Immoral or Merciful? Canadian Doctors Divided on Medically Assisted Death — Longreads

Some doctors are struggling with allowing Canadians to die on their own terms.

via Immoral or Merciful? Canadian Doctors Divided on Medically Assisted Death — Longreads

Here I share a powerful article by Krista Stevens.

Advertisements

PTSD, Peacekeeping, and Politics by Adam Montgomery

(It’s an honour to have Dr Adam Montgomery share his thoughts on trauma, the military, and PTSD. You can read more of his work in a forthcoming book, The Invisible Injured: Psychological Trauma in the Canadian Military from the First World War to Afghanistan.)

PTSD, Peacekeeping, and Politics

In the twenty-first century, it seems that trauma is everywhere. From soldiers to emergency medical workers, there has been a growing awareness since the new millennium about the effects of psychological trauma on long-term mental health outcomes. We now routinely hear about post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) after natural disasters, car or train accidents, sexual assault, and even war journalism.

But while the Western world is now keenly attuned to trauma and PTSD, each nation has had its own unique historical experience with this complex and thorny disorder. In America, the PTSD concept first grew out of the Vietnam War and the social alienation felt by returning American soldiers. Working with anti-war psychiatrists in the late 1970s, Vietnam veterans were able to gain recognition (and in some cases, compensation) for both the traumatic events they witnessed and a social ostracism which stripped them of any ability to tie their service to a nationally supported cause. PTSD was, for better or worse, as much a political disorder as a medical one in 1980s America.

Stemming as it did from socio-political turmoil, PTSD was initially dismissed by other Western nations as a unique, American-specific phenomenon; that is until they, too, discovered PTSD symptoms in their own citizens. In Britain, the Falklands War and subsequent difficulties faced by British veterans spotlighted the reality of PTSD and slowly forced the British government, psychiatrists, and military brass to accept the reality of war trauma. By the late 1980s, trauma and PTSD were seen as a natural outcome of witnessing death and destruction.

In Canada, a nation that had not been at war since the Korean conflict of the 1950s, PTSD was also viewed as an American-specific phenomenon throughout the 1980s. Despite ample experience with shell shock and battle exhaustion in the First and Second World War, the Canadian military quite simply forgot about trauma from the 1950s until the end of the Cold War.

Then, everything changed overnight. With the fall of the Soviet Union in 1991, the United Nations and its allied countries were thrust into a plethora of peacekeeping missions; in several regions where there was little or no peace to keep. In Rwanda and the former Yugoslavia, for example, Canadian peacekeepers were faced with numerous traumatic events, such as ethnic cleansing and combat with belligerent forces. Unfortunately, they returned to a Canada that cared little for their service.

Caught up in a series of scandals such as the murder of a Somali teenager by Canadian paratroopers in Somalia in 1993, the Canadian military and Department of National Defence wished to suppress any unpalatable overseas experiences. Thus, they initially denied peacekeepers faced any post-tour issues. But by the late 1990s, with Lieutenant-General Roméo Dallaire’s public battle with PTSD following his time as Force Commander in Rwanda in 1993-94, and a growing chorus of traumatized rank-and-file peacekeepers, PTSD became a cause for national concern.

The Croatia Board of Inquiry, called in 1999 to investigate the possible exposure of Canadian peacekeepers to toxins in Croatia, found quite another cause for soldiers’ suffering. After dozens of testimonies from peacekeepers, many of whom told tales about cleaning up dead bodies, watching belligerents’ bodies being dragged through the streets, and having guns pointed at their heads by Croat and Serb soldiers, the board concluded that soldiers’ trauma and subsequent health difficulties were caused not by toxins, but intense psychological duress.

Canadians at first demurred. Peacekeeping had become Canada’s defining contribution to global politics in the 1950 to 1980s period; it was viewed as a relatively benign and adventurous experience for Canadian soldiers. How could ostensibly peaceful tours cause the same after-effects as war? By questioning peacekeeping, Canadians had to turn inward and question their own national identity. Naturally, this introspection took time, and to some degree the peacekeeping myth – a belief that peacekeeping involves simply patrolling a well-defined zone of separation between belligerents and handing out candy to local children – endures.

What has changed, though, is Canadians’ understanding that a percentage of soldiers exposed to traumatic events, whether on peacekeeping or war operations, will return with long-term mental health challenges – the most obvious being PTSD. My book, The Invisible Injured, explores all of the aforementioned themes and events, and argues that PTSD and its antecedents should be viewed not just as medical conditions, but also as profoundly shattering social experiences which are intimately linked to politics as well as Canada’s need to define itself as a middle power in world events. PTSD’s effects include not just nightmares and flashbacks; they also include possible release from the military, pension battles, and social ostracism. In the post-Afghanistan era, when the Canadian government is making plans to once again commit Canadian soldiers to peacekeeping missions in Africa, history can once again play a role in demonstrating not just where we have come from, but where we are going.

