Some time ago I put up a post entitled “W5 on Euthanasia: A Second (or is it a Third?) Look“. It referred to a CTV W5 programme with Victor Malarek in which a number of questionable claims were made by Dr. José Pereira, who ”is Professor and Head of the Division of Palliative Care at the University of Ottawa and Medical Chief of the Palliative Care programs at Bruyère Continuing Care and The Ottawa Hospital in Ottawa, Canada,” as we are told on the University of Ottawa Department of Medicine Feature Series. Even added are details about Pereira’s publications and honours. I too was involved in that programme, and, when I was interviewed in my home by Mr. Malarek, I was blindsided by a paper published in the journal Oncology Today about the dangers of assisted dying, written by Pereira. At that time I had not heard about the paper itself, although I was quite familiar with the kinds of information or supposed information it contained. No one at W5 had thought it relevant to give me access to the paper beforehand, so that I could have given a considered response at the time. He was an expert; I was a layman. Throwing the paper at me in the way that Malarek did was an expression of the assumption that, while I might support assisted dying, I could not speak as an expert. As it turns out, this was not true, for as soon as I had read Pereira’s paper the first time, I was quite aware that something was seriously amiss. According to the Priests for Life homepage:
Fr. Tom Lynch and Fr. John Lemire interviews Dr. José Pereira on the issue of Euthanasia, Assisted Suicide, Palliative Care, and End-of-Life Issues. Dr. Pereira is one of the leading Canadian authorities in these subjects. He will be the main presenter at the Priests for Life Canada “Pro-Life Clergy Symposium” to take place in Ottawa, May 8-9, 2012 (during the March for Life week).
Dr. Pereira is a palliative care physician, but he is not an authority on the issue of euthanasia or assisted suicide. Indeed, Pereira is the familiar garden-variety religious shill for the pro-life propaganda that issues ceaselessly from the Vatican, from conferences of Catholic bishops, from the almost uncountable number of Roman Catholic organisations pushing their supposedly “pro-life” position on an unwilling public.
At the time, when the W5 ”Let Me Go” programme was still in production, I wrote a long analysis of Pereira’s paper, “Legalizing Euthanasia or Assisted Suicide: The Illusion of Controls.” Not having ready access to many sources, I was unable to check all of Pereira’s references, but I concluded that many of his claims either had no supporting witness, or that, where cited, many of the cited works did not say what he took them to say. The paper was a pastiche of outright lies and half-truths, mistakes and generally shoddy work for a man who claims, not only to be an expert on end-of-life issues, but a man functioning as an academic within a university setting. His paper was published by a journal of repute, as though it were peer-reviewed and beyond reproach. It was presented as such in the W5 documentary, and nothing that I could say would change either the producer’s or Victor Malarek’s mind. They were going with Pereira, and accepting him as their sole expert witness about the supposed dangers of legalised assisted dying. The end of the programme left the impression that not only was assisted dying dangerous, but that there were more dangers and horrors to come:
As Malarek says, knowing absolutely nothing about it: “Kind’a scary what there might be out there.” And then we have the benign, thoughtful, doc, who has just published a paper about this in a prominent oncology journal, telling us in an avuncular, authoritative way, that he works with people at the end-of-life all the time, and — trust me, I’m your doctor! — we can control all the pain that people have. This itself is untrue, and he knows it.
But Malarek doesn’t leave it at that. His interview with Pereira comes towards the end of the documentary, closely followed by a short summary with the host of W5, Lloyd Roberston — here is how he and Victor Malarek bring it to a close:
This is all completely wrong. It’s not that people are “stretching the boundaries” and ”going after” people with chronic conditions. This is a total misrepresentation, and, I suggest, a deliberate one, on the part of the Roman Catholic Pereira. The Roman Catholic death cult at work! In places like the Netherlands, Belgium and Switzerland, people with chronic conditions were included from the start. This is one of the errors or deliberate pieces of misinformation in Pereira’s article. He suggests that in the Netherlands assisted dying was at first restricted only to those with terminal conditions. This is not true — and, in my opinion, should never be – and yet Malarek allows this mistake to stand at the end of the programme as though it were true, compounding Pereira’s error with his own.
