DeathNET: Educating the world about "choice-in-dying" by John Hofsess (From "Last Rights" #14; Winter 1995) One in four Canadian homes now has at least one computer according to a Statistics Canada report released in November 1994. This figure marks a doubling of personal computer ownership over the past six years.* Even more striking: one in three of these computers is equipped with a modem (a device that sends and receives data over telephone lines and which permits access to the Internet - a vast computer network sometimes referred to as the "information highway"). In 1993, according to StatsCan, figures for modem ownership were so low they didn't even register as statistically significant in that year's survey. But, according to the 1995 edition of the "Canadian Internet Handbook" by Jim Carroll and Rick Broadhead, Canada now ranks fifth in the world in the number of e-mail addresses (1.7 million), most of which utilize a modem in relaying messages. This dramatic growth in electronic communication is driven by several recent developments: CD-ROM technology has added a new dimension to the home computer's usefulness both as an educational tool and a means of entertainment (anyone who has entered the intriguing realms of MYST - to name just one of the best-selling interactive CD-ROM games and one of the great pop-culture achievements of the 1990s - will know that there has never been anything quite like it in other forms of mass entertainment). CD-ROMs provide a strong incentive to increasing home computer sales. More home computers in turn leads to an increase in the number of Internet users. Now we find the two technologies becoming even more interwined with CD-ROMs being used on the Internet to provide memory-intensive information: graphics or entire dictionaries and encyclopedias (before the end of the year, we expect to have issues of "Last Rights" complete with colour and graphics, stored on CD-ROM and available on the Net). Media hype and hoopla over the Internet also fuels home computer sales. Sensationalistic stories about the Internet (pornography! perversion! film at 11!) are played up by the "establishment" media apparently in the hope that opportunistic politicians will demand that "something be done" about this latest threat to public morals.** But anyone who believes that the Internet can be "domesticated" and regulated simply doesn't understand the technology involved. The Internet is the world's first means of mass communication that is not subject to the constraints of being a formalized branch of the mass media. For example: anyone wanting to know the "banned" details of the infamous Homolka-Teale murder case simply has to conduct a search through Gopherspace using Veronica; type in "Homolka" and file after file of "banned-in-Canada" material fills the screen (why does no Canadian newspaper tell its readers that simple truth - instead of having its lawyers grandstanding in the courts over "the public's right to know"?). The greatest threat posed by the Internet is not to "public morals" but to media conglomerates which seek to be the sole purveyors of news. We may well see by the end of 1995 the Internet providing millions of people with an alternate form of journalism, unbeholden to commercial interests and free of censorship. ----- Footnotes: * By way of comparison, 40.8% of households have a compact disc player. The figures are based on a survey by Statistics Canada of 38,000 households in May 1994. ** MP Myron Thompson (Reform; Wild Rose, Alta) issued a press release on November 7, 1994, headed "We Must Stop This Smut" in which he called upon the CRTC to regulate "Internet providers" in Canada. ----- Usage of the Internet is growing fast, especially in Canada. There was a 48% increase in registered domain names (host computers) in Canada in the first six months of 1994. The vast geographical distances and dispersed population of Canada has traditionally made us a spiritually lonely people. A sense of desolate isolation and disconnectedness forms the bedrock of much Canadian art and literature. The Internet may change the way we feel about ourselves: giving us low-cost "connectivity" we never had before with dozens or hundreds of e-pals and professional cybernauts, turning loneliness into something closer to creative solitude. In my study of Canadian film, "Inner Views: Ten Canadian Film-makers" (McGraw Hill-Ryerson, 1975), I wrote: "All of the inventions which support popular arts - the printing press, radio, film, sound reproducing equipment, television - go through a process of first being used as mass media systems, and then, eventually, minority media systems... Whenever a medium has passed its peak as a mass medium serving a large, homogenous audience, it becomes a multiple-minority medium catering to the specialized interests of many different, small groups." I went on to explain to my readers what could (and could not) be reasonably expected of Canadian cinema at any given period in its history due to the interplay of economic and technological forces. The Internet