Thursday, July 03, 2008

Morgentaler: A Difficult Hero

Congratulations to St. Albert’s Lyle Best, who was named a member of the Order of Canada on Canada Day. Lyle is President and CEO of Quikcard, but he is well-known for his links with the Edmonton Oilers and his extensive volunteer work (for which the Order of Canada was given). But Lyle was certainly overshadowed as another person named a member of the Order of Canada was quite a controversial choice: Dr. Henry Morgentaler.

This morning, CBC Radio’s The Current talked to Christopher McCreery, author of a seemingly arcane book, The Order of Canada: Its Origins, History, and Development [the Library has owned it since August 2007 but it has yet to be checked out!]. McCreery noted that Morgentaler’s naming is the most controversial appointment in the Order’s history.

The title of Catherine Dunphy’s 1996 biography of Morgentaler puts it well: Morgentaler: A Difficult Hero. She refers to the ‘difficult’ relationships Morgentaler has had with friends and family but the tag applies equally well to the difficulty some Canadians have in considering him a hero.

I remember walking through the Law building at the U of A in the 1980s and stumbling across a demonstration against Morgentaler, who was giving a speech. The anger amongst the protestors was palpable, and then as Morgentaler left the crowd surged forward and someone threw ketchup at him. I remember thinking this guy has some serious convictions if he’s willing to weather this kind of vitriol.

A recent book gives a view of the quieter side of abortion, the folks in the trenches providing services to women: This Common Secret: My Journey as an Abortion Doctor. The author, Susan Wicklund, describes her experiences of “twenty years on the front lines of the abortion war”, mainly in Montana and the Pacific Northwest.

And a good fictional read about an abortion doctor is John Irving’s classic 1985 novel, The Cider House Rules. It is the story of Dr. Wilbur Larch, an obstetrician in rural Maine, and the founder of the orphanage in the town of St. Cloud's, and Dr. Larch's favorite orphan, Homer Wells.


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