Society must offer more than despair
I was in Newfoundland at a national conference when the story broke on Karen Shoffstaff, a former Guelph resident who
committed suicide in the Holiday Inn, Farmington a suburb of Detroit. Found close to Karen’s body was a typewritten letter
signed by her which stated that Jack Kervorkian and his assistant, Janet Good, were involved in her death.
I did not know Karen, but in a situation like this her friends and family paint a picture for us which gives us a sense of who she
was and just what she meant to those who loved her and whom she loved. My sense of Karen showed an independent,
free-spirited, optimistic, loving and outgoing young woman of great strength who was “a fighter.”
If this is an accurate perception, my question is, what happened that destroyed everything that made Karen, Karen? With great
humility, I would like to venture my observations of why the growing acceptance of bringing about premature death is placing
those already vulnerable (the dying, the elderly, the disabled and those with chronic disease or illness) in an even more
In The Guelph Mercury editorial, August 21, entitled “Learning to respect the Kervorkian Touch,” we encounter one of the
problems. The article itself was a fairly balanced overview of some of the problems with decisions at the end of life, but the title
was horrendous and so misleading. How can we possibly have respect for such a callous, cold-blooded and disordered
individual as Jack Kervorkian, who has stated that, “the voluntary self-elimination of individual and mortally diseased or crippled
lives, taken collectively can only enhance the preservation of public health and welfare.” Kervorkian has also suggested using
infants, children, the severely disabled and the senile for experimentation adding: “if the subject’s body is alive at the end of the
experimentation, final biological death may be induced by ‘a number of means,’ including, ‘removal of organs for transplantation’
or ‘a lethal dose of new or untested drugs to be administered by an official lay executioner.’”
How very sad that Kervorkian’s touch was the last that Karen felt. Another problem was evidenced in the response which Pat
Rosewell gave to Karen when she was asked how she felt about physician assisted suicide. Rosewell’s response quoted in the
August 23 Mercury was, “I think its a personal thing.” I don’t raise this to make Pat Rosewell feel guilty as her response
probably reflects what most people would have replied.
In the abortion issue we come across a similar response to pregnant women from almost everyone, even those who father the
child, “It’s your choice,” what each response really says to the individual is, “You are on your own.” Herein lies another problem,
we are told of Karen’s independence and her pattern of withdrawing when she was hurting particularly badly. This time Karen
asked for input and so accustomed to the “politically correct” jargon of our day, her call for help, as unusual and unique as it
was to hear, was not heard.
Even Karen’s former husband said yes, in reply to her question of whether he would see her through the final act. I am sure he
felt it the most loving thing he could say, but according to his own words that statement went against his own heart on the
We are told that he “couldn’t give up hope that modern medicine would somehow make life for Karen at least bearable …” His
‘yes’ took that hope away from Karen as our society’s yes to acceptance of physician assisted suicide and euthanasia will strip
that hope from vulnerable people across Canada.
We hear so little of the marvellous inroads which have been made to treat the very uncomfortable symptoms of some of these
chronic diseases. The majority of doctors remain insufficiently trained and educated in pain management, to offer the latest
We are overloaded with the indignities and horrors of what one might expect down the road from chronic and terminal illnesses.
Where does that leave Karen and those like her who are facing this long road? Let me tell you, it leaves them flying to monsters
like Jack Kervorkian, and that must change.
We must all take some responsibility for the theft that left Karen at the end, robbed of her enthusiasm, her optimism, her fighting
spirit and finally her life. Kervorkian’s touch is despair, our society must not leave such a cold and bitter legacy to future