Critical Commentary of Gallant’s Journalism
The Québécoise short-story writer, essayist, and novelist Mavis Gallant was also a journalist for the Montreal Standard from 1944 to 1950. As a reporter, she interviewed and covered various social and moral issues like biculturalism, marriage, racism, immigration, and euthanasia.
The weekend newspaper included advertisements, photographs and illustrations, cartoons, feedback from readers, and of course articles by various staff reporters on many subjects post world war two and coming to Canada or events and cultural issues happening around town, country and even the world. Gallant’s themes and tone seem to fit into the newspaper; like social circumstances, bridges to other cultures and portraits, arts, culture, immigration and identity, marriage and romance.
Like many articles in the newspaper, Gallant’s article included mismatched illustrations and fragmented into different pages (unlike her 1949 April 2nd article “Panic” which was not fragmented). Some of the neighbouring articles in the same edition share a similar approach or themes discussed in her articles, which could be a disguised form of the editor’s influence on the staff writers and newspaper as a whole.
For example, in the February 18th 1950 issue, the standard covered some controversial conflicts and social issues like politics (Churchill’s war memorial article “Battle of the Atlantic” and Lester Pearson’s entry about Canada’s foreign policy), racism (Cynthia Wilmot’s article “I Cross the Colour Line” which is about interracial marriage), Psychiatry articles (Adolescents problems or researches), and employment issues (“Employment Rises” article and the “Two New Presidents of two major Canadian Companies” piece).
Gallant’s piece is about mercy killing, in other words Doctor assisted suicide, a social issue and controversy that was discussed and argued for at the time due to patients wanting to pass away easily with no pain or sufferings from their illnesses. Gallant was not the only article about euthanasia, another article “Mercy Victim Wanted to Die” was also published in the same edition just a few pages after Gallant’s piece, discussing the incidents of a woman (Mrs. Abbie Borroto’s case) who wants to be air injected in order to “die quickly and without too much suffering”.
A few pages before Gallant’s actual article “Is Mercy Killing Murder”, the edition included a full-page photo advertisement of her piece, which seems unique because it allows buildup of the context and audience expectations. In short, Gallant was able to cover many topics in her piece and both sides of the argument, positive and negative; similarly not taking a clear or direct personal stance towards her attitude on mercy killing. Starting with the case of Mrs. Abbie Borroto and her husband Dr. Hermann Sander who at that time will be tried for the murder of his wife who had cancer.
Gallant goes forward with the controversial issue, how and where its done, and discusses the arguments of both sides and gives another example of self-euthanasia. Mrs. Gilman, a lady with no more medical means to save her sickness wrote a letter about why she “preferred chloroform to cancer”. Gallant is positive in the sense of individuals having a control over their choices and life in general. She gives other perspectives around the world about euthanasia like the six Russians in the Pasteur institute who went mad after getting bit by wolves thus “nothing could be done for them” and eventually mercy killed.
Gallant raises important issues if euthanasia is legalized and gives various other example of mercy killing practices by the Nazis, Eskimos, early century London practitioners and debates around the topic.
The article headline says it all, “Is Mercy Killing Murder?”. Gallant may take a neutral stance towards the topic, she clearly identifies both sides of the arguments and draws out meaningful arguments regarding the debate, legalities, personal choice and certainly the whole idea behind mercy killing if its really useful for practitioners or patients (and who benefits more in this case). Although Gallant is very critical in her writing and poses questions or possible ideas that may come to the readers minds like how, where, and what circumstances is euthanasia performed or if its too early to end ones life with the fact that tuberculosis for example can be “cured and that paraplegics can live useful but not happy lives”. She definitely made the required research and choose typical specimens of the day thus making her article a perfect piece for the edition and contemporary social issues at the time as well as present date.
As a journalist, we see her skill of research and neutral details in action, as a writer, we identify wits of her writing skills and context building up slowly to the same argument of the article’s headline, “Is Mercy Killing Murder?”. The question is unanswered but is left to the readers to decide. The article ends in slight dark humor which quotes Dr. Potter, a physician stating the state allows us to kill in war, kill in capital punishment and kill in self-defence, thus why not add a fourth reason, mercy?
Gallant, Mavis. “Is Mercy Killing Murder.” The Montreal Standard 18 Feb. 1950.