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Remembering Eric McGuinness

We owe it to Eric and the many others who want Canadian society to be honest and courageous in confronting this lonely frontier we will all approach, and do the right thing in allowing choices that preserve our dignity.

By Larry Di Ianni
Published December 24, 2014

It was about two weeks ago that I saw Eric for the last time. We had been bumping into each other occasionally at one of our usual haunts, Denninger's by the Farmers' Market or in the market itself enjoying a coffee and pastry from one of the vendors. This final time it was just outside of Denninger's. We said our usual hellos but didn't linger much to chat as we often had in the past.

Maybe it was because he was walking briskly, somewhat in a hurry carrying what seemed to be a Christmas purchase in hand; and I had just finished a lovely Red Pepper soup and was also on my way, when we met. Maybe that was it! But I sensed even then that there was another reason it felt awkward to detain him from his routine.

For us not to chat, even briefly, was unusual. He always liked to talk about the city and we would share views on this that or the other occurrence in the Hammer.

In fact, the last time we spoke at some length a number of months earlier, we were at Filomena's having coffee and talking about his gig at Postmedia where I learned that Eric's talents were benefitting papers across the province thanks to the convenience of the internet.

My wife was with me and he generously bought us both cappuccinos. Janet thought he was nice. He was! Later I told her that he was a reporter for the Hamilton Spectator and she asked me the usual question: "Was he mean to you?"

"No, not this one," I replied. And he wasn't ever mean. He was always professional, always courteous. He was critical when he had to be but that was his job. From my experience Eric was gentle and genteel all rolled into one. I also told Janet that Eric was a cancer survivor and we both remarked on how well he seemed to be doing.

The next encounter was on Twitter. I had just read his poignant and brave revelation telling the world of his terminal illness and making a case for a dignified death for those so afflicted.

He wasn't afraid of dying, he said, but didn't want the loss of vitality and suffering that was sure to accompany his passing. His argument was so matter of fact, so logical, and yet, coming from someone whose days were numbered, so powerful as well.

I contacted Eric in a private message and invited him to tell his story on my Cable 14 program 'Hamilton Talks'. I thought his perspective was compelling and needed to be shared with viewers. I felt that putting a face to the dilemma would be powerful.

Eric did think about it, but declined. "I have so much on my mind and so many things to plan for," he said. I could only imagine what lay before him. I thanked him and wished him well.

I did think about Eric now and again since that Twitter communication, wondering how his health was holding up, and regretting that a vibrant voice would soon be stilled.

That is why I was almost shocked when I saw him several weeks ago. He looked so well! He walked confidently with that erect, almost gazelle-like graceful gait of his. His voice was strong and handshake firm. We said our quick hello and good-bye.

But I did catch a fleeting glimpse in his eyes. Perhaps he sensed my awkwardness and almost seemed to say something but let the moment slip. Neither of us said anything but the usual curt greetings.

And yet, this brief, chance meeting brought me back to his strong plea about end-of-life dignity. A plea made sad knowing that our country has not had the courage to have the needed conversation about humane choices for people, like Eric, who seek personal alternatives to the long, painful, debilitating and undignified finality brought on by terminal illness.

I know the arguments against these alternatives. Some warn that it's a slippery slope. Others say God is the decision-maker over life and death. Ethicists argue that doctors take the Hippocratic oath to preserve life, not end it.

I wonder though: how many have watched a good friend die, ravaged by cancer, bereft of spirit and personality as well as any respite of good health?

I wonder how many have really seen a loved one withering until the last breath leaving family and friends praying for 'death' as the only caretaking they can realistically muster.

Well, I have! And so have countless others. And that awful experience sure focuses attention on the lack of legislation to give these souls an easier transition to a better place.

I wonder how many people like Eric, confronted by the same circumstances, wouldn't also make the same plea? My guess is that a lot of Canadians would.

And so, Eric McGuinness has passed, on his own terms. He had the good fortune to be able to seek an alternative. He also had the clarity of mind and purpose to see it through. He is now in a better place.

Unfortunately, he couldn't accomplish his last wish in his own country, in his own province and his own beloved city. But he did make a contribution to the discussion which will be taken up by our legislators - and sooner rather than later, one hopes.

We owe it to Eric and the many others who want Canadian society to be honest and courageous in confronting this lonely frontier we will all approach, and do the right thing in allowing choices that preserve our dignity.

RIP Eric McGuinness and thank you. You were a thoughtful journalist to the end!

Larry Di Ianni is an educator and politician. He was the Mayor of Hamilton from 2003 to 2006, after serving as a Stoney Creek town councillor and a city councillor in the amalgamated City of Hamilton. In recent years he has hosted several programs on Cable 14.

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By lawrence (registered) - website | Posted December 24, 2014 at 11:34:48

Very nicely stated, Larry. This conversation is long overdue. Many we know both quietly and vocally, friends and family members, hope that these laws are in place when their time comes.

It scares me when I imagine making this same decision one day. To be of sound mind and body saying goodbye but then I ponder a sudden and unimaginable pain followed by mental and or physical disability for the remainder of my days and the later scares me even more.

Humans do deserve the dignity we afford our beloved pets and in a world of so many faiths and beliefs, the right to chose our own destiny should be another liberty of living in this beautiful and free country.

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By mountaun (anonymous) | Posted December 27, 2014 at 14:24:53

Eric McGuinness was the Spec reporter who reported that L Di Ianni's Stoney Creek town employee friends --Phil ruckler and another--had been found guilty of illegal dumping and fined under Ont Min of Environment regulations. Thanks Eric.

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By JamesC (anonymous) | Posted January 05, 2015 at 13:33:04

Thanks for writing this Larry. We had the pleasure being Eric's neighbour over the past couple of years and have many good memories of him; whether it was discussing books or community affairs, him leaving a dog treat taped to our door for our new puppy or his volunteer work with the local food co-op. He was a great neighbour and my wife and I will miss him!

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By Sceptic (anonymous) | Posted January 06, 2015 at 01:48:55

"He is now in a better place" says Larry DiIanni.
How does he know? Is he God?
There was not one cogent argument Larry put forward that would justify the State giving authority to someone to purposely terminate the life of another.
Yes, death and dying is inevitable for each and every human being. It is part of the human condition. We have today some wonderful drugs and palliative care that ease the physical suffering of people facing death. For those with psychic or mental suffering about their impending death there are other therapies and supports available. However, offering them an execution by another human being should not be an option.Few people in Canada would support capital punishment or assisted suicide.

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By lawrence (registered) - website | Posted February 06, 2015 at 13:48:50

I thank the people who fought for and who spoke up about these rights, like our own Eric McGuinness, for playing a part in bringing this end of life choice into law. http://www.cbc.ca/news/politics/supreme-...

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