Friday May 19, 2017

May 19, 2017 episode transcript

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The Current Transcript for May 19, 2017

Host: Duncan McCue

Listen to the full episode


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MALE VOICE: I said to myself in my head my God, I am awake. And I was screaming and nothing was coming out.

DUNCAN MCCUE: Coming to during surgery. That Oklahoma man says the pain he experienced was unimaginable. And yet, there was no way for him to tell the surgeon operating on him that he was awake. For the first time in Canada, an Ontario woman successfully sued an anesthetist for malpractice after it happened to her. We'll hear from the lawyer in her case. Plus, the story of another Canadian woman who lived through that nightmare scenario. That's First up today. Then, it could be the future of fertility treatments.


FEMALE VOICE: In theory the need for healthy human sperm and eggs could one day be bypassed altogether. IVG could replace IVF as a treatment for infertility.

DM: IVG holds tremendous promise. We'll break down the science behind next-generation fertility treatment. And get to some of the ethical considerations it brings with it. That's coming up in a half an hour. And today, Meet Boris.


FEMALE VOICE: He is a Polish dog and he is very unusual. I mean this bread almost went extinct.

DM: The movement to save rare dog breeds like the Polish sheep dog from disappearing. More on that in an hour. I'm Duncan McCue and this is the Friday edition of The Current.

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‘I went into distress’: patient wakes up during surgery

Guests: Donna Penner, Stephen MacDonald, Eric Jacobsohn


MALE VOICE: I said to myself in my head my God, I am awake. And I was screaming and nothing was coming out.

DUNCAN MCCUE: Coming to during surgery. That Oklahoma man says the pain he experienced was unimaginable. And yet, there was no way for him to tell the surgeon operating on him that he was awake. For the first time in Canada, an Ontario woman successfully sued an anesthetist for malpractice after it happened to her. We'll hear from the lawyer in her case. Plus, the story of another Canadian woman who lived through that nightmare scenario. That's First up today. Then, it could be the future of fertility treatments.


FEMALE VOICE: In theory the need for healthy human sperm and eggs could one day be bypassed altogether. IVG could replace IVF as a treatment for infertility.

DM: IVG holds tremendous promise. We'll break down the science behind next-generation fertility treatment. And get to some of the ethical considerations it brings with it. That's coming up in a half an hour. And today, Meet Boris.


FEMALE VOICE: He is a Polish dog and he is very unusual. I mean this bread almost went extinct.

DM: The movement to save rare dog breeds like the Polish sheep dog from disappearing. More on that in an hour. I'm Duncan McCue and this is the Friday edition of The Current


MALE VOICE: 10, 9, 8, 7, Is he good to go? He goes to sleep like a baby.

MALE VOICE: What? Am I supposed to be asleep right now?

MALE VOICE: Ready to get started here?

MALE VOICE: I can still hear you. Wait, something’s wrong. Am I supposed to be able to still hear you?

DM: From the 2011 movie, “Awake.” That's a Hollywood portrayal of a real life nightmare: Being conscious, aware and feeling during a surgery. But being unable to alert the doctors and nurses around you. It does happen. And earlier this month, An Ontario judge ruled in favor of a woman suing her anesthetist after it happened to her. It's believed to be the first such malpractice ruling in Canada. We'll be joined by the plaintiff's lawyer from that case in just a few minutes. But first, someone else who's experienced this nightmare firsthand. Donna Penner went in for surgery in a rural Manitoba hospital in 2008. She's still reeling from what happened in that room. And a warning Donna Penner’s story may make some listeners uncomfortable. Donna Penor joins me from Altona, Manitoba. Hello.


DM: At what point did you know that something was wrong with your surgery?

DONNA PENNER: You know, I knew pretty much immediately. They took me into the operating room. And you know did usual, put a mask on my face and told me to take a deep breath. And I went to sleep and I woke up thinking that the surgery was over and lying there you know you're kind of groggy and stuff and I thought well you know it's done, it's over. And then I heard the surgeon speak and his words stopped me cold and I heard him say scalpel please.

DM: You heard the surgeon speak?

DONNA PENNER: I heard the surgeon speak and I thought oh, oh, I'm in trouble here. This this can't be happening.

DM: What happened? Did you try to move?

DONNA PENNER: Oh I did when I heard him ask for the scalpel. I thought you know like am I hearing right? And I tried to say something and I realized very quickly that I couldn't say anything. I was intubated.

DM: You had an oxygen tube down your throat.

DONNA PENNER: Yes I did. And so I couldn't I couldn't say a word. So then I tried to move you know like to put up my arm or to sit up or something to let them know this there was something wrong. And I found pretty quickly I couldn't move.

DM: So you heard the surgeon speaking, were you feeling anything at that point?

DONNA PENNER: Not at that point yet, but I did feel him make the first incision.

DM: Then what happened?

DONNA PENNER: I went into distress actually. My heart rate went through the roof because I was feeling the pain as he made the incision and I was panicking on the inside. I tried to make tears to cry. I couldn't cry, I couldn't scream, I couldn't do anything. And so I heard the surgeon speak up and I heard him say she's in distress, she's in distress, because my heart ratewas just going up and up and up. And I heard one of the nurses say to him or he the surgeon actually said well what's wrong with her? What's wrong with her? And he called the anesthetist by name, so I knew who he was talking to. And one of the nurses then spoke up and she says oh, he's not here.

DM: And I'm sorry to make you relive this, but you were in for abdominal surgery. What did you feel?

DONNA PENNER: Oh, I felt everything. I felt the incision. I felt them pushing the instruments through my abdomen and into my organs. I felt them moving the instruments around and pushing my organs around as they examined them. I felt I felt everything. It was excruciatingly painful.

DM: And you couldn't move, you couldn't talk.

DONNA PENNER: I couldn't do anything.

DM: And you go through that whole surgery. What did the anesthesiologist say when you told him that you'd been awake at the end?

