Monday, 23 April 2018

A Review:
Karla Poewe, My Apprenticeship: An Intellectual Journey, Calgary: Vogelstein Press (2018).

By Mike Jones

When we think of academic subjects such as anthropology we may remember some of the textbooks we had to read in university. We may also remember late night efforts to sort through the information they contained trying to understand what we were being taught. What we often forgot to do was give some thought to the people who gathered, sorted and typed out this information.  What were their stories? What did they experience while studying and gathering data about the people around them?

In writing My Apprenticeship Karla Poewe tells her story of living in Zambia and studying the residents of several rural villages. She describes the preparation leading into her journey and proceeds to take us through the encounters and experiences she had along the way. While we journey with her we read some of her diary and letters to family and colleagues. We can also read observations made at different times in her ensuing life and career.    

My Apprenticeship is lived history that takes us beneath and beyond the page of a textbook. It takes us beyond the classroom and plunks us down on a hot, dusty road in rural Africa. The sentence that brings this all into focus for me is when Karla writes, “The field is not the ordered universe of the academy.” (p.150)  It’s often difficult to appreciate our random and chaotic world while sitting in a classroom. Through Karla’s observations and insights we catch a glimpse of the sheer effort people go through to help us learn more about our world and even ourselves.

Karla Poewe has a writing style that is interesting, accessible and informative. She is both clear about what is happening around her and what she is thinking at the time it is happening. My Apprenticeship has an extremely wide potential audience. I would recommend it to students and instructors in almost any academic subject. I know it would have been a helpful contribution to the two internships I had to pass through on my way to graduation as an ordained minister. I would commend it to anyone reading a book or journal article and wondering about the person behind the page.

Friday, 20 February 2015

At Liberty to Die

A Review of Howard Ball's At Liberty to Die: The Battle for Death With Dignity in America.
Published by New York University Press (2012)
Price: $24.20 (Paper)

Reviewed by Mike Jones 

On February 6th of this year (2015) the Supreme Court of Canada ruled that competent adults living with a terminal disease can ask a physician to help them die.  This decision has triggered an extremely intense conversation about end of life issues here in Canada.  There's nothing wrong with a conversation like this but those of us who participate need to be informed as we "dive in" with our own thoughts and beliefs.  It cannot be repeated often enough that informed decision making is how democracy works best. 

As I was preparing for an internet conversation on the subject of Physician Assisted Suicide I ran across Howard Ball's book on the subject.  Entitled At Liberty to Die: The Battle for Death with Dignity in America Ball's book surveys the legal decision making that addresses the subject of Physician Assisted Suicide and euthanasia.  He explains many of the constitutional issues and how different key sections and amendments of the American constitution have been used and interpreted.  Ball raises several important questions, and issues, about how we die. He also asks us to consider under which circumstances we end our lives.

In At Liberty to Die Ball introduces us to the different courts that have heard and rendered decisions on a variety of cases and appeals.  We read how politicians and religious leaders have contributed to the debate.  It is both interesting and troubling to read how the different ideologies clash without regard for the lives of the people directly affected by their terminal condition. Ball navigates this conflict in a clear, accessible and informative way.  He defines key terms and explorers what it means to be a competent adult and a physician committing to "doing no harm".  He informs the reader about how competent adults would be screened as they proceed along the way to their respects ends. 

Many lawmakers and lobbyists are correct in suggesting that this process is open to abuse on a variety of fronts and Ball offers suggestions on how this risk of abuse can be reduced.  Many of the court decisions mentioned in At Liberty to Die address the series of events that would be necessary for a patient to have their requests granted.  Courts often base these decisions on such concepts as the patient's right to privacy and freedom over their body.  They confront demands that we uphold the notion of the sanctity of life. 

Regardless of our religious, political or philosophical leanings Ball gives us some sense of the complexity faced by leaders and decision makers.  This, alone, should serve us on our collective journey towards some sort of resolution and legal work that helps competent patients address their future.    

This is a debate and conversation that has it all.  There is something for the philosopher, politician, lawyer, theologian, physician, families, patients and many others.  In At Liberty to Die Ball offers a resource that can help us understand the issues and figure out what the content of this conversation means for each and every situation.  

With this in mind I would commend At Liberty to Die to readers participating in the ongoing discussion on Doctor Assisted Suicide and Euthanasia.  This would include church leaders and lay people.  I would also include civic leaders in this group as well.  Even though the content of At Liberty to Die is drawn from the American context it can still be a helpful resource for those of us struggling with the issue here in Canada.  Once again, democratic decisions need to be informed and this is especially true of how we end our days when living with a terminal illness.