marks a dramatic break in that historical pattern. Anyone with a computer and a modem becomes both a user of and a contributor to the workings of the "Net." It is talent and imagination - not money - which determine who succeeds or fails on the Internet ("Success" or "Failure" are relative terms here since "size of audience" means virturally nothing in a field where capital investment is so low). You can set up a bulletin board system (BBS) in your apartment, offering some specialized information service (ranging from plot synopses of every "I Love Lucy" episode to you-name-it) and sooner or later some portion of this wired world will find its way to your electronic door. Or for even less investment (perhaps no more than the $20-or-so per month it takes to be a registered user of a commercial network server) you can set up an information or entertainment service on Gopher or a World Wide Web site serving whatever public interest you choose. Michael Strangelove, one of Canada's more astute analysts of the Internet, writes in a recent article, The Internet as Catalyst for a Paradigm Shift: "The Internet is a distributed and open systems technology. 'Distributed' meaning that it has no central location and 'open' referring to the fact that the operating codes are not proprietary or secret. Everyone can contribute to the design and development of the overall system." He goes on to say: "One of the great historical ironies is that the Internet arose out of a Dr. Strangelovean plan to create a communications system that could survive a nuclear holocaust. What was to have been a communications system for the surviving elite of a military-industrial complex has mutated into a subversive neo-democratic (more precisely, anarchistic) cyberculture. The unique technological character of the Internet has endowed it with a fundamentally subversive nature. Over the past twenty five years of its growth, the Internet has demonstrated that it is not subject to privatization, centralization or control. This situates it in direct opposition to the historical dynamics of capitalism and commercialization. The unique technological architecture of the Net has generated an equally unique cultural force that defies present economic relationships."*** *** Reprinted in chapter 22, "How to Advertise on the Internet" (Strangelove Press, Oct 1994). On the Internet, all men (and women) are reborn as equals: Time-Warner or AT&T, for all their millions, are no more privileged in what they can do on the Internet than a hard-working amateur with an imaginative grasp of the new technology. What follows is a guide to what we - a non-profit group as poor as the proverbial churchmouse - have achieved on the Internet so far. We began in April, 1994 with a modest installation as a Special Interest Group (SIG) on the Victoria FreeNet. This marked the first of our Last Rights Information Centres in Canada. The menu-choices were few, the files fairly limited. Basically we offered background information on the Society and a few short sample articles from Last Rights. We then opened the second of our Last Rights Information Centres on the National Capital FreeNet in August. NCF has a "showcounts" feature to measure traffic. In the first week of operations, more than 100 users accessed the Information Centre (lately the traffic runs about 55 unique "hits" per week, of which about 15 on average are designated as "guests" i.e. non-registered users of NCF presumably approaching us for the first time). Continued traffic depends on keeping a site current and adding more features of public interest. The next installation took place on Toronto FreeNet. We were fully installed by the time TFN became operational in September. The TFN Last Rights Information Centre (designed by one of our Online Directors, Duncan McRae) is as advanced as we can make it given certain limitations of the standard FreeNet software. It offers an expanded Menu of services including links to numerous newsgroups. It serves a goodly number of students who are looking for information on euthanasia and assisted suicide (rather hot topics in Canadian schools, judging by the number of requests we get). Students and researchers from other parts of Canada can telnet into TFN or NCF from a FreeNet in their area and thus have access to our information centres free of any charges, including long-distance telephone charges. Also in September, we were granted permission by the Senate of Canada to make available online the complete hearings of the Senate Special Committee on Euthanasia and Assisted Suicide. This marked the first time that the Senate had released information electronically. We are also the only online source of this material. Since the files are much too large to store on any freenet, we bought space from a commercial server (Island Net in Victoria, BC). We then installed the transcripts on a Gopher (accessible by WWW URL: http://www/islandnet.com:70/1/members/rights; or Gopher: gopher.islandnet.com, choose Libraries from the Main Menu, then choose Last Rights Information