DONNA PENNER: Well, his reaction was not what I expected. When I first came out of that paralytic in the O.R., the surgeon had already left. But I was with the nurses and the anesthesiologist, who by the way, had to be paged to come back to the O.R. because he had put me under and walked out. And my first words were I was awake. I felt him cut me. And the nurses and the anesthesiologist just looked at each other and no one said a word. No one talked to me. No one said anything. They were just quiet and they had these shocked looks on their faces. And I remember thinking that somehow I knew instinctively I would not be getting an answer from them. You could just tell. You could almost see that invisible wall of silence go up. And so when I got into recovery, I told my husband what had happened. And then he said he asked the nurse to go get the anesthesiologist. So he came into my room, into recovery, and he would not come near my bed. He stood about six feet away from me and looked down at some papers that he was holding in his hand. And after I finished telling him what I had just been through and what I had heard them say and do, he simply shrugged his shoulders and said three words that still haunt me today. He said it happens sometimes. He turned his back on me and he walked out of the room.

DM: Boy, looking back on it now. How has this experience changed you, Donna?

DONNA PENNER: Oh my goodness, I was diagnosed with PTSD two weeks after it happened. The nightmares started the very same day. Nine years later, I still have nightmares. Just about two weeks ago, I woke up screaming again one night. Living with PTSD is very difficult. It's like an emotional roller coaster. You've got your good days where you are at the top of the hill and then you come down and you crash. And anything can trigger those crashes. They can last anywhere from a couple of hours, to a couple of weeks, to a couple of months, or longer. It's really affected my short term memory, my ability to stay focused and concentrate on something. The nightmares are still there. My emotions when I crash they are just out of control. I cry and I cry and I cry.

DM: Well, Donna, we really appreciate you taking the time to share your story with us today on The Current.

DONNA PENNER: You're very welcome. And I am so sorry to hear what this poor lady has been through and my heart goes out to her because I understand.

DM: OK. You take care.

DONNA PENNER: Thank you so much for having me.

DM: Donna Penner was awake for most of her surgery in 2008. She joined me from Altona, Manitoba.

DM: Well, it was believed to be a first when Ontario judge ruled earlier this month that an anesthetist was at fault in a case of awakening during surgery. Lynn Hillis awoke during a cancer-related surgery. She was represented in court by Stephen MacDonald, a lawyer with the firm of Stevenson, Whelton, MacDonald and Swan. And Stephen MacDonald is with me in our Toronto studio. Hello.


DM: How familiar were you with Donna Penner's experience when you took on this case?

STEPHEN MACDONALD: Well, I knew nothing really about her experience. I just found out about it quite recently. And what's interesting about her account is how similar it was and is to what Lynn Hillis went through in her experience.

DM: And what went wrong in her surgery?

STEPHEN MACDONALD: Well, she also had this period of awareness during the course of the surgery and it was equally as harrowing for her as it was for Donna Penner in the sense that she too could not alert. She could not tell the doctors. She was really helpless to let them know that she was aware and awake and could feel the surgeons in her, as she describes it.

DM: She was in for a hysterectomy.

STEPHEN MACDONALD: She was in for a hysterectomy.

DM: How did she describe what she was feeling?

STEPHEN MACDONALD: Well, she used similar types of expressions and examples that poor Donna Penner used. And so she describes hearing the physicians and surgeons talk. She describes feeling her in feeling them inside her abdomen pulling, tearing, ripping, burning and all of which she was experiencing without the ability to say anything, to do anything, to move. Really it's probably one of the worst sorts of things you can imagine anyone going through.

DM: How did she try to communicate?

STEPHEN MACDONALD: Well in fact, she couldn't. She tried to scream but, equally like Donna, she was paralyzed. She was intubated. And the reason they intubate them is because if you paralyze someone then they can breathe on their own. So she had something down not just her throat, but into her lung area. And then of course, she had her eyes taped shut. So although she was aware, she couldn't move and she couldn't say anything. She couldn't voice any concerns because she had this endotracheal tube down her throat.

DM: What were some of the after effects? We heard on and explain the PTSD that she experienced. What were some of the after effects that your client experienced?

STEPHEN MACDONALD: Well, very similar to what Don experienced. And remarkably Donna's surgery took place 2008, as did Lynn Hillis’s surgery. And unfortunately for Ms. Hillis, she still continues to suffer, as Donna does, from the effects of the surgery and the experiences that she went through.

DM: What were some of the best proofs that you had that your client had indeed actually regained consciousness during this surgery?

STEPHEN MACDONALD: Well, the best proof I think was the fact that she was able to recite or repeat conversations virtually verbatim that she overheard the surgeons having during the course of the surgery. And so when she reported this to the to the nursing staff after she was recovered from the anesthetic. The nursing staff of course called the surgeons initially and she then related the experience. And they were then I think satisfied that she was really someone who was in fact awake during the course of that procedure. And it was at that point that they called the anesthetist and explained to the anesthetist what she had told the surgeons. And it was at that point they initiate their own investigation in terms of what might be the cause of this.

DM: Have you had other clients who have awoken during surgery?

STEPHEN MACDONALD: I have not, Duncan. No, this is a first for me. But I'm getting the sense out there that there are many more. And I will say that the evidence at the trial was that this period of awareness or awakening during the course of surgery happens statistically one in every 1,000 or one in every 2,000 cases. But it seems to me that it's not entirely well-documented and certainly, I wasn't aware of any other case that ever took a matter like this to trial before.

DML: And so in this case the court found a finding a fault against the anesthetist. And what was the outcome?