 

Adam Montgomery is the author of the forthcoming The Invisible Injured: Psychological Trauma in the Canadian Military from the First World War to Afghanistan (McGill-Queen’s University Press, 2017).

injured

Vape Fear – Updated

November 25, 2016 – CBC NEWS

Vaping, e-cigarettes to be regulated by Health Canada

The federal government plans to regulate e-cigarettes to make vaping products less accessible to young people.

“The proposed act amends the Tobacco Act to regulate vaping products as a separate class of products,” Health Canada said in a statement on Tuesday November, 22.

The aim is to protect young people and non-users from nicotine addiction while allowing adults access to e-cigarettes.

“We know that there is some evidence to suggest that the use of vaping products can be used as a harm-reduction tool for people who are current smokers,” Health Minister Jane Philpott told reporters in the Commons.

“But at same time, they have [been] shown to be an enticement for young people to take up smoking and become addicted to nicotine.”

The government aims to regulate the manufacture, sale, labelling and promotion of e-cigarettes and vaping products.

A key part of the legislation introduced in the Senate is to regulate health claims, such as that a vaping product will help smokers quit.

The legislation would cover vaping products with and without nicotine.

Other measures in the proposed legislation include:

  • A ban on the sale and promotion of all vaping products to those under age 18.
  • Prohibiting the promotion of flavours that appeal to youth, such as candy flavours.
  • Creating regulatory authority to display health warnings on vaping devices.

*****

Here’s my original article.

In Martin Scorsese’s 1991 remake of Cape Fear, Robert De Niro plays sociopathic Max Cady, who has recently been released from prison. Years earlier, his attorney, Sam Bowden portrayed by Nick Nolte, deliberately withheld evidence during a criminal trial which would have seen Cady acquitted.

This of course enraged Cady and fueled a desire for revenge. As punishment, he stalked and brutalized the Bowden family. Yet, being a true believer, he also felt that by carrying out his terrible deeds he was helping Bowden achieve a type of moral and spiritual redemption. In short, he felt his actions were serving Bowden’s interests.

tumblr_mvoxandish1qeqn7eo3_1280

In 2016, consumers, politicians, and health officials are going through Vape Fear. Due to lack of evidence, we are being tested by a product in the marketplace with a potential to improve health outcomes and cause other, if unknown, health problems.

It’s a dual-purpose product, in that it has recreational and medical applications. And in the public arena, opponents and supporters of e-cigarette regulations have contested the best approach to it.

Supporters of stiff regulation declare that children and young people need to be shielded from products that imitate smoking and might encourage nicotine addiction. (Think Mrs. Lovejoy in the Simpsons.) They favour regulation that might guarantee product safety and quality. These individuals also usually advocate on behalf of a precautionary approach – at least until there is sufficient evidence that e-cigarettes don’t undermine recent successes at controlling tobacco.

Opponents of stiff regulation, by contrast, argue that vaping is significantly less harmful than conventional cigarettes and beneficial in helping smokers to quit. They want minimal restrictions on availability and often absolute freedom for advertising, promotion and the use of e-cigarettes in public. (Think Charlton Heston and guns being pried from his cold dead hands.) Restrictions, this camp argues, might put off smokers from swapping to safer alternatives and limit the opportunity of curbing tobacco consumption. Here harm reduction trumps all other suits.

Now, against this messy backdrop, governments have taken action.

New EU regulations in May imposed standardised quality control on liquids and vaporisers across the union. They also required disclosure of ingredients in vaping liquids and child-proofing and tamper-proofing for liquid packaging.  And the NHS has backed e-cigarettes as a quitting aid.

In March, the Scottish government’s Health Bill banned under-18s from both buying the devices and limiting their advertising, which followed Health Scotland’s position paper in March 2015 that “NHS Boards must balance the benefits of e-cigarettes use to smokers with any potential concerns about impact on non-smokers.”

Meanwhile, the U.S. government has also taken broad steps to crack down for the first time on e-cigarettes, which have been growing in popularity among teens and is projected to be a 4 billion dollar industry this year.

The Food and Drug Administration’s move in May brought regulation of e-cigarettes in line with existing rules for cigarettes, smokeless tobacco and roll-your-own tobacco. This had been highly anticipated after the FDA issued a proposed rule two years ago on how to supervise the e-cigarette industry.

“Millions of kids are being introduced to nicotine every year, a new generation hooked on a highly addictive chemical,” U.S. Secretary of Health and Human Services Sylvia Burwell stated during the announcement of the new rules. She asserted too that health officials still don’t have the scientific evidence showing e-cigarettes can help smokers quit, as the industry asserts, and avoid the known ills of tobacco.