Centre). Island Net's sysop Mark Morley reported that "over 300" people accessed these files in the first month. By late '94, it was apparent that another branch of the Internet - World Wide Web - was where the action was. New York Times reporter, Peter H. Lewis, wrote in a major feature on the World Wide Web ("Companies Rush to Set Up Shop in Cyberspace", Nov 2, 1994): "The main trouble with the Internet has been that almost everything tends to be hidden behind a uniform display of raw computer text. By contrast, World Wide Web, a subset of computers on the Internet, enables users to leap from one computer data base to another at the click of a mouse, following ideas, color photographs, interactive diagrams, sound and video clips - all linked via a technology known as hypertext." Lewis goes on to estimate that at present "perhaps two million Internet users" have the proper software to access the Web in this manner (that is roughly one in 15 Internet users in the United States). We began work on our WEBsite called DeathNET early in December. It had its official launch on January 10, 1995 (URL: http://www.islandnet.com/~deathnet). Much of the work was done by an enterprising Camosun College student, Chris Fraser, majoring in computer science. To further extend the range of this new service, I asked Derek Humphry (founder of the National Hemlock Society in the U.S., author of the international best-seller Final Exit; and currently Executive Director of ERGO! - the Euthanasia Research and Guidance Organization in Eugene, Oregon) to join us in setting up an American-oriented branch of the NET. Thus users are able to access either the Canadian side of DeathNET or the American side and be directly connected with a wide variety of medical and legal information around the world. Within two weeks of its launch, DeathNET attracted over 1,000 users (an access counter on Island Net keeps track). To date, over 5,000 people have visited DeathNET, despite the fact that the site has received no publicity other than being listed in several Intgernet Directories. The ERGO! Information Center, the first American installation of its type, is co-managed by Derek Humphry (email: email@example.com) and by Abby Gleicher (email: firstname.lastname@example.org). You can browse through the ERGO! Online Bookstore (which displays the covers of publications available through ERGO! along with a description of contents and authors). You can read the latest in news dealing with euthanasia and assisted suicide from all over the United States through the ERGO! Online News Service. New features are being added almost every week. The Last Rights Information Centre which is installed on DeathNET is a state-of-the-art creation using the Netscape Navigator - complete with colour graphics and sound, and (eventually) short video clips. At the opening screen (or "home page"), the user chooses between entering the Information Centre or accessing the official transcripts (in English and French) of the Senate Special Committee on Euthanasia and Assisted Suicide. In addition to the transcripts we are making available online some of the key briefs by Witnesses - such as those by Eike-Henner Kluge and Alister Browne, to which we have access. There is also a background report on each Senator sitting on the Special Committee. Upon entering the LR Information Centre on DeathNET, you may select the Last Rights Online Library and be connected to such resources as the John Hopkins Medical Library or the World Health Organization. There you will find the latest statistics, surveys, research papers and publications dealing with major illnesses. Or by choosing another of our options, you may read the full text (in English or French) of the Supreme Court of Canada decision in the Sue Rodriguez case (eventually incorporating a video clip of Sue delivering her famous "Who owns my life?" speech). Or you may tap into our LINKS to Support Groups and join online discussions in more than 20 newsgroups dealing with specific illnesses such as cancer, AIDS, arthritis, cerebal palsy, tinnitus, prostate problems, post-polio syndrome, and many other diseases or disabilities. Here you may share the experiences of people who are coping with an illness or disability; then you can contact them personally by email or as a group through a public message of your own. A great deal of valuable information can be exchanged with fellow-sufferers of an illness. Other services offered by DeathNET: You may read some of the world's best "right to die" publications online (such as the VESS Newsletter published by the Voluntary Euthanasia Society of Scotland); browse through John Robert Colombo's Canadian Quotations on Death and Dying (everyone from film director David Cronenberg to Prime Minister Jean Chrétien has something to say on the topic); there are also direct connections to a wide variety of online services (WEB sites, Gophers, mailing lists or Usenet newsgroups) dealing with grief, bereavement, caregiving, and personal counselling. We also provide indepth news coverage