STEPHEN MACDONALD: Well, the finding of fault was that the judge determined that during the course of the procedure, there was a change in one of the anesthetic agents. So Lynn’s case was a little different because she was undertaking this surgery with something called TIVA, which is called Total intravenous anesthetic. And what it means it's anesthetic delivered entirely intravenously. Unlike most surgeries, which are delivered by way of various gaseous agents. And the difficulty with TIVA is you can't measure necessarily exactly what the concentration levels are in any event. She also received something called nitrous oxide and it’s something which assists in one of the agents and the surgeons were having trouble seeing while they were operating. As a result, they asked the surgeon to turn down the nitrous oxide. But then, correspondingly increase some of the other agents that were necessary in order to preserve her state of consciousness. And that is likely what happened to her.

DM: And so has there been a settlement in this case?

STEPHEN MACDONALD: Well, we've gone to a trial and we've got a successful judgment. And the defendants are still within a period of appeal. It's hard to know whether they will appeal or not. But all it will say is that I think the judgment is extremely thorough. It's extremely well-reasoned and was predicated on certain findings of fact, which are very difficult to appeal.

DM: Thank you so much for joining us today.

STEPHEN MACDONALD: My pleasure. Thank you.

DM: Stephen MacDonald is a lawyer with Stevenson, Whelton, McDonald and Swan. And he is with me in Toronto.

DM: Let's get the perspective now from the medical side Dr. Eric Jacobsohn is a Professor of Anesthesiology and an Associate Dean at the University of Manitoba. He's in our Winnipeg's studio. Hello.

ERIC JACOBSOHN: Good morning.

DM: How common is it that people wake up during surgery?

ERIC JACOBSOHN: You know, the incidence of anesthetic awareness depends on how it was studied. But in high risk groups it is as the previous interview had said in about a range of about one in a 1,000. But if you look at large studies that have gone that have relied on patients reporting it is possibly much lower than that, probably one in 15,000. So it's unclear, but it's somewhere between one and 1,000 and one 15,000, which you translate that to a couple of million anesthetics in Canada per year that means probably a couple of thousand people may have had an episode of anesthetic awareness per year.

DM: So we just heard Stephen MacDonald try to explain some of the complexities of why his client woke up. What's the most common reason that people wake up so early?

ERIC JACOBSOHN: People wake up because the anesthetic dosing for that patient at that time is too little. And these can be due to technical factors, a failure of the unaesthetic machine. Or the gas runs out on the anesthetic machine, or the alarms aren’t set. TIVA, which was the second patient we talked about this morning where people get an anaesthetic just by drugs through the I.V. versus drugs being given in the form of a gas. It’s probably twice the risk of anesthetic awareness for when patients get get a gas. And that is because it's much more it's much more tricky monitoring the depth of anesthetic when people get a TIVA.

DM: I'm sure that doctors are asking this question. I'm going to ask it. What could be done to prevent this from happening?

ERIC JACOBSOHN: So many things can be done. First of all, education for the physicians who are involved in anesthetic about delivery. Education of patients appropriate consenting so that people understand that sometimes they're sort of brief episodes on awakening where people may remember waking up. About two thirds of people who have awareness at the time that they go to sleep or at the time that they're waking up during that sort of dynamic phase of the operation. Only about one third is in the middle of the operating room. We have monitors now which monitor the brainwaves they call the processed EEG monitoring. And that's controversial about whether they actually reduce the incidence of awareness. But there's increasing consensus that patients who have TIVA, which is the total intravenous anesthesia, that they use with a brainwave monitor may I say may help in reducing the incidence of awareness.

DM: How important is it, Dr. Jacobson, for the whole medical team to stay involved during the surgery?

ERIC JACOBSOHN: It's crucial. It's a requirement in Canada that patients who are under a general anesthesia have an anesthesiologist at all times. I just want to mention one more thing is that patients who have anesthetic awareness who then get PTSD is about 50 per cent of those patients will get on go on to PTSD. The terrifying part is waking up and not being able to move. And the common denominator is in those patients they've all had a paralytic drug. And paralytic drugs are used so that the muscles are easier to move and particularly for abdominal surgery. It makes the muscle relaxers easier to operate. If patients woke up and they weren't paralyzed they would obviously move. And the anesthesiologist would know. So the use of neuromuscular blocking drugs is a huge, huge risk factor. And anesthetic organizations caution against the over use of neuromuscular blocking drugs using as little as is practically possible or, in fact, avoiding them if they if they're not necessary.

DM: A lot of people don't believe that patients wake up during surgery. Why do you think that is?

ERIC JACOBSOHN: I think people trust when you're going under anesthesia you’re going to go to sleep. But I think increasing stories like Donna’s have really brought this to the forefront. And it's been a difficult issue to study and tall studies in the last 10 years have documented this is a real issue and the incidence of PTSD in people who experience this is increasingly being recognized. And the reporting of PTSD after episode of anesthetic awareness may actually take several years.

DM: And last question for you. Briefly what can be done to make people more aware about this?

ERIC JACOBSOHN: Well, I think patients are increasingly aware of this. I think the Nap Five, which is a national program in the United Kingdom, have made it clear that patients should be educated about the risks of recall during anesthesia under rare situations. I don't think we should be very careful in creating hysteria and understanding amongst patients that this is a common issue. It is effectively and under-dosing of an anesthetic. And I think in good hands and in an appropriate institution the chance of this happening should be extremely, extremely small. It's devastating when it happens.

DM: Thank you so much for joining us.


DM: Dr. Eric Jacobsohn is a Professor of Anesthesiology and an Associate Dean at the University of Manitoba. He was in our man in Winnipeg studio.

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CBC News is next. Then, we'll hear about what might just be the fertility treatment of the future: IVG. Though it`s not without its ethical concerns. I’m Duncan McCue, You're listening to the Friday edition of The Current.

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Babies from skin cells? New fertility technology raises ethical concerns

Guests: Glenn Cohen, Arthur Caplan

DM: Hi, I'm Duncan McCue and you're listening to the Friday edition of The Current.

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DM: Still to come, ever heard of a Mongolian Bankhar Dog? Or a Polish Sheepdog? They’re not the kind of breeds you're most likely to see at the dog park. There are some of the many local dog breeds around the world that are threatened with extinction. In half an hour, we'll hear about the movement to keep breeds such as these alive. But first, new horizons for reproductive technology.