In all of this, though, a Vape Fear persisted.

Similarly, heart experts recently found that vaping damages key blood vessels in the heart in a similar way to normal cigarettes, and it’s “far more dangerous than people realize.” University College London heart expert Professor Robert West noted, “It would certainly be fair to say the study shows electronic cigarettes are not without any risk.”

Researchers at the European Society of Cardiology Congress in Rome thus decided to call the NHS decision to support e-cigarettes “premature.”

Added to all this is the idea of vaping garage labs, a part of e-cigarette mythology that’s difficult to shake. While no one has been publicly exposed for mixing juice in an actual garage, many in the industry have confessed privately that some set-ups that are only marginally better. It was and remains the nascent industry’s dirty little secret.

In my home country of Canada, Vape Fear is certainly present. According to the CBC’s celebrity doctor Brian Goldman, “my sense is that key thought leaders in Canada are alarmist about e-cigarettes.” They “ignore evidence,” “cling to the notion that nicotine addiction, as opposed to combusted tobacco products, is the paramount health problem,” and “overestimate concerns that e-cigarettes act as a gateway to regular tobacco use.”

For Goldman, it’s well past time that his colleagues “look up the facts” and stop “dissing a smoke cessation tool with a lot of potential.” It can serve the interests of public health. Jesse Kline for the National Post has likewise told Canadians, “Don’t believe the fear campaign — e-cigarettes can save millions of lives.”

In Cape Fear, Sam Bowden’s teenage daughter – played by Juliette Lewis – was tormented and assaulted by De Niro’s Max Cady, but she manages to survive. She tells the audience that her holiday in North Carolina had been so peaceful beforehand, “when the only thing to fear on those enchanted summer nights was that the magic would end and real life would come crashing in.”

With vaping, we know this won’t occur until all multitudinous studies have been completed. And regulators and health authorities reach consensus.

Until that point, the regulation and use of e-cigarettes in Canada, the United States, and Scotland will continue to spark serious challenges and health concerns.

Without reliable data and hard evidence, and in a state of affairs where no one has a claim to the unassailable truth, regulations that curtail access and promotion to young people appears to be the surest policy in overcoming Vape Fear.

Clarify Pot Policy for Veterans

Today I wrote a short viewpoint for the Star Phoenix. The article is on medical cannabis for Canadian veterans.

Auditor General Michael Ferguson has raised important questions about the increasing use of medical marijuana by Canadian military veterans.

As authorities contemplate enforcement actions and zoning bylaws relevant to marijuana dispensaries, and the federal Liberal government prepares for legalization in 2017, Ferguson is urging the Department of Veterans Affairs to address the amount of medical cannabis being prescribed to veterans. He found the quantity prescribed was “poorly documented” and not always evidence-based.

Ferguson focused more broadly on how Veterans Affairs has been managing drug benefits for former servicemen and women, some of whom have complicated health issues and suffer from mental health conditions such as post-traumatic stress disorder. The AG made it plain that it’s time to cut through the haze and clarify marijuana policy for veterans.

The core problem rests with the amount of cannabis veterans are authorized to take. In 2014, Veterans Affairs doubled the amount to 10 grams per day for eligible veterans. Yet, for Health Canada this is twice the amount it considers safe. An internal Health Canada document showed that more than five grams has the potential to increase risks to the cardiovascular, pulmonary and immune systems, as well as psychomotor performance. It has a chance of increasing the risk of drug dependence.

Ferguson’s office could not find any evidence to support this decision to increase the threshold. Veterans Affairs Minister Kent Hehr expressed shock in March that his department lacked an “informed policy” on the use of medical cannabis, even as number of claims by veterans for medical marijuana grew more than tenfold over the past two years.

According to figures provided by Veterans Affairs, 112 veterans were reimbursed for medical marijuana in 2013-14, The following year, it was 628. By March 2016 that number has risen to 1,320.

Mike Blais, president and founder of Canadian Veterans Advocacy, has been abundantly clear about veterans’ consumption of medical marijuana: “I think there should be no cap, and that every case should be judged on individual merit and that the doctor’s prescription is paramount.”

At the same time, Canadian Forces have taken an alternative stand. In 2014, H.C. MacKay who was then the deputy surgeon general of the Canadian Forces, made clear that “with respect to marijuana use for medical purposes, we have identified what appears to be a very significant policy divergence between Veterans Affairs Canada and Canadian Armed Forces.”

In short, even though Veterans Affairs was funding medical marijuana, the military’s health service did not recognize it for medical use. With respect to PTSD, the Canadian Forces have also suggested there is insufficient evidence to authorize marijuana use and could even be detrimental to veterans’ health.

