastable, whose motto is "Carrying on
where Sue left off", contacts the Society in the hope of being able
to raise his profile and become more effective. The group donates computer
equipment to him, and John creates a section for him within DeathNet, the
website he has been building. Austin succeeds in bringing assisted suicide
back "onto the front burner", receiving extensive press coverage
and being the subject of an hour-long TV documentary broadcast by the CBC.
DeathNet is voted best Canadian health/medical site in 1995 and again in
Somewhat discouraged by the Senate Committee's failure
to recommend significant changes, and by Parliament's subsequent failure
to implement even the few modest changes that were recommended, John shifts
his emphasis. He begins to focus on helping people in the here and now,
rather than striving (perhaps vainly) for legislative change within the
lifetimes of the group's current members. He also changes the group's name
to Right to Die Network of Canada, planning to establish local chapters
in cities where there are at least 50 members.
Last Rights magazine ceases publication and John transfers its name to a new organization
he is creating as a "sister group" for the Network: Last Rights
Publications, or LR Publications. He produces a series of explanatory booklets,
each on a different self-deliverance method, and offers them for sale --
following the example of the Hemlock Society in the United States, whose
financial underpinnings came originally from sales of Derek Humphry's book
Final Exit. (For customers ordering the booklet about the plastic-bag method he also
offers bags that have had a casing and elastic already sewn on, so that
people are not put at a disadvantage by being unable to sew.) But John feels the need to refine the existing self-deliverance methods,
and to discover new ones that are better. He therefore links up with Derek
Humphry and also with Dr. Philip Nitschke (of Australia). After contacting
several other interested researchers they hold the first international
conference of a group they name "New Technology for Self-Deliverance",
or Nu-Tech for short.
The five Canadian choice-in-dying groups agree to produce
a joint newsletter. It is called Free To Go and is edited by Ruth von Fuchs, who has become increasingly active in
the Network and in the right-to-die movement as a whole.
John concentrates more and more on LR Publications and
Nu-Tech. Responsibility for the Right to Die Network is unofficially assumed
by Ruth in Toronto, though membership revenue and administration are still
handled in Victoria by John and by Evelyn Martens.
Evelyn Martens is arrested and charged with counselling
and assisting the suicides of two B.C. women. She is freed on bail but
is forbidden to have any connection with the Network. John also becomes
less active. Ruth therefore takes over the management of the group, with
help from her husband Themis Anno and from Ottawa members Paul and Deltry
Working from an archival membership list (the only current
list having been lost when police seized Evelyn's computer), the new management
appeals for help to pay off the group's debts. The members on the reduced
mailing list, even though they are small in number, prove themselves to
be large in spirit. Soon the group is back on a sound financial footing.
Recalling that the name change from "Society"
to "Network" had been questioned by some members, Ruth asks the
members to indicate their preference. Of those who vote, 53% want "Society",
33% want "Network", and 14% are happy with either. In response,
the group goes back to its original name.
A new website, www.righttodie.ca, is created to serve the
Society's members and the public. Although the DeathNet website has not
been kept up to date, much of the material on it is timeless and quite
useful, and the Society therefore purchases the site contents from John.
The plan is that selected pages from the old site will be moved to the
new site, as time permits.
On November 4 the jury in the Evelyn Martens case returns
"Not Guilty" verdicts on both charges (regarding Monique Charest
and Leyanne Burchell). As expected, Evelyn announces that she does not
wish to resume her duties as membership director, and the database continues
to be administered by Ruth in Toronto.
Members in the Victoria area are asked whether they want
to be included in a shared list of phone numbers and e-mail addresses,
to facilitate local communication and activities. Thirteen members say
"Yes"; the list is therefore compiled and distributed.
When Francine Lalonde's dignity-in-dying bill (C-407)
is selected for debate, the Society compiles another list, of 52 MPs who
are thought likely to be supportive of Lalonde's initiative. In case these
MPs might appreciate some "debate ammunition" to supplement their
own ideas, a mailer is prepared -- in English and in French -- containing
rejoinders to eight of the most popular arguments against the legalization
of aid in dying. (Although many of these mailings undoubtedly get pulped,
one MP is so pleased by his copy that he phones the Society to thank us.)
The Victoria members hold their first meeting. Two of
them report on an Australian conference which they had attended (one of
them having been asked to be a speaker) and there is a demonstration of
the helium method for self-deliverance.
When the Vancouver group Choices in Dying finds it necessary
to disband, some of its members and some of its funds come to RTDSC.
The Society's website (www.righttodie.ca) completes its
rise through the ranks of Google.ca, and becomes the first site to be displayed
in response to a request for the three words "right to die".
This leads to many student inquiries and new memberships.
When the World Federation of Right to Die Societies holds
its convention in Toronto in September, the Society applies for membership,
and is accepted.
A 15-year-old Toronto student named Zoe Cleland starts
an online petition in support of physician-assisted suicide being legalized
in Canada. The Society's website publicizes the petition and provides a
link to it. Several hundred people sign it during the year.
The Society's membership form starts providing a place
for people to indicate that they want to be in touch with nearby fellow
members. The hope is that this will reduce members' isolation and perhaps
even lead to the formation of some new "local chapters", following
the lead of the Victoria group.