FEMALE VOICE: We say test-tube baby, Louise. But actually it wasn't this very large petri dish where your Mom’s egg was introduced to your Dad’s sperm.


FEMALE VOIUCE: And mixed. And here you are. That’s where your life started. I mean at what age were you when you knew how significant your birth had been?

FEMALE VOICE: Mom and Dad sat me down, I was about four years old and they told me that I was born a slightly different way to everybody else.

DM: The first ever test-tube baby, Louise Brown, speaking with the BBC in 2015. her 1978 birth through the fertility treatment In Vitro Fertilization, or IVF, was a major breakthrough. It was also highly controversial at the time. Louise Brown's family received vicious hate mail after her birth. Fast forward to today, and of course IVF is a common practice around the world funded by many governments. It's estimated that more than six and a half million babies have been born worldwide thanks to IVF and related technologies. And now, as Louise Brown approaches her 40th birthday, there's a new promising and controversial technology on the horizon. It's called In Vitro Gametogenesis, or IVG. The idea is that scientists can make a baby by taking adult human cells such as skin cells and transforming them into eggs or sperm. Those in turn can be used to create an embryo which is implanted in a womb. The process has been successful with mice. For some of the ethical considerations involved with using IVG in humans, We're joined by Glenn Cohen. He's a professor of health law and bioethics at the Harvard Law School. And he's one of the authors of a paper in the journal “Science Translational Medicine” which looks at what they've called the vexing ethical and social policy challenges of IVG technology. Glenn Cohen joins us today from Tel Aviv, Israel. Hello.

GLENN COHEN: Thanks for having me, Duncan.

DM: How is IVG fundamentally different from In Vitro Fertilization, IVF?

GLENN COHEN: It's a great question. So in IVF, In Vitro Fertilization, we've got eggs and we've got sperm that we retrieve from men and women. And we mix them together outside of the body and then we implant it into a woman's body to carry the embryo, become a fetus and come to term. With IVG, In Vitro Gametogenesis, we're talking about actually creating sperm or creating an egg through adult cells, right? So it's not taking sperm and egg already in the body. It's creating sperm and egg.

DM: And usually it's skin cells.

GLENN COHEN: Skin cells are one possible way of doing it, but it need not be skin cells.

DM: What's the promise in IVG?

GLENN COHEN: So good question. There are a few different promises. One is that we may be able to create a huge number of new embryos that we can use for research. It’s also possible that some of these embryos we create will be used for treatment of people with various genetic diseases. But perhaps the most interesting possibility is as a reproductive technology. First of all, in order to retrieve eggs from women it's quite an involved process. There are concerns about ovarian hyper-stimulation. It’s expensive and time consuming and you don't get that many eggs. Through In Vitro Gametogenesis might be able to derive thousands or even hundreds of thousands of eggs from a woman from a single skin cell. Moreover, it may enable women who can't reproduce currently to reproduce. And really farther in the future, it may be possible for same sex couples for example two women each provide a gamete. And one of the women provides an egg and the other uses IVG to actually have that woman produce sperm, which is a remarkable sentence: Women producing sperm.

DM: How close are we to actually using IVG in humans at this point?

GLENN COHEN: We're fairly far away, I think it's important to emphasize. We've done successfully with mice. We've tried it with some success in other animals. But there have not been first in human trials and we would require a lot more safety data access data I think before anybody would even try it. And there's a question about the regulatory state. So this is still far away, but that was true at one point about In Vitro Fertilization as well as Louise Brown’s story shows us actually sometimes these technologies translate into the clinic after several years.

DM: If we do get to the point where IVG could be used to help people make babies. How complex would the ethical questions be from your perspective?

GLENN COHEN: I think they’re are significantly complex. And let me just run you through a few of those if I might. The first is that you know we have all the animal studies in the world, but at some point we're going to have to make do it first human being. And that is a big jump, right? So this question is about whether we'll have certainty as to the safety when we first roll this out. That was true of IVF as well. I think a different kind of concern has to do with the idea of creating huge numbers of embryos, right? So some people are very opposed to embryo destruction. If you’re talking about creating thousands or hundreds thousands of embryos to find one that you're actually going to implant what's going to happen to the rest of those embryos? And is it problematic to produce all these embryos and not use them? In fact, probably destroy them. Also some individuals are concerned about human enhancement. So currently you know we can engage in human enhancement in the sense of you can select a sperm donor or an egg donor based on a large catalog and curate these people to have the kind of traits you

Want: good health, good family history and the like. But this technology, especially if combined with gene editing technology sometimes referred to as “crisper technology” that is also is still in infancy really transforms things. So instead of retrieving 20 eggs and thinking about which of these to fertilize and fertilizing and all of them and choosing one of those 20 embryos, you're talking about the possibility of having 100,000 or 10,000 or 1,000,000 possible combinations of sperm and eggs that you could look to. And one way of thinking about this is art. I like art, so I think about things in that term sometimes. You know think about Michelangelo painting the Sistine Chapel, right? He makes a mistake or he tries to change something. That's a very laborious process. Compare that with a modern day Michelangelo basically trying to do the Sistine Chapel on Photoshop. That person can try thousands and thousands of various variations on the Sistine Chapel on the ones they find most beautiful. And that's what IVG might enable in terms of human enhancement. So it might be much more readily available to individuals than what’s currently available today. And the last thing I'll say is this question of unauthorized use. Typically today, when you engage in reproduction it's a purposeful act. You know with whom you're reproducing. But if I could follow you around and take dead skin you left in a bath tub in a hotel, for example. Or skin you left on a cup of water and use that to derive your sperm or egg. In theory I could make you a parent genetically speaking as a child without your consent. How should the law think about this? How should we think about inheritance from these people? Socially, how should we think about the relationship of these people to the children they produce? So these are just some of the very interesting ethical issues raised by IVG.