Marijuana remains a highly contested medicine for various scientific, political and social reasons. That is obvious. However, the auditor general report reaffirms how it and the policies surrounding the medical treatments for Canadian veterans require significant clarification.

Lucas Richert teaches the history of pharmaceutical and recreational drugs at the University of Saskatchewan.

Below the CBC covers the story.

Rebranding: Justin Trudeau and Canadian Coffee

For millions of Canadians, there is no icon in business more collectively beloved than Tim Hortons. “Tim’s” – as the franchise is affectionately called – long ago transcended the humble domain of doughnuts and coffee. Instead, it is now a part of the Canadian national identity – one of those rare brands by which individuals and societies categorize themselves.

Forget beer. Tim Hortons coffee is Canada’s drug of choice.

beer

And it is a fascinating historical and political development that Stephen Harper’s Conservative Party cleverly latched onto this when pitching itself to the masses. The Tories held photo-ops inside Tim Hortons outlets across Canada and made sure to be photographed delivering Tim Hortons goodies around various communities.

In 2009, one researcher felt that the Tim Hortons X factor was essential enough to warrant asking voters which party leader was more likely to buy their coffee at Tim’s. No surprises here, the Conservatives edged the Liberals in this category. Canadians had, in short, developed a culture of conservative coffee.

With the recent election of Justin Trudeau and a new Liberal government (which promised hope and change), the time is right to take a step back and assess the relationship between Tim Hortons and politics.

trudeau-family-halloween-20151031
Trudeau family at Halloween. May the 4th be with you.

* * * * *

Tim Hortons opened its first location in 1964 in Hamilton, Ontario. It was co-founded by NHL player, Tim Horton, who played for the Toronto Maple Leafs, among other teams. In succeeding decades, thousands more popped up across the country, making it more successful in Canada than McDonald’s. Sure, the arrival of the coffee chain in a small town sometimes meant the end of local ‘mom-and-pop’ shops, but its presence produced more excitement than resentment. Getting a Tim Hortons was a sign that a community – however small – had made it.

tim horton
Tim handles the puck

Over the course of 50 years, Tim Hortons caught and surpassed the big-name American burger chains to become the undisputed champion of Canada’s “quick service restaurant” market.

By 2004, the term “double-double” entered the Oxford dictionary of Canadian English, signifying recognition of its importance to everyday speech. Ordering a drink of this kind represented, at least for some commentators and scholars, more than just habit. It was and remains an act of solidarity within the national body politic. According to the Globe and Mail, one estimate suggests Tim’s sells nearly eight in 10 cups of coffee sold in Canada.

double doublealways fresh

Most pharmaceutical companies would kill for that kind of market share.

This road to dominance was chronicled in Ron Joyce’s Always Fresh, an insider’s account of Tim Horton and the business named after him.  At times, it is a devastatingly blunt account of the chaotic and complicated personal story behind one of Canada’s most successful businesses.

joyce

Ron Joyce, one of the co-founders of the franchise, chronicles the drugs, the infidelity, an epic court battle, and one spectacular, fatal car crash – that of Tim Horton himself, which was booze-fuelled and largely overlooked until recently.  Joyce, in short, takes his readers behind the counter, into the kitchen, and demonstrates the inner-workings of the company.

The tone of tenor of the book are inherently and recognizably free-market. It is a Horatio Alger, pull-yourself-up-by-your-bootstraps, local-boy-makes-good narrative. First, Joyce settled in Hamilton and worked menial jobs in factories, scraping together enough to get by. Later, he joined law enforcement and increased his measly pay by taking on a variety of odd jobs, including: a produce truck driver, construction worker, and then Brinks guard. Finally, he simply fell into the restaurant business in his mid-thirties and then, through sheer hard work and force of will, he went on to become one of the wealthiest businessmen in the country.

We have all been exposed to this upwardly mobile narrative before, and it surely one that resonates with free-market advocates and, more generally, economic conservatives. Yet, Joyce’s story is intriguing because it showcases how success can tear at the fabric of friendship and family. According to Maclean’s, “It’s as much about jealousy, greed and betrayal as it is about cash flow and marketing.”

According to Douglas Hunter, politicians, especially the Conservative Party, saw tremendous value in the legend of Tim Hortons and seized on the idea that the company, as well as the hockey player founder, was representative of the average Canadian.

When Condoleezza Rice visited Canada in 2006, Foreign Affairs Minister Peter MacKay was photographed taking her to Tim’s. Newspapers referred to this as “double-double diplomacy,” even though she chose to have her coffee black with one sweetener, rather than two creams and two sugars.

Prime Minister Harper also used the Tim Hortons logo as a political stage, including a 2009 speech that welcomed the company back to Canada after it relocated its corporate headquarters from the U.S. To make this political statement, Harper declined an invitation to speak at the United Nations General Assembly, much to the chagrin of the national press.

