Saturday, September 29, 2007

Medical drama with a message

By Rory Leishman

Amid the vast wasteland of contemporary television, one of the few features that bears watching is House, a weekly medical drama originating with the Fox Television Network. The series stands out for the intelligence of the scripts, the brilliance of the actors, and, most remarkable of all, occasional flashes of genuine moral insight.
Until House became a popular hit, the star of the show, Hugh Laurie, was best known for his portrayal of Bertie Wooster in television adaptations of P.G. Wodehouse’s hilarious Jeeves and Wooster novels. In House, Laurie plays Dr Gregory House, a brilliant and cynical medical diagnostician modelled on Sherlock Holmes, who presides over a team of young medical residents at the fictional Princeton-Plainsboro Teaching Hospital in New Jersey. In each episode, House and his colleagues are presented with a patient whose symptoms have baffled other medical experts. The plots are intricate and intriguing. And the scripts have been commended by medical experts for their accurate portrayal of diagnostic dilemmas.
Correspondingly, the sordid private lives and moral outlooks of the physicians depicted in the series are all too plausible. In one episode, we learn that two of House’s young residents, Dr Allison Cameron and Dr Robert Chase, have taken part in some recreational sex. There is, of course, nothing unusual about such occurrences on television. What’s different about House is that in this instance, as so often in life, the indulgence in casual sex has painful consequences. Chase falls in unrequited love with Cameron. For weeks thereafter, he is a miserable and forlorn lover, while she is annoyed by his discrete but persistent invitations for another date.
The most arresting episode in the House series, entitled "Fetal Position", was first broadcast on April 3. In this case, the patient, Emma Sloan, is a pregnant woman and a famous celebrity photographer. While on a photo shoot, she suffers a stroke. After extensive investigation and several false leads, House and his team conclude that Emma is suffering from a rare condition, Maternal Mirror Syndrome, which designates an illness in the mother that is caused by an abnormality in the foetus. After having established that some undiagnosed problem with the foetus is causing Emma’s liver to fail, House advises her that the only way to save her life is to terminate the pregnancy.
Emma rejects this advice. She is single, 42 years old and childless. Having had several miscarriages and gone through the rigours of in vitro fertilisation, she fears that she might never again have another chance to give birth. Now in the 21st week of pregnancy, she urges House to find some way to keep her and the baby alive for at least another two weeks so the baby can reach the point of viability outside the womb. In exasperation, House warns Emma that she has only two days to live. Still, Emma resolutely refuses to consider an abortion.
In the face of this impasse, Dr Lisa Cuddy, House’s boss, takes over the case. As a single woman who has also been trying to conceive a child, Cuddy empathises with Emma. After further investigation, Cuddy recommends exploratory surgery on the baby in the womb despite the risk that Emma, in her fragile medical condition, might not survive the operation. Nonetheless, Emma readily agrees to the surgery and Cuddy persuades House to perform the dangerous operation. In the middle of the procedure, Emma suffers a serious heart attack. With House poised to cut the umbilical cord with surgical scissors, a measure that is sure to kill the baby and might save the mother, Cuddy quickly intervenes, grabs a defibrillator, warns House to step aside or be electrocuted, and tries to shock Emma’s heart back into a normal rhythm. Emma’s heart responds to the treatment and House continues with the operation.
Then, in one of the most dramatic scenes in contemporary television, the baby reaches a tiny hand up through the open womb and grasps House by the finger. House is momentarily stunned. He continues the operation, finds lesions in the baby’s lungs and removes them. The result is a happy ending: Emma and her baby live. And in the final scene, House, the arch-cynic and proponent of abortion, is depicted later that evening sitting at home in the privacy of his den, staring meditatively at his finger.
This episode in House is based on an actual incident that occurred in 1999 at the Vanderbilt Medical Centre in Nashville, Tennessee -- one of the leading teaching hospitals and medical research centres in the United States. The patient in this case was Samuel Armas, a 21-week-old baby undergoing corrective surgery for spinal bifida. In a famous photograph taken for USA Today, the tiny hand of Baby Samuel is seen reaching out of the womb and grasping a finger of one of the surgeons.
In mimicking this event, as in so many other ways, House reflects contemporary reality. With a content rating in the United States of TV-14 (suitable for older children), the series is one of the most popular television dramas in North America. While hardened cynics and amoral liberals find a soul-mate in House, others cherish the show as a rare example of intelligent television that occasionally dares to explore the continuing relevance of the universal moral truths revealed in Sacred Scripture and affirmed by reason.
Rory Leishman is a freelance journalist in Canada. He is the author of Against Judicial Activism: The Decline of Freedom and Democracy in Canada (Montreal and Kingston: McGill-Queen’s University Press, 2006).