When I complained to the producers that the programme misrepresented the reality of assisted dying, and that I felt it had done a disservice to my wife Elizabeth, I was told that, in their opinion, they had been very fair. But allowing lies to stand like this is not being fair, and my complaint and sense of having been wronged by Malarek and the producers at CTV has not simply disappeared. They used me, and they used Elizabeth’s story, and I deeply resent that. I believe it is very significant that, at the end of the video clip where Pereira is speaking about the ”dangerous turf” onto which assisted dying would lead us, the scene cuts to a picture of Elizabeth and me, almost as if to suggest that Elizabeth’s death was a result of the lack of controls about which Pereira is warning us. The producers did include a clip of me saying that Elizabeth would not have thanked Pereira for the opportunity provided by palliative care, but nowhere was I able to point out that Elizabeth would not have been a candidate for palliative care in any event, and that she might well have lived, completely paralysed, for many years. On the whole, I would give W5 a failing grade for accuracy and truth in the production of this segment of its programme.
However, now the truth is out, and not only is it down in black and white, but it is published in the same journal that published Pereira’s piece of Catholic propaganda. Jocelyn Downie, Professor in the Faculties of Law and Medicine, Dalhousie University, K. Chambaere, of The Researcch Foundation-Flanders and End-of-Life- Care Reserach Group, Ghent University and the Vrije Unversiteit, Brussels, and J.L. Bernheim, of the End-of-Life- Care Reserach Group, Ghent University and the Vrije Unversiteit, Brussels, have published a response to Pereira’s unscholarly attempt to discredit assisted dying, in their paper: “Pereira’s attack on legalizing euthanasia or assisted suicide: smoke and mirrors“, in the current issue of Oncology Today (vol. 19 (2012), 133-138). There the authors spell out in detail the many offences against the norms of scholarship comitted by Pereira. Indeed, so egregious are these errors that the authors say in conclusion that:
Pereira’s conclusions are not supported by the evidence he provided. His paper should not be given any credence in the public policy debate about the legal status of assisted suicide and euthanasia in Canada and around the world. [p. 133]
That is the conclusion as recorded in the Abstract. In the text itself the authors state:
The issue of the legalization of euthanasia and assisted suicide in Canada and elsewhere is complex and controversial. As various actors in the legal system contemplate reform, it is essential that they and the public they represent (in direct and indirect ways) be well-informed. Carelessly researched and inadequately referenced or deliberately misleading professional journal articles with the apparent legitimacy of peer-reviewed literature must not be allowed to contaminate the debate. There is far too much at stake. [136-7; my italics]
Of course, the authors cannot make the accusation, in a professional journal, of religious prejudice, but I can, and I do. I believe that José Pereira is so deeply tainted by his religious belief in the supposed sanctity of life that he needed to find reasons that would support those beliefs, and believed that he had found them in the sources cited in his paper. That it is judged by other scholars – with great justice — a piece of careless scholarship, and perhaps even deliberately misleading, is a significant thing to say, and I am pleased that it has now been said.
I count my position, which I argued with CTV producers, completely justified, and I still smart from the harm that they did to the cause of assisted dying in Canada, but also to the memory of my wife Elizabeth, who was categorised, by Victor Malarek, as one of those who, in his supposedly “scary” scenario, had been “gone after”. This is still something for which I would like to have an apology from CTV and the producers concerned, as well as from Mr. Malarek and Lloyd Robertson, who so badly misrepresented Elizabeth’s choice to die in Switzerland, and thus set back, by their misrepresentation, the cause of assisted dying in Canada. Their fault, in my mind, is equal in severity to the one committed by Pereira in his shoddy scholarship upon which they based their own completely bizarre conclusions about assisted dying. I gave them plenty of reason to suppose that Pereira’s paper was inaccurate and in some cases completely untrue, and they chose to side with the supposed “expert”, who turns out, in the end, not only to have had religious axes to grind all along, but to have written a paper that would not have been acceptable from an undergraduate. (This raises important peer-reivew questions about professional publications, which I have not addressed here.)
Many thanks to my friend Sheila Noyes for bringing Downie et al.’s paper to my attention.