Harper explicitly referenced how the company was an “essential Canadian story,” which included “success and tragedy,” as well as “big dreams in small towns,” “old fashioned values and tough-fisted business,” “hard work and hockey.” To use David Farber’s phrase, this muscular nationalism, an unshakable patriotism that was popularized by Harper.

Similarly, as Canada prepared to go to war in Afghanistan, the Canadian Chief of Defence Staff, General Rick Hillier, contended that troops should have a Tim Hortons at Kandahar Airfield. It would cost the public at least $4 million, but access to Canada’s drug of choice was a boon to morale. “There’s nothing more Canadian than sipping a double-double in Kandahar airfield while you’re watching a hockey game,” noted Gen. Hillier.

According to Hillier’s Afghanistan commander, Brigadier-General David Fraser, when asked what he thought about the idea: “Tim Hortons better get its ass over here, as far as I’m concerned.”

* * * *

The identity crisis Canadians have suffered since Confederation in 1867 has helped Tim Hortons achieve its emblematic status. It doesn’t help that Canadians are so close to the United States and struggle with what makes us distinct.

Essentially, this means we have been desperate to clasp on to everything that helps delineate and comfort us, particularly in a post-1980s globalized world in which national culture has become so tangled with acts of consumption.

Tim Hortons has seized on that and the Conservative Party seized on that, too. “The worst thing a company can do is tell you straight up ‘We are important to your identity,’” says Douglas Hunter. Instead, the politicians made that point. Tim’s was used as a prop and a backdrop. And the coffee formed part of a political strategy, which has helped reinforce the iron grip of a gentle brand.

And while Justin Trudeau, Canada’s new prime minister, promised hope and change on the campaign trail he made sure to stop in to Tim’s for a cup of coffee. Some drugs, it seems, are hard to kick.

The Business of Babies and Body Products

Explosive legal developments in the sperm donation industry have raised significant questions about reproduction technologies and sperm banks in Canada and beyond.

Three separate Ontario families have recently launched lawsuits against a U.S.-based sperm bank and its Canadian retailer, alleging they were misled about their sperm donor’s background history, which included a criminal record and significant mental illness.

The families – all of whom used Donor 9623 – have brought suits against Xytex Corp., a Georgia-based company, and Ontario-based Outreach Health Services because, they were allegedly deceived. While Donor 9623 was marketed as very well-educated, a model of fitness, and a popular donor, other accounts suggest this wasn’t the case at all.

Picture8
advertising poster

Court statements claim this donor was diagnosed with schizophrenia, suffered from narcissistic personality disorder, was a convicted burglar, and misrepresented his education, having claimed the IQ level of a genius. Essentially, the antithesis of what you’d normally look for.

In the Toronto Star, a recent editorial argued that Paying for Sperm Should Not be Illegal.  Just like with selling human plasma (as I’ve written about here and here), there is much debate. A lot of Canadians agree that we ought to be able to choose what we do with our body products, as Americans can. Do you? Do you think we should be able to buy and sell body products in Canada?

Haha. “Polldaddy.” Get it?

A fact of life with reproduction is that some people find they need help conceiving. Couples may struggle with sterility, decreased fertility, or one of the many other causes that make conception difficult. And sperm banks, which use cryobank technology, are facilities that offer solutions.

In Canada, under the 2004 Assisted Human Reproduction Act, you cannot be paid to donate. This law prohibits the payment of sperm donors (and other providers of reproductive tissues), as a matter of principle – and this is in order to prevent the commercialization and commodification of human reproductive tissues.

This legal situation has, according to some, created a “sperm shortage” and established conditions wherein, much like plasma, we hypocritically use body products from other foreign paid systems. (In Saskatchewan, much of the discussion about for-profit plasma centred on the fact that we are forced to import from the United States.)

For paid sperm donors in the US or elsewhere, screening is often vigorous and takes typically two to three months to complete. There are basic requirements, such as being 18 years of age and having no chronic health problems, but banks also have variable screening processes. Perhaps you have to be over 5 feet 7 inches. Perhaps you need a college degree.

The practice of sperm donation and cryobanking has not been without controversy. In 1954, three Iowa babies were conceived using semen that had been frozen and stored before use, a first in human reproduction. This represented a step forward in assisted conception, thus transforming the sperm bank from a futuristic (perhaps frightening) dream in The Handmaid’s Tale or 1984 or Twins into a viable part of reproductive medicine.

Picture7 Picture6 Picture5

Criticism emerged from both medical and religious circles. The Roman Catholic Church, for example, had condemned all means of artificial impregnation as early as 1897, and it reiterated its opposition, based on the separation of sexuality and reproduction, through the 1950s. Pope Pius XII called artificial insemination of any kind “entirely illicit and immoral.”

