Deciding about Tyrell Dueck
Commentators review the controversial case

Friday, March 26, 1999
The Globe and Mail

The difficult case of 13-year-old Tyrell Dueck of Martenville, Sask., left editorial-writers searching for answers to a problem with no easy way out.

Tyrell and his parents wanted to rely on herb and vitamin therapy to treat bone cancer, but a court backed the efforts of the government and doctors to treat the disease with chemotherapy, radiation and amputation of a leg. When the doctors discovered that the cancer had spread to Tyrell's lungs, they backed off.

"Society cannot afford to let either parents or doctors alone dictate medical care of children," writes Brian Cole in the Winnipeg Free Press. "Neither parents nor doctors are so infallibly wise or omniscient that they can simply impose their wishes. Judges are not infallible either, but a judge must leave preconceptions behind, listen to both sides, examine evidence and decide."

Mr. Cole points to the inequality in a meeting between doctor and patient. Few patients are inclined to object to a doctor's advice, he says. Nevertheless, the one who does is doing a service to others.

"Tyrell's parents should not be condemned just because they were wrong. Nor should doctors be condemned for being wrong. No doubt they were doing the best they could. Tyrell Dueck's fight shows us that cancer treatment, though much improved in recent decades, is still a work of probabilities, not certainties."

Murray Mandryk, legislative columnist for the Regina Leader-Post, says the Saskatchewan government was damned if it did and damned if it didn't. The best medical course, as determined by the best medical minds in the province, was to prescribe chemotherapy and possible leg amputation. The government did the right thing in intervening, he says, but it did the right thing rather badly.

He criticizes the courts, Saskatchewan's Department of Social Services and Social Services Minister Harry Van Mulligen for trying to separate Tyrell from his parents when he was receiving chemotherapy, in an effort to change his mind about the treatment. "Now, of all times, was not the time for government to stand between parents and their child," he writes.

He also feels that the government was mealy-mouthed during the affair -- that Mr. Van Mulligen should have acknowledged the ministry's role in intervening rather than claiming this was a court decision. And Mr. Mandryk is not impressed with the minister's "pious recitals on how we must now reach out with prayer and compassion to the Dueck family."
The curse of unexpected consequences has hit Prairie farmers once again. Members of the Public Service Alliance of Canada have gone nine years without a pay increase and haven't the right to binding arbitration, but when they fight with their employer, the federal government in Ottawa, it's the farmers who take the hit.

"If the union members think they're cranky about having their wages frozen for nine years, they should meet the Prairie farmers whose grain shipments they're keeping from reaching offshore buyers," writes the Daily Herald-Tribune in Grande Prairie, Alta. "These are the people who would welcome their incomes being frozen at levels of the mid-1990s, instead of what's facing them this year.

"Many of them will lose money in 1999; some will be forced to abandon farms that have been in their families for generations. Still others will barely hang on, relying on aid programs and off-farm jobs just to make ends meet."

The Herald-Tribune feels the union should not tie up grain shipments at the Vancouver port to draw attention to their wage dispute. "It may be unfair to the 14,000 PSAC members to legislate them back to work, but it's unconscionable that 70 grain-weighers could jeopardize the survival of thousands of Prairie farmers."

Barry Wilson, in the Saskatchewan-based Western Producer, has a whole list of unexpected consequences borne by Prairie farmers. Ottawa increased cost-recovery fees in the early 1990s for a variety of services, from food inspection to customs. Mr. Wilson says it is almost certain that no one in the Treasury Board thought ahead to the combined effect of the charges on a vulnerable sector such as agriculture. "The farm lobby still is trying to get the message through that it exceeds $100-million off farm bottom lines."

Elimination of the Crow's Nest rail subsidy for transportation of grain a few years ago is another example. Ottawa saw it as shock therapy to force diversification from export grain to local feeding and processing. "Who could have imagined that a victim would be the Canadian Grain Com- mission, thrown into a funding crisis because export grain was its income source and export volumes have dropped?"

Mr. Wilson endorses an effort by Agriculture Minister Lyle Vanclief to view all federal policy through a rural lens to determine its impact on rural Canada. He says the Agriculture Department's rural secretariat should justify its existence by diligently considering the unintended rural "what ifs" of any new policy plan. "Too often, it has not been calculated."
Western Voices is compiled every Friday by Robert Matas, a member of The Globe and Mail's B.C. bureau.

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