Thursday, June 06, 2013

On Not Speaking at Brockville General Hospital - and, Why Re-scheduling and Cancelling Are Different Things

Something pretty outrageous happened to me today, I have essentially been cancelled as the keynote speaker at Brockville General Hospital's Annual General Meeting in mid June. How did I find out? Its new CEO, Tony Weeks, called me at home early this morning.

He explained to me that the reason for the 're-scheduling' was that there's so much interest in said keynote presentation that they'd need a bigger room. I was a bit surprised, but it is true that the topic in question (assisted dying) tends to generate a lot of interest and large turn-outs. Well, shortly thereafter I received an email with a press release from the hospital. It turns out that the 're-scheduling' actually was a bit of a euphemism, cloaking what's actually a cancellation of the event in question. Here's an excerpt from the medial release:

'“We received a mixed response to our keynote presentation,” says BGH President  and CEO Tony Weeks. “Naturally, people are divided on this important issue. The clear message from our community was that a debate is needed, not just a single presentation. As our AGM cannot accommodate a full debate, we have decided to reschedule Dr. Schuklenk’s presentation to a larger venue as part of a community information and debate event on this topic.”'

So, my keynote lecture is transformed from a single presentation to one with several presentations. Because even during the AGM a Q&A session was planned. In other words, the event I was invited to as keynote speaker was not re-scheduled, it was cancelled. A new event is seemingly now envisaged with a debate format (for and against, that sort of thing). There's nothing wrong with having for and against type of events (I recently debated the activist chief of the Euthanasia Prevention Coalition at Queen's, so I've been there, done that sort of event, too). However, it is disingenuous (I can think of stronger terms) to pretend that a re-scheduling is taking place when really a different event altogether is envisaged.

Now, what was the bone of contention, ie what was I invited to speak about? I meant to present in about 30-35 min the main arguments from the Royal Society of Canada Report on the issue of assisted dying. In those 30-35 minutes I proposed to present the positive case for decriminalisation and deal with two serious concerns about such a policy change, namely the risk of abuse and the question of whether or not assistance in dying is compatible with health care professional roles.

It seems at Brockville General Hospital such a presentation must not be given without someone disagreeing, as part of a panel debate. It is disconcerting that the hospital has given in to activist pressures (aka 'community concerns') to accommodate the anti-choice views. How often speak folks like anti-choice academic Margaret Somerville in health care settings without anyone requiring that the other point of view must be heard exactly at the same time. It is pretty silly stuff to be honest.

This whole thing begs also the question why the hospital didn't ask me to present arguments for and against the decriminalisation of assisted dying, as any decent ethicist would be able to do. I also wonder why no effort was made to communicate the activists' concerns and discuss what I could do in my presentation to address them. Nope, just give him a ring roughly a fortnight before the event and call the cancellation a re-scheduling. Should do the trick.

None of this reflects well on Brockville General Hospital. I hope they will be able to source speakers for their next events, because who of sane mind would prepare a presentation (scheduled for many many months ahead of the event) knowing that anything can happen if the right people call and email the right people.


  1. But what a piece of effrontery from these people!

  2. That's outrageous, Udo. Sorry to hear it.

  3. James D. HugginsJune 12, 2013

    Certainly, death is such an important topic...
    How rude to want to present a balanced debate on the subject...
    Clearly no one else's opinions, beliefs or ethics or mores are worth self-righteous apparatchik.

    The Science is clearly settled, death is death, and individual life is of little you...
    Sort of like the IPCC on Global Warming...
    Or the Attorney General on Fast and Furious, Freedom of the Press, or any number of eavesdropping issues, voter harassment, Constitutional guarantees of privacy...
    Or president Ogabe saying "G_d bless Planned Parenthood"...

    The only viewpoint that counts (in your mind) is that which favors and tries to find ways to rationalize euthanasia, assisted suicide, abortion on demand at any age, death panels of medical professionals (or worse, bureaucrats) deciding who gets actual care and who gets a handful of pain pills, ...or who gets a lung and who dies without it...

    You presume much, "Herr Dogter Professor" Schuklenk...

    Do the words, "First, do no harm..." mean anything to you?

    1. AnonymousJune 13, 2013

      If semiliterate buffoons like yourself represent the sorts of "community concerns" that were raised in connection with Dr. Schuklenk's talk, the main question is why he agreed to waste his time trying to talk sense to the inhabitants of this hellditch in the first place.

  4. Speaking from the hellditch(?), I'm confident most here would have been happy to have the lecture proceed as planned. I'd chalk the entire cancellation up to a vocal minority and opening-day jitters on the part of BGH's new CEO. Don't be so quick to write Brockville off... we have Starbucks now so we can't be all bad.

  5. James D. Huggins-- You give a whole list of things you don't like as if they came from the same place. You come off as if you are unbalanced. I hope you can handle yourself better when you are not on the internet.


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