The New York Academy of Medicine initially condemned the technique in general, and the general public in U.S. demonstrated a mixed response.

At the same time, eugenicist and Malthusian undertones also led to criticism of sperm banking, with all of the pseudo-scientific, racist and sterilization images that these previously powerful movements conjured.

Picture2

Of course, we have slowly accepted the practice of artificial insemination, in vitro fertilization, and other techniques. But in David Plotz’s excellent book, The Genius Factory, we can see, even amid a transformation from societal antipathy to gradual acceptance, how sperm banks have the potential raise questions with reproductive technologies. In short, recent history has lessons for the present case against Xytex and Outreach Health Services.

In 1980, Robert Graham, an eccentric millionaire inventor, founded the Repository for Germinal Choice, which was instantly dubbed the “Nobel Prize Sperm Bank” by the press. Graham’s plan was to encourage a kind of positive eugenics and he won over at least three Nobel winners, who agreed to be part of the master plan and delivered their seeds of genius – much like Donor 9623 promised to do.

It was a bizarre attempt at breeding a super-race which brought to life Malthusian worries and Social Darwinism, or, as David Plotz points out, converted these ideas “into dismal practice.”

The effort was undone for a variety of reasons, and one of the most significant had to be Nobel Prize winner William Shockley’s admissions about low levels of intelligence and forced sterilization. As one of the famous donors at the Genius Factory, he provided a public and rather unseemly view of picking and choosing children’s traits like flavours of ice cream.

Picture3
Francis Galton

However, unlike Donor 9623 (whose real name is James Christian Aggeles), Shockley was a bona fide intellectual powerhouse. As distasteful as ideas were, he was co-inventor of the transistor and Nobel Prize laureate. He was not misrepresenting himself.

The recently launched lawsuits suggest that Donor 9623 lied about his IQ, his criminal record, as well as his health history. According to the statement of claim, the companies involved failed to screen and monitor donors properly, but, worse still, actively sought to sell the sperm after the donor’s arrests and mental health history were revealed.

“Instead of conducting an actual investigation into the claims made by Aggeles, Xytex promoted Donor #i9623 as one of their best donors,” the statement of claim said. “Xytex promoted Aggeles as a man of high integrity who was extremely intelligent and incredibly educated.”

Xytex, hailing from Georgia, has responded by calling itself “an industry leader” that “complies with all industry standards in how they safely and carefully help provide the gift of children to families…”

Bear in mind that these are American industry standards, which once again raises questions about the introduction of a paid donor model in Canada. Much like plasma, there is a large international market in sperm and a limited amount of sperm is provided altruistically here.

So should we re-evaluate our laws to allow for paid donation? This isn’t an easy sell.

In Canada, we don’t have a lengthy history of “paid” donation.

And while our neighbours to the south implemented such a system as early as 1937, Canadians have an altogether different vision of buying and selling parts of the body, including eggs, sperm and bone marrow. The recent federal discussions over plasma clinics clearly illustrated this.

Picture1

Yet, the lawsuits by Ontario families may point toward the need for a deeper conversation about sperm donation and regulation in Canada.

According to Robin Henig’s book, Pandora’s Baby, the historical trajectory of reproduction technologies shows that our reservations about cutting-edge medical advancements and policy reforms gradually dissolve when couples have more chances to have families with children.

In the Weeds: Understanding Government Action and Canada’s Marijuana Industry

What is happening with Canadian marijuana policy? We seem to be stuck in the weeds. And there’s a fog of confusion. According to Jim Bronskill, there are the 9 major factors that have driven the Canadian government’s “federal marijuana moves” over the past few months. The key source for him was a November 2015 ministerial briefing presentation, which was called “Legalizing & Regulating Marijuana.”

Interesting, this story made it onto both CTV and Global News, although CBC did not run with it immediately.

9 MAIN SOCIAL, POLITICAL, AND ECONOMIC DRIVERS:

Canadian marijuana usage rates 11 per cent of the population age 15 and older used marijuana in the past year, according to a 2013 survey. Use was highest among 20-24 year-olds at 26 per cent. The presentation characterizes this as “relatively low overall rates of usage” and points to evidence that use declines with age.

Evidence of health benefits and risks There is some evidence of limited therapeutic benefit to marijuana use for managing symptoms of chemotherapy, neuropathic pain and treatment-resistant epilepsy in children. But the health-community consensus is that regular recreational usage carries risks, including long-term cognitive ones for those under 25.

International legal framework — Canada is party to a global legal framework on psychotropic drugs, including the 1961 Single Convention on Narcotic Drugs. It does not allow for legalization but allows leeway on the kinds of sanctions imposed. The International Narcotics Control Board expressed regret over Uruguay’s decision to legalize marijuana, but it is not clear what practical impact this has had, Health Canada notes. A UN special session on the World Drug Problem is slated for next month.