Saturday, September 15, 2007

Ontario's mediocre public schools

The London Free Press
By Rory Leishman
The Ontario Liberal Party proclaims in its official policy platform for 2007 that: “Education is our top priority.” More specifically, the Liberals pledge: “We will complete our drive to have 75 per cent of kids meet the provincial standard in reading, writing and math.”
Voters are entitled to regard this Liberal commitment with considerable scepticism. During the 2003 provincial election campaign, the Ontario Liberal Party likewise promised: “Our Excellence for All plan guarantees that within our first mandate, 75 per cent of our students meet or exceed the provincial standard on province-wide tests.”
What, though, do we find? At the end of the Liberals’ first mandate, the province’s Education Quality and Accountability Office reports that only 64 per cent of Grade 6 students passed the provincial standard for reading during the past two years, while in mathematics, only 59 per cent passed this year, down from 61 per cent last year.
However, rather than apologize for this lamentable failure to achieve the Liberals’ supposedly guaranteed 75-per-cent pass rate, Ontario Premier Dalton McGuinty emphasizes that the province’s elementary students are now achieving higher test scores in reading, writing and math than under the previous Progressive Conservative government. In response, Ontario Progressive Conservative leader John Tory points out: “The McGuinty government has been quietly lowering education standards to make the standardized test scores look better.”
Nonetheless, on one point in the educational debate, Tory and McGuinty are agreed: In Tory’s words: “Ontario’s public school system is one of the best in the world.”
This contention is altogether wrong. Ontario public schools are not even the best in Canada. Over the past 25 years, students in Ontario schools have almost always done less well on standard tests of academic achievement than students in Alberta, British Columbia and Quebec.
Why is that? Lack of funding is not the problem. Ontario spends approximately the same amount per student as Alberta, British Columbia and Quebec.
Likewise, Ontario parents cannot be faulted. They rank among the best educated in the entire country.
In one respect, the Ontario education system stands out from its counterparts in Alberta, British Columbia and Quebec: namely, in lack of competition. This difference is crucial. In a study of school choice in Canada, the Society for Quality Education notes: “The high-performing provinces – Alberta, BC, and Quebec – have the most school choice … Unless defenders of the status quo in Ontario can refute decades of test results or prove that the children in some other provinces are intrinsically more intelligent than Ontario students, we must conclude that Ontario’s public schools are not teaching students as effectively as the schools in the provinces with more school choice.”
Regardless, the McGuinty Liberals are committed to maintaining the educational status quo. They adamantly oppose any increase in school choice for Ontario parents.
In contrast, the Progressive Conservatives promise to extend public funding to faith-based independent schools. Such a half-measure is insufficient. The government should offer all parents educational vouchers equivalent to the average cost per student in the publicly funded schools.
Some critics oppose educational vouchers on the ground that they could be used to finance schools run by apologists for Islamist radicals, Tamil terrorists and other extremists. But to deal with this threat, it is not necessary to deprive all parents of the right to school choice. Rather, the government should specifically shut down all subversive, hate-mongering schools and associated houses of worship, whether publicly or privately funded.
McGuinty defames the great majority of independent schools in Ontario, by charging them with undermining the province’s “social cohesion.” And in taking this stance, he boasts: “Teachers’ organizations support us.”
That’s hardly surprising. Thanks to the existing funding formula, the province’s strike-prone teachers’ unions have such a stranglehold over the publicly funded schools that they were able to extort a hugely expensive, four-year contract out of the McGuinty Liberal government that includes wage hikes of almost 10 per cent.
Ontario parents have no reason to share the unions’ enthusiasm. As the Society for Quality Education contends, the determination of the Liberals and New Democrats to oppose any initiative to increase school choice and school competition is bound to assure the continuing inferiority of the quality of education in Ontario schools.