DM: And this has raised those so-called “Brad Pitt” scenario where people are worried about the unauthorized use of genetic materials. And I'm wondering how are we going to and can we start to consider a regulatory environment around that?

GLENN CHOEN: Yeah, I think I'm the one who may be responsible for introducing the Brad Pitt hypothetical. I used that in the paper about a decade ago. So Brad was maybe a little more popular actor then at the time, right? So there is this question about what we do? Now, you know there are some things the law could easily do. One thing is we could some countries like the U.K. actually license fertility clinics, right? So the idea here would be we could have a licensing regime whereby the fertility clinic would have to attest to make inquiries of some kind that we knew the source of the sperm and egg. And most of the fertility clinics in America would probably do that anyways. So we could have some kind of requirement to know the provenance of the sperm and egg. We could also make it a crime to take people's genetic material in an unauthorized way or to use it in a way they haven't consented to. So the Law is not powerless here to regulate these issues. The same is true about the issues of enhancement and embryo destruction. We could set limits on how many embryos you could make. We could set limits on what kinds of tests and scans you can do in your attempts to enhance a child. So there are certainly regulatory possibilities to deal with some of these concerns.

DM: I've got a clip I'd like to play for you, from Francoise Baylas. She holds the Canada Research Chair in Bioethics and Philosophy at Dalhousie University in Halifax. Have a listen to her.


FRANCOISE BAYLAS: I can certainly imagine people arguing that this is a wonderful thing. So one perspective is that this will increase reproductive choice. So for example, cancer survivors who don't have gametes would now be able to have children with whom they'll have a genetic link. Older women who have not you know frozen their eggs at an early age could have access to quote/unquote “younger eggs.” What I see is deeply problematic about this is all of those reproductive strategies are only beneficial if you believe that what's important about family making is a genetic link. And I think that's a fundamental mistake. We should not be valorizing genetic links without understanding that we are thereby undermining multiple other ways of creating families socially. And we should not be saying to those families that they're somehow second best because they don't have this biological link.

DM: Glenn Cohen, having listened to that how could technology shake up our definition of parenthood?

GLENN CDOHEN: On this I’ll say the way it shakes it up the most I think is to actually enable women in potentially to engage in reproductive technologies without some of the concerns for women's bodies that current technologies pose, right? So the idea here would be when it comes to reproductive technologies, it's women who really suffer the invasiveness and some of the medical risks involved with getting pregnant through IVF. And this really gives us the possibility of free women from those concerns. Now as Francoise was suggesting, some will see that as a bad thing because they think these technologies are bad in general because they emphasize genetic Parenthood. But I'll say for many of the women I know who have used the current technology to get pregnant and certainly based on the attitude of most people in our society. Rightly or wrongly they do value the genetic connection as many of us do and we think about the connection to our parents. So for me this is a way of giving women more options to do things potentially in a safer way for their bodies. And in that respect it's a positive thing.

DM: Why is there such a strong attachment to having a biological connection to our children?

GLENN COHEN: So it's interesting. You know there are some evolutionary theories as to why that's the case. That actually the fact that we have strong genetic connections to our children and actually rear our children for that reason and that helps promote evolutionary fitness and indeed there are studies of kinds of cuckoo birds and other kinds of animals that hide other children in the nest and the like, which is very interesting. But I think you know one thing that's interesting is that this is not necessarily a cultural constant. So this is fair game and always changing.

DM: Last question for you Glenn Cohn, overall do you think these ethical concerns that you've raised can they be overcome and should we go ahead with this?

GLENN COHEN: So we certainly should go ahead with the kind of research we're doing now. I think the moment when we do first the human to think about reproductive technologies. My perspective is that we're doing the right thing, which is having serious conversations now and thinking about what the problems are how we might deal with it? But I'm hopeful that when these technologies, if they become possible in human beings, that we put in place a regulatory regime that helps quell some of the concerns. And I think that's very doable.

DM: Thank you for joining us today.

GLENN COHEN: Thank you very much for having me, Duncan.

DM: Glenn Cohen is a professor of health law and bioethics at the Harvard Law School. He's one of the authors of a paper in the journal “Science Translational Medicine” which looked at the ethical challenges of IVG technology. He was in Tel Aviv, Israel.

DM: From IVF to gene editing and stem cell research. Science keeps expanding our idea of what's medically possible. And IVG certainly holds the promise of disrupting our expectations once more. Nevertheless, after hearing about a new technique to create human babies out of adult skin cells many of us will feel a visceral reaction and idea that that's just somehow wrong. Arthur Caplan is the head of medical ethics at the New York University School of Medicine. He's with us now from Ridgefield, Connecticut. Hello.

ARTHUR CAPLAN: Hey, how are you doing?

DM: I'm doing well. What is it that you call “the yuck factor” with technologies like IVG?

ARTHUR CAPLAN: Well, many years ago I saw people initially react to new technologies kind of with a queasy, doubting, almost feeling of disgust, a kind of moral intuition that something's bad and that's what I dubbed “the yuck factor”. And we've seen it a lot in medicine you know even as you had on some tapes earlier some discussions when the first test-tube baby was born a lot of people said making babies in dishes. Yuck. You know it's an initial reaction, but it's a powerful one when we have to take into account.

DM: What are some other examples of technologies that are that are pretty common now that seem to be kind of yucky in the past?

ARTHUR CAPLAN: Oh, putting a pig valve into someone to keep them alive. People said it's kind of crossing species. Not something we should be doing. Some people have that reaction even to GMO food, genetically engineered seeds that make foods that we eat. It’s not that they worry about safety it just seems if we're putting a salmon gene in a wheat seed to make it grow in colder climates it seems yucky to cross the boundaries. Believe it or not, even blood transfusion was once viewed as yucky because people thought kind of the soul of a person, the spirit of a person, dwelled in their blood and moving it back and forth wasn’t natural.

