Has the Canadian government done due diligence in responding to the opioid crisis?

In this episode, debaters from the UWO Debate Society take to the mics to argue about the efficiency and efficacy of the Canadian government’s response to the opioid crisis. Has Canada done enough, quickly enough, to be considered ‘responsible’? The motion: the Canadian government has not done its due diligence in responding to the opioid crisis.

The Debaters

Seth Kibel is the current President of the University of Western Ontario Debate Society, as well as the Executive Director of the Canadian Universities Society for Intercollegiate Debate. He has eight years of competitive debating experience and for the past two years, has has ranked in the top eight debate teams in the country. Seth represented Western at the World Universities Debating Championships in Mexico earlier this year.

Cassandra Cervi is the current President of the Canadian Universities Society for Intercollegiate Debate, as well as the Training Director of the University of Western Ontario Debate Society. Last year, she was part of the top ranked debate team in the country, and won the Canadian Public Speaking Championship. She has twice represented Western at the World Universities Debating Championship.

Selina Li has been debating since High-School, where she won the Western, Queens, and Mcgill Debating Tournaments and placed Top-Speaker at the International Competition for Young Debaters. Since coming to Western, she has been a Semi-Finalist at the Guindon Cup and Central Canadian Novice Championship. Selina represented Western at the World Universities Debating Championship in Mexico earlier this year.

Ethan Curry is a second year Philosophy and Political Science student at Western with five years of competitive debating experience. Most recently, he ranked fourth debate team in the country, and represented Western at the World Universities Debating Championships in Mexico earlier this year.

Drug policy in Canada: from alcohol to opioids

Beginning with the history of alcohol and tobacco regulation, this conversation explores some big questions about how and why psychoactive substances are used and controlled in Canadian society.

The Panel

Tara Bruno is an Associate Professor in Sociology at King’s University College. Her research interests include addictions, mental health, criminology, homelessness, youth and families, and research methods. Tara’s new book, The Drug Paradox: An Introduction to the Sociology of Psychoactive Substances in Canada, will be released in the Summer of 2018.

Robert Solomon is on the Faculty of Law at Western University, where he holds the rank of Distinguished University Professor. He has been engaged in research on alcohol and drug policy, and tort, criminal and health law for over 45 years and has published widely in these areas. He has served as the National Director of Legal Policy for Mothers Against Drunk Driving (MADD Canada) for 20 years and has frequently appeared as an expert before various Parliamentary Committees.

Scientific consensus and social values are distinct

This lecture by Sir Peter Gluckman is thought-provoking.

For a moment, consider genetically modified foods. Let’s say, for the sake of illustration, that the overwhelming consensus of the scientific community points to the conclusion that GMOs are categorically safe for human consumption. Now, the question Gluckman presents: should science also make a decision about the prevalence of GMO in our food supply?

He concludes, no.

We need to differentiate between scientific knowledge and social values. Just because science might reach the consensus that GMOs are safe, this does not somehow require society to rejig its policies to embrace genetically modified foods. What we do with GMOs is not only a scientific debate, but a debate about what we collectively value as a society. In other words: even if GMOs are safe, there may be other reasons why a society would choose not to use them.

We’ve seen many values debates obscured by inappropriate co-option of science to avoid the values debate… I think this issue of science being misused as a proxy for societal values-based debate is very bad. I think it short-changes democracy.

Gluckman says that if we want science to remain relevant in society, scientists must act as knowledge brokers, not social policy advocates. When science becomes advocacy, it simply becomes another voice in the values debate, thereby surrendering its deference to objectivity: “scientific knowledge is imperative for consideration at every level of government, but all science is conducted by humans, and human interactions and negotiations survive only on trust.”

It boils down to a simple social hypothesis: if you want people to respect your opinion when you claim to present material facts, don’t follow up your data with your social, political, or ideological agenda.

When science purports to be the decision-makers, they set themselves up to the charges of elitism that are prevalent today.

In the GMO example, then, the role of scientists to learn and inform, not make value judgments about society’s use of GMOs one way or another. In the end, what we do collectively is a decision that is related but ultimately conceptually distinct from the scientific analysis of the issue.

Listen to the whole lecture for Gluckman’s full argument.

On Doctor Assisted Suicide

Last Friday, the Supreme Court of Canada overturned s. 14 and s. 241 of the Criminal Code, as they pertain to physicians assisting the death of terminally suffering patients. (My friend Susan Toth has a good review of the decision posted here for more background. The full court judgment is available here.)

There are some who argue that this decision devalues the lives of people living with disabilities. The logic goes like this: by explicitly affirming that a person suffering from a chronic and untreatable condition has the right to die with a physician’s assistance, the court is sending the message that a life of chronic disability is perhaps not worth living. Ergo the lives of individuals suffering from such debilitating conditions are worth less than the lives of everyone else. This is discriminatory, as it signals the devaluation of a human life for arbitrary reasons.

For a counter perspective, I’d like to propose a variant angle. At present, I am relatively able bodied, strong, and agile. As such, I possess a remarkably interesting option: I have the ability to end my own life at any time. There is no ultimate legal authority that can deny me the right of suicide, and this is true for as long as I live freely and independently. If — or, I should say, when — I find myself suffering in a terminal condition and lose a critical degree of my strength and mobility, I subsequently lose capacity to voluntarily end my own life. In a severe state, my choice to live or die is not really my own anymore, but completely in the hands of others (who are more or less compelled to keep me alive for as long as possible, regardless of the pain).

Therefore, instead of diminishing my humanness, granting me the option of suicide returns to me a right that my disability stole from me. It restores my innate right to choose existence. In this sense, restoring the option to die might be interpreted as rehumanizing, because it is an option that every other person in a non-terminal, non-palliative, non-chronic condition possesses by default. By no means am I compelled to exercise this option, but simply because the option is restored, I can once again live my life on the same basic premise as every other person: I’m alive right now because I choose to be.

Therefore, the right to a doctor-assisted suicide does not diminish the value or worth of a person with severe disabilities, rather it reestablishes a fundamentally intrinsic value that belongs to every living person.

By no means am I trying to speak on behalf of every person with a disability here. Far from it. This is only a personal analysis. When I suddenly find myself in a condition that permanently eliminates my basic human capacity to choose existence, I would be relieved to live in a society that continued to legally protect my ability to make my own decisions, even long after I physically lose the capacity to act on my decisions for myself.

Ability or disability has nothing to do with the value of a human life. A life is worth living as long as the person living it, whatever their condition, wishes to live.