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 

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 


* 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 

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/;  or Gopher:, 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:  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: and by Abby Gleicher (email:  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 

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 

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 

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
  The only WEB site on the Internet devoted to "end of life" 


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:   - or -
  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:


National Capital FreeNet (NCF-Ottawa)
LAST RIGHTS Information Centre

  Telnet to NCF:
  Dial by modem: (613) 564-3600
    Logon as guest or with registered user ID.
  Type "go lastrights" at command line.

  Moderator:  Stan Rosenbaum (email:

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.