DM: So how does that affect the ethical discussion?

ARTHUR CAPLAN: Well, it's something you have to reckon with. I don't think the yuck factor is the end of the discussion. Just because somebody says that's yucky doesn't necessarily mean we shouldn't be doing it. And certainly again, the fertility field has been full of yucky reactions to things they do and now it's almost commonplace. No one worries today whether you're a test-tube baby or not. It's not really relevant any more than whether forceps were used in your delivery or anesthesia or an epidural. So you have to start where the yuck factor exists and then come up with arguments to say look, I know your reaction is that this might not seem natural or seems a little bit disgusting even or somehow violating natural boundaries. But let's make an argument and see whether that holds up.

DM: I'm wondering if our unease though points to kind of a deeper ethical problem. Do you see ethical objections to using IVG technology in human reproduction?

ARTHUR CAPLAN: You know I see some, but I don't see many. Unlike Professor Cohen, I'm not sure this will ever turn out to be a common way to make people. You were talking with him a little bit about making super babies or better babies. We actually have another technique: genetic engineering that I think we could use in our own embryos someday if we choose to try and get traits in kids that we want by changing genes or tweaking them. We don't have to make thousands of embryos and pick the winners so to speak. I don't think it's going to be used for that. But I do think we could make sperm or egg cells and get the genetic connection to an offspring. Some people may find that attractive who couldn't have their own sperm or eggs because they got say chemotherapy due to cancer treatment or they were born infertile for some reason. I think the overall goal of having a kid is good. So I suspect that while there may be a kind of a yucky reaction initially, I think we'll see the technology used and accepted kind of like we have In Vitro Fertilization.

DM: What promise do you see in this technology?

ARTHUR CAPLAN: Well, I think it will help a few people who otherwise would remain sterile or infertile to have their own biological offspring. I'm not against people having a genetic connection to their offspring. It may be cultural. It may be something that we sort of believe we ought to do rather than adopt someone because of views about religious ideas about the family or cultural ideas about the family. But some people are going to use them and I think that's as good a reason as any to want to have a child in that way. The big issue will be cost. Look, if you're going to use these techniques to try and make sperm and egg cells through complicated biological prophecies to manipulate your skin or whatever. You're going to still have to use In Vitro Fertilization. Today, that's not cheap. I'm not sure it'll be cheap tomorrow. So I do worry that the technique might only be available to those who are better off.

DM: You raise some of the cultural issues around family and reproductive technology. How flexible do you think is our definition of parenthood and family?

ARTHUR CAPLAN: Well, I think it's pretty flexible. So you know people say oh my goodness, you're going to you're going to have to gay people make sperm and eggs and they could become parents and they're the same sex. But we already have that. Gay people adopt children and seem to do very well in terms of raising families. We have surrogate mothers, third parties that get involved right now in the creation of babies for infertile couples. Sometimes there's an egg or a sperm donor who's anonymous. So we've made the notion of family more flexible, adjusted to it and live with it. I think that's likely to continue.

DM: What about the questions of safety? How close are we to knowing that this will produce healthy human babies?

ARTUR CAPLAN: Well, I hate to dump them in our segment, but not close. Look, it's been done in mice in Japan in Spain I believe. They've transformed some of these cells back into a sperm or an egg state. But you don't know if the mice themselves are healthy. They don't necessarily know that their lifespan is appropriate. Certainly we don't know much about their mental state as to whether they developed properly. So you don't need to think that this technology is going to be showing up in your town until you've heard that it has worked in rabbits, in dogs, in other species and that we've studied them for a few years to make sure the offspring are healthy. So I'm going to say we're a good 10 years out.

DM: Do you think it will be possible?

ARTHUR CAPLAN: I do think it's going to work. I do think it's good to talk about it now so we can get the ethical infrastructure set to handle what this technology promises. But I think there'll be demand and I do think we'll see it.

DM: Thank you very much for joining us today.

ARTUR CAPLAN: My pleasure.

DM: Arthur Caplan is the head of medical ethics at the New York University School of Medicine. He was in Ridgefield, Connecticut. I’m Duncan McCue, you're listening to the Friday edition of The Current. We have a moment now to get to some of your feedback to a story we aired earlier this week. As Canada's population ages, hospital beds are in shorter and shorter supply. But imagine being told that you or your parent had to give up a bed and be discharged even if you have no place to go. Imagine being told by the hospital with the police present that you'll be dropped off at a homeless shelter. That's what Tom Spanidis experienced while trying to seek care for his father, who was suffering from multiple ailments including a cracked spine.


TOM SPANIDIS: When I came back at seven o'clock with my wife to see how he was if they had this charged them into a homeless shelter he was still there. I said how are you doing? He says well they took me over to the nursing station. They put me on the phone with a Greek interpreter because he doesn't speak English. And that the Greek interpreter told him that he'll be going to a homeless shelter where there's no nursing care.

AMT: Where is he right now?

TOM SPANIDIS: He’s in the transitional care unit of the hospital.

AMT: What would make it better for you and for him?

TOM SPANIDIS: a nursing home or if he gets treated enough that he could come home and be stable enough and make me confident enough that I can leave him alone.