on "right to die" issues that is more extensive and reliable than what people normally get from the establishment media. DeathNET provides this information to people all over the world: no area is too remote. Anyone with a computer, modem and a telephone connection can reach our WEB-service around the clock. All of this is provided (potentially to millions of users) at a fraction of the cost of producing one issue of Last Rights magazine (reaching about 2,000 subscribers and perhaps 3,000 readers). For some people however, there is no substitute for the physical presence of a book or magazine: something they hold with pages they turn and with high-resolution photographs to look at. To them, DeathNET may seem like so much flotsam in cyberspace. But given the sheer quantity of material pertaining to death and dying, chronic illness and patients' rights, assisted suicide and euthanasia, a publication such as Last Rights cannot cope with all that deserves to be noted and disseminated. Only an electronic online service such as DeathNET can provide something close to comprehensive coverage of "right to die" issues for Canadians and Americans. Even so, DeathNET cannot supply all the answers needed. But we will do our best to make sure that the information provided is sound and reliable. DeathNET is content-oriented: while the mainstream media tend to be preoccupied with adding false excitement to any story: a process that does not educate but obfuscates and confuses. Judging by media coverage of the Canadian right-to-die movement in the past two years one gets the impression that Sue Rodriguez is the only terminally ill person to have had an assisted death. Such an impression is false. It is also counterproductive as myth. At the political level, the perception that the "right to die" movement is embodied in one singular individual leads to such reactions among MPs and Senators as: "You don't change Canada's laws for one person" or "Hard cases make bad law." To make matters worse, when too much media attention is given to any one man or woman in this field the worth of right-to-die arguments and proposed legislative changes tend to be judged more on the basis of his or her personal character rather than on the intellectual merit of the issues. We embrace the Internet as virtually the only place where people can learn the deeper and fuller truth about "right to die" issues. Through a remedial information service such as DeathNET they may obtain more of what they need to know to make intelligent "end of life" decisions for themselves and to understand what is really going on in the right-to-die movement.**** There are many subversive elements on the Internet (as the corporate mass media never tire of telling us) and the most subversive of all is the intelligent interaction of independent minds. ----- **** An encouraging note: Island Office Trends, a Victoria, BC-based company offers "computer orientation" sessions for $10 to people over 50. The classes feature both IBM and Macintosh computers and a variety of software programs. Call 604-727-7624 for details. ===== Online Services of the Right to Die Society of Canada: DeathNET (World Wide Web) Best approached using Netscape Navigator URL: http://www.islandnet.com/~deathnet The only WEB site on the Internet devoted to "end of life" issues ----- A Time to Die (Edmonton, Alta) Access by modem: (403) 455-6298 A Time to Die is the Society's own BBS (based in Edmonton, Alta) operated by member Bruce Hutchison. A first-time caller is asked to register online (the system then calls back to confirm that registration has been accepted). Thereafter the registered user is free to read online or download a steadily-expanding range of "right to die" materials that are otherwise hard to find. For instance: the entire text of recent issues of "Last Rights" (with the exception of articles for which we do not hold copyright) has now been been compressed into pkzip files. Thus, all of the text of "Last Rights" Issue #12 (68 pages) can be transmitted electronically in less than 5 seconds from the BBS to a home computer using a 14.4 baud modem. The reader then unzips (uncompresses) the file to read specific articles. We are currently seeking ways of linking this BBS to the Internet. ----- Toronto FreeNet (TFN) LAST RIGHTS Information Centre Telnet to TFN: freenet.toronto.on.ca - or - torfree.net Direct dial by modem: (416) 780-2010 Logon as guest or with registered user ID. Type "go rights" at the command line. (Co-moderator: Ruth von Fuchs; email: email@example.com) ----- National Capital FreeNet (NCF-Ottawa) LAST RIGHTS Information Centre Telnet to NCF: freenet.carleton.ca Dial by modem: (613) 564-3600 Logon as guest or with registered user ID. Type "go lastrights" at command line. Moderator: Stan Rosenbaum (email: firstname.lastname@example.org) LAST RIGHTS Information Centres are expected to be installed by February, 1995 on the Calgary FreeNet, Edmonton FreeNet and the BlueSky FreeNet in Winnipeg. Most of the FreeNets will offer a lynx (text only) connection to DeathNET.