Saturday, September 01, 2007

From same-sex marriage to polygamy

The Interim
By Rory Leishman

Time and again, the proponents of traditional marriage and the natural family warned that changing the legal definition of marriage to accommodate same-sex couples could also lead to the legalization of polygamy. Former Liberal Justice Minister Irwin Cotler disagreed. He insisted that “the practice of polygamy, bigamy and incest are criminal offences in Canada and will continue to be.”

Alas, Cotler’s assurance was worthless, and he knew it. As a former law professor, he understands full well that over the past 20 years, Parliament has abjectly surrendered supreme legislative authority over controversial moral issues such as the legalization of polygamy to the courts.

Neither Cotler nor anyone else can foresee with certainty how the Supreme Court of Canada will deal with polygamy, because most of the judges on that Court have become a law onto themselves: They have no regard either for valid legal enactments or the court’s own precedents.
Richard Peck, a special prosecutor in British Columbia, has underlined the severity of the problem. In a report based on his investigation of allegations of misconduct against members of a Mormon sect in the community of Bountiful in southeastern British Columbia who practise polygamy as an article of religious belief, he has recommended that the provincial government should ask the courts for an advisory opinion on the current law on polygamy in Canada.
Peck wrote: "The legality of polygamy in Canada has for too long been characterized by uncertainty. The integrity of the legal system suffers from such an impasse.”
Peck is surely right. And the fault lies not with any ambiguity in statute law: Section 293 of the Criminal Code plainly states: “Every one who practises … any form of polygamy … is guilty of an indictable offence and liable to imprisonment for a term not exceeding five years.”
In an earlier study funded by federal taxpayers and submitted to Cotler, three trendy law professors at Queen’s University took the view that the Supreme Court of Canada would, and should, strike down the legal ban on consensual polygamy as an unjustifiable infringement of the guarantee of freedom of conscience and religion in section 2 of the Charter. In contrast, Peck argues: “There is a substantial body of scholarship supporting the position that polygamy is socially harmful. With great respect to those who have given opinions to the contrary, I believe that s. 293 may well be upheld by the courts as consistent with the Charter’s commitment to religious freedom.”
As for B.C. Attorney-General Wally Oppal, he opposes the legalization of polygamy. "My disagreement is based on the fact that I don't think Canadians would condone polygamy,” he said. “I think Canadians would find it abhorrent."

Perhaps so, but the judicial activists on the Supreme Court of Canada have no more regard for public opinion than for established law. Regardless of what the great majority of Canadians might prefer, these arrogant judges are all too likely to strike down the ban on polygamy in Canadian law.

In that event, would Oppal call upon Parliament to invoke the notwithstanding clause of the Constitution as a means of reinstating the legal ban on polygamy over the objections of the Court? Not likely. And the same goes for Prime Minister Stephen Harper and the leaders of every other major federal and provincial party in Canada.

After the Supreme Court of Canada arbitrarily decided in M. v. H., 1999 SCC, to strike down the denial of spousal benefits to same-sex couples under the Ontario Family Law Act, the Ontario Legislature promptly capitulated. Instead of standing up to the Court, Conservatives, Liberals and New Democrats all colluded in rushing an omnibus bill through the Legislature that conferred spousal benefits upon same-sex couples under not only the Ontario Family Law Act, but some sixty-six other Ontario statutes.

In recent years, judicial activists have imposed everything from abortion on demand to the legalization of the vilest pornography. Voters who oppose these and other immoral judicial enactments, and who wish to revive genuine democracy and the rule of law in Canada, should resolve that from now on, they will only support a candidate, federal or provincial, who can be counted upon to oppose the judicial usurpation of legislative powers.