DM: That was Tom Spanidis speaking with Anna Maria Tremonti earlier this week about his father's care. After that segment, we heard from many of you. On Facebook Melissa Kauffman wrote: This is tragic and I feel for the patient, but it's quite simple really. We need more long term care units and beds in hospitals. Many of which have been closed in recent years and we need more community support and long term care bed availability. Christine Didur or added this: As a society, we need to come up with options to support the elderly in the best ways we can. We need strategies, space and time. Sadie Frater in Kingston, Ontario writes: I am shocked and disgusted that the hospital threatened and called the police on an obviously very ill senior citizen. There has to be a better way for people in authority to deal with the very sick and vulnerable people in our society. Everyone knows that seeing a police officer in uniform triggers great fears in a person who's already stressed by their sickness. It's time to fix this broken health care system that's obviously neglecting senior citizens. Simon Lazarchuck in Riondel, B.C shared this observation: I've worked in long term care for 30-plus years and also facilitated a family caregiver support group. Although we've made positive strides in our neck of the woods to provide adequate and appropriate care for our aging population. There are still many gaps inconsistencies. Family caregivers are burning out. Home care is underfunded and unreliable. And there are just not enough respite beds available. Dianne Burchet of Hamilton, Ontario shared her own situation with us writing: We've taken care of our mom at home since 2008. First getting a diagnosis of dementia took until 2012. Then, we waited two years for LTC after a stint of four months in long term care in one of the best homes in our city. We took our mom home. Unfortunately LTC as it exists does not meet the needs of many of our elderly as we witnessed firsthand. Believe me the future is bleak if we reach this stage. Thanks all for your feedback. You can be in touch about anything you hear on the show just head to our website: and click on the “contact” link to get in touch.

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DM: Coming up in our next half hour:


[Sound: A dog barks loudly]

DM: Some people's dogged determination to keep dying breeds alive and barking. Im Duncan McCue and you're listening to the Friday edition of The Current

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How a push to revive an ancient dog helps Mongolian farmers

Guess: Bruce Elfstrom, Richard Meen

DM: I'm Duncan McCue and you're listening to the Friday edition of The Current. Coming up, we'll hear why some people are so committed to saving and reviving indigenous dog breeds around the world. But first, we have an update on a story we brought you back in February about an asylum seeker who nearly died crossing the border into Manitoba on Christmas Eve. Back in 2015, 24-year-old Seidu Mohammed applied for asylum in the United States fearing he'd be tortured or killed in his home country of Ghana because of his sexual orientation. When his asylum claim was rejected, he feared deportation. So he and another Ghanaian Razak Lyal walked from North Dakota into Canada. Both suffered severe frostbite in the process and had to have their fingers amputated.


SEIDU MOHAMMED: We were feeling cold, very cold. The gloves we were wearing was not enough for us. Our hands were frozen and we couldn’t feel anything. The wind was blowing and my eyes were frozen and I couldn’t see anything.

LAURA LYNCH: Seidu, did you think you were going to die?

SEIDU MOHAMMED: Yeah. We thought we were going to die because of the wind. We knew we were not going to make it. You know that we are not going to make it because it was very, very cold. And we dropped our bags and we wanted to give out because we knew that everything that's happening here is between God and us. So we give everything to God.

LAURA LYNCH: Seidu, given everything that you have been through from your trip all the way up through South America into the United States and then losing your fingers when you came into Canada. Was it worth it?

SEIDU MOHAMMED: I would say it's worth it because we're very afraid to go back to our country. And I'm going to lose my life there. So I don't want to go back. So I would say that it's worth it because even though we haven’t prayed for it, this is what has happened. So it's worth it to lose my fingers and be in Canada rather than go back to my country to be murdered.

DM: That was Seidu Mohamed speaking with guest host Laura Lynch on The Current in February. This week, Seidu learned that his claim to stay in Canada has been accepted. The Refugee Board acknowledged that he was a person in need of protection. Here's what you had to say when he when contacted by CBC Manitoba.


SEIDU MOHAMMED: I'm scared to go back to my country right now because I’m going to be tortured or killed. So I'm so happy. It was very emotional and now, I'm home. And it's worth it for me to be here because this is a good country, yeah.

DM: Seidu Mohammed plans to stay and live in Winnipeg. Razack Lyal’s refugee hearing is next month.

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DM: You're listening to the Friday edition of The Current on CBC Radio One and Sirius XM. I'm Duncan McCue.


[Sound: A dog breathes heavily]

FEMALE VOICE: This is Boris, He is a Polish Sheepdog. He is four-years-old and he's going for a walk on the beach.

DM: He sounds so happy. Marina Haufschild and her dog Boris, heading to the beach on a sunny Toronto morning. For them, it's an ordinary day. But Boris is no ordinary dog, at least not to his owner.


FEMALE VOICE: Ready? One more. My name is Marina and I live with Boris. He is very good swimmer. He loves swimming and he loves carrying things like sticks, or balls, or anything. If I talk to you for a while and I don't throw the ball then he gets impatient. He is quite unusual because there are not many. I don’t even know how many there are in Toronto? We found him in Quebec. I mean this breed almost went instinct after the war. He comes originally from Poland in Europe. And most of those dogs like together with people were exterminated during the war. So the breed was reconstructed after the war. And my husband's uncle was one of the people who did that. And then my husband's cousin was the head of the German Club of Polish Lowlands Sheepdogs for a while. I don't think he does it anymore, but he was very dedicated to bringing the breed back to life. And now, there are many all over Europe. He wants me to throw the ball now. But still not very many in America and Canbada. Every Polish person I’ve met on that street knows what breed he is and they are so happy to see him. They are very, very lovely dogs. Perfect for the city actually because they’re calm and collected and very easy to train. Stubborn though. Very stubborn.

DM: Marina Haufschild and stubborn Boris, enjoying the water yesterday in Toronto. You can check out pictures of Boris at Well, the resurgence of Boris's breed is part of a larger international story. Around the world there are efforts being made to revive certain breeds of dogs that are native to specific lands. My next guest says bringing them back has the potential to change human lives and even help local ecosystems in the process. Bruce Elfstrom is the founder and director of the Mongolian Bankhar Dog Project. He's in Hartford, Connecticut. Hello.

BRUCE ELFSTROM: Hello, good morning.

DM: What is a Bankhar dog?

BRUCE ELFSTROM: A Bankhar dog is a livestock guardian dog that is indigenous to Mongolia. It's one of many types of livestock guardian dogs that range from Portugal all the way through Asia. Basically the dogs that used to be on the Asian steps and along the trade routes there were dogs that had evolved with people to take care of their possessions, especially their livestock.