Canadian regime for medical marijuana — The 2013 Marijuana for Medical Purposes Regulations attempted to shift the medical marijuana industry to licensed producers, away from home growers. But thousands of Canadians were allowed to possess or grow marijuana pending a court ruling that came down last month.

Domestic legal context — The court ruling handed down in February affirmed the right of people to grow their own medical marijuana. The presentation, drafted before the ruling, says the decision and others from the courts could affect government choices on the new legal regime.

Role of provincial and territorial governments — The federal and provincial / territorial governments would be able to regulate in many of the same areas concerning access to legal marijuana. The federal government could set minimum standards, but provinces and territories might enact more stringent requirements on where pot is consumed, retail sale locations or minimum age for purchase. Achieving a national approach will require close co-operation.

Experience of other jurisdictions — While Uruguay adopted tight government control, Colorado and Washington states chose models that spurred involvement of commercial interests, increasing risks to health and safety. Early lessons from the U.S. reinforce the need to take time to implement a legalized model, figuring out the complexities of how best to protect public health.

Law enforcement issues — Organized crime groups are heavily involved in the marijuana trade. Illicit grow operations exist in all parts of Canada. Police-reported drug-impaired driving incidents are a small fraction of actual drug-impaired driving incidents, as it is difficult to recognize the signs. Given all this, a national approach will require police agencies to work together.

Youth justice — The Youth Criminal Justice Act requires police to consider use of measures such as warnings and referrals to community programs for those ages 12 through 17. Careful consideration will need to be given to how the new regime will be enforced when it comes to young people.

For more, check this out.

HEAT, 20 YEARS LATER

In December 1995, my movie-world was rocked to its foundations with the release of Heat, Michael Mann’s L.A.-based crime masterpiece. I had never seen or heard anything like it. The action sequences were thoughtful, gritty, and cacophonous. The story, while not overly complicated, was compelling. I staggered out of the theater (Saskatoon’s now defunct Capitol Four) disoriented and punch-drunk. Heat was immediately one of my favorite films.

heat poster

Prior to the film’s release, it was surmised that the onscreen meeting of Al Pacino and Robert DeNiro would create a rift in the space-time continuum. (Of course, they had both starred in the Godfather II, but had not shared the screen.)

Michael Mann, fresh off The Last of the Mohicans, chanced a rupture in space and time, and it was clearly worth the risk. He cast Pacino as Lt. Vincent Hanna and DeNiro as Neil McCauley. Both characters were driven, adrenaline-fuelled, Alphas: McCauley the cool career criminal with a code, and Hanna as the unrelenting, hyper-passionate lawman.

Over the course of 170 mins, they play a deadly game of cat-and-mouse throughout the streets of Los Angeles. Hanna seeks out McCauley with singular determination, while McCauley pursues his final big “score.” At one stage, they sit down for a cup of coffee and discuss their situation. This scene, of course, was highly anticipated and, according to Mann, unrehearsed to maintain authenticity.

According to Matt Patches in Esquire, as Hanna and McCauley ruminate on the duality of human instincts the scene is “biblically awesome.” I certainly agree, but it isn’t the best part of the film.

2007_05_arts_heat

Instead, the heists – that is, the action sequences – remain the most memorable and explosive scenes in the film. The realism of the high-octane robberies left me breathless. As Mann explained it, the shootout scenes were done “using the natural sound of the gunfire recorded on set. And with no visual effects.” According to Vince Mancini, “the action scenes have a way of drowning out the rest in retrospect because they brought an intensity…that I don’t think we’d ever seen up until that point.” Here’s a YouTube link to the armored car robbery.

gallery-1442505532-xgjvvq-heat-02-o2-8780156-1440510221

But what about drugs, you may ask? Right, I nearly forgot.

Al Pacino’s frenetically intense Lt. Hanna is constantly on the edge. He’s thoroughly hardcore in his pursuit of McCauley and he’s always keeping it 100. The original script of the film showcased his addiction to cocaine, a “tool” he used to stay sharp, stay focused. However, the final version – much like Robert Downey Jr.’s Sherlock Holmes – chose not to go down that cocaine road and underline mis/use of the drug.

At the end of 2015, we’re caught in the midst of Star Wars mania. We’re trapped in its unyielding gravitational pull. Yet, twenty years ago this month Heat proved itself a groundbreaking crime drama. In a recent Q&A during the Toronto International Film Festival, Mann answered a question about the line in the film, “time is luck.” He asserted to audience members that he truly believed it —  that “Time is luck and that’s why I keep repeating it in all these movies.” If we’re lucky, we’ll be talking about Heat in another twenty years.

 

Saskatoon top place in Canada to be charged for marijuana possession

Saskatoon is one of the cities in Canada that cracks down hardest on possession of minor marijuana and this is incredible, especially in light of the provincial government’s newly unveiled policies on liquor regulation.

As seen here and  here, the Wall government has ushered in a series of new rules that liberalizes alcohol policy in Saskatchewan. We are privatizing liquor in the province. And we are also – to supporters, at least – rationalizing widely unfair policies.

booze 1

It’s strange, then, that the rate of enforcement for possession of marijuana is so variable. In Saskatchewan, for example, Regina is much more lenient than Saskatoon. And we must question what this ultimately means? Just as consistent liquor policies drove debates in government and within the electorate, the lack of rationalization and parity in enforcement rates deserves more consideration.

 

Mr. J. Lundstrom, a Saskatoon -based marijuana advocate.

S0964-lg

The CBC decided to interview me recently about Saskatoon’s enforcement of marijuana.

This is the beginning of the story:Saskatchewan is the place you’re most likely to get busted for simple possession of marijuana and Saskatoon tops the list of major Canadian cities. According to 2014 data from Statistics Canada, 77 per cent of the time Saskatoon police stop someone suspected of having pot, they lay a charge.That compares with 48 per cent in Regina . The Canadian average was 39 per cent.

Meanwhile, if you look at the per capita rates of pot charges, Saskatoon ranks fourth behind Kelowna, Gatineau and Sherbrooke.

Lucas Richert, a history instructor at the U of S who has an academic interest in pop culture and drugs in North America, said we have to look at many factors when it comes to any conclusions we derive from enforcement rates. “Saskatchewan is a microcosm of wildly inconsistent enforcement rates across Canada.” Saskatoon has chosen a specific course of action on pot, Richert said.

“Saskatoon has traditionally adopted the so-called broken windows approach to enforcement of marijuana,” he said. “The broken windows approach is the idea that a visible police presence and severe crackdown on smaller infractions will deter larger crimes.” He added that resources are a large factor to consider when looking at these rates, as well as “the philosophy of a given chief.”

Dried Buds
Dried Buds

Now, the full article can be seen here: http://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/saskatoon/saskatoon-top-place-in-canada-to-be-charged-for-marijuana-possession-1.3249579

On a final note, I wanted to underline a CRUCIAL part of this tale, a part of the interview that didn’t make it to the news – Police Chief Clive Weighill has been very progressive in certain areas, but his policy vis-a-vis marijuana is perplexing. Part of the story has something to do with the fact that he is President of the Canadian Association of Chiefs of Police (CACP), although this deserves much more exploration in the months and years ahead.

SMOKE AND MIRRORS – MORE ON VAPING

Last year I had opinion-editorials published in the Saskatoon Star Phoenix and elsewhere. Both focused on “vaping,” Oxford English Dictionary’s word of 2014.

My take was this: we need to think more clearly about e-cigarettes in Saskatoon – as well as the wider world. The government needs to get proactive. We, as consumers, should also think about them more critically. Essentially, we need to cut through all the smoke and mirrors.

300px-Humphrey_Bogart_by_Karsh_(Library_and_Archives_Canada) imagesarticle-1316595870295-0E038E5700000578-348441_466x436

Now, Saskatoon’s city council is voting (that is, tonight folks) on “a vaping ban” in the city.

As reported by the local paper, “If city council approves a proposed change to the local smoking bylaw, use of electronic cigarettes — also known as vaping — will be banned anywhere in Saskatoon that regular cigarettes are. The change, which will be considered at Monday’s council meeting, would expand the city’s Smoking Control Bylaw to include vaping as of Jan. 1, 2016. It would make vaping prohibited in public buildings, bus shelters, schools, businesses and other places cigarettes are currently not allowed.”

So, big changes are afoot here. And these changes could influence the smoking of traditional cigarettes at the local and provincial level. Indeed, many supporters of e-cigs make the case that the new technology deters relapses.

The Star Phoenix also quotes a local “vaping” business owner, Jim Wollf, who said he understands the argument that vaping puts unnatural chemicals into a person’s body, but argued it should be looked at as a harm-reduction strategy.

This is exactly the problem that my opinion-editorials have tackled. Here’s a taster:

“In September 2014, federal Health Minister Rona Ambrose called for more research on e-cigarettes from the Commons standing committee on health. Last month, the committee released its initial report, which called for an end to the legal grey zone that surrounds the technology in Canada and the implementation of a new set of rules that balances the benefits and risks of “vaping.”

Premier Brad Wall and the Saskatchewan government would be wise to take the committee’s advice and do the same. In their brief history, e-cigarettes have proven to be divisive products. They have raised serious challenges for consumers, politicians and health officials. It is time, however, to cut through the fog and for the provincial government to get proactive.”