DM: How healthy was the population when you first found out about them?

BRUCE ELFSTROM: I found out about them when I was hired to do an IMAX film in the early 2000s, and the population was pretty low. I could see in some villages large dogs that were cleared to me to be livestock guardian dogs. But they were rare and there were many, many other mixed dogs in and around what I would call modern breeds. Many more of those and during that period when I was there, it became clear that the dog basically on a functional level was gone to the Mongolian nomadic herder.

DM: How rare were they?

BRUCE ELFSTROM: Well, we have no numbers, but you know basically every dog that a Mongolian used to have say 30 to 70 years ago was a Bankhar. There were no other dogs until the Soviet era, when some modern dogs came in such as German Shepherds and things of that sort. And of course, more recently, many more modern breeds have come in as they become fashionable.

DM: So what gave you the idea to start re-introducing Bankhar dogs?

BRUCE ELFSTROM: Well as a biologist, I was familiar with the use of livestock guardian dogs to protect livestock herds from wolves, bears and big cats etc. when I was over there doing this IMAX film, one evening we were in a valley with four or five different extended family communities there. They were spread in this valley and in the evening, we heard wolves come in and a lot of commotion throughout the evening for you know five-six hours. In the morning, we found out they had lost 17 horses in that one evening. I reflected on it and I asked the local herders you know what do you do? And their response is now they're just going to form a hunting party and they go out and they kill all the wolves they can find. They pour gasoline in the dens and light them on fire. And I actually asked them why they don't have dogs to protect them? Because again, I was familiar with these livestock guardian dog types and they basically said that the dog had disappeared they don't have any. You know a few of them said Well, my uncle you know in the west has one etc. So it was clear that they knew of the dog and their grandfathers had the dog, but the dog was basically gone. Their explanation and the explanation I came to realize later is that during the Soviet occupation, when nomads were moved into community farming the dog really didn't fit that plan. It's not a really easy dog to handle. It has evolved with people. It's not selectively bred necessarily to do what it does. It just does what it does because that's the way it's been for thousands, maybe tens of thousands of years. So the dog was basically shot by soldiers you know or let go to survive on its own.

DM: If the Mongolian nomadic herding families are facing problems of say wolves killing their livestock then how can the reintroduction of the Bankhar dogs help those hurdling families?

BRUCE ELFSTROM: Right. So the snow leopard and the wolf and the bear are the main apex predators of the livestock in Mongolia. Mongolia nomads rely 100 per cent on livestock and currently on the cashmere trade. By not having the dog, what happens is they have to by necessity go out and do what's called a retribution killing. When one of their livestock or group of the livestock is taken, they go out and they find a predator and they kill them. This includes snow leopards, as we all know there's not many of those. And the wolves are on the decrease as well. The dog's job is basically to carry out mostly what's called territorial exclusion. When the dog is raised with sheep from the beginning and this type of dog has very low prey drive. In other words, it doesn't chase sheep or wildlife or anything like that. It's evolved not to have that and/or you could say selected not to have that. This dog basically excludes all other predators from the area and it's a big, formidable dog. These are you know are 110-130 pound dogs and you know 30-32 inches at the shoulder. But they basically bark in the area and they urinate and mark their territory around the area. And the area as the herd or the flock moves, that is really their radius of territory. So it's a nomadic type of existence just like the nomadic lifestyle of the people. That is 99 per cent of what this dog does is basically makes it too dangerous for an apex predator to come in and risk getting hurt by something that is as large, or maybe even larger, than itself.

DM: So if the families don't need to now go out and kill the bearer of a snow leopard or the wolves. How is that affecting the ecosystem?

BRUCE ELFSTROM: Right. So if you can imagine now this apex predator now needs to turn to something that it's a little more difficult to hunt. The sheep and goats are quite easy for the pickings. Well, if they can't get those they're going to have to go back to their native prey, whatever that that might be: antelope or deer. Those herds of native prey have also developed over short periods of time a different way of behaving. Basically a little bit of a laxness to how they heard themselves. They spread out more, they move around more gently in an area and they graze in a different manner. When predator pressure comes on to a herd of prey, they start to graze heavier in a smaller area and move more frequently. The grasslands have evolved with that kind of behavior. You take the apex predator out of that and the grasslands are now consumed by the other creatures in different manner. And it changes how it that basically leads to overgrazing on some level.

DM: How risky is it to re-introduce a dog and that kind of way?

BRUCE ELFSTROM: Risk in terms of what?

DM: Well, I mean what could have gone wrong?

BRUCE ELFSTROM: Oh well, the main thing we have to be aware of is when we have these dogs, which we really don't consider breed, we would call it a land-race. This dog is very similar to the dogs that are in Kazakhstan or in Tibet and the gene flow continues between them. So we want to first off, make sure that the dogs we chose have a high genetic diversity. So we did DNA studies to ensure that they had high genetic diversity and they also had no modern dog genes in them. Once we had found this founder group of dogs, we have to now breed them very carefully so they don't interbreed. So we can increase or at least continue to have that genetic diversity. These dogs are now housed in a very, very large enclosure. Each one is about 100 metres by 25 meters and they're housed with sheep from day one. When they're born, they are born next to sheep and they live with sheep so they bond to them. It's a very important window of six to 13-14 weeks, where they bond to whatever it is they're going to protect. And you can bond them to just about anything. That's the most critical window. Without that, you may create a dog that is basically just a stray dog, which that area doesn't need. Because stray dogs are as or more so intent on killing livestock than wolves or snow leopards and they're certainly more numerous. Our main concern was making sure that we raised these dogs properly. The herders we work with follow a very tight protocol and that we don't allow them to go out there and just breed. We don’t allow them to be unaltered when they go out there unless the herder is a breeder working with us.

DM: When you're reviving ancient dogs how do you prevent the genetic problems like the respiratory issues that we've seen in pugs?

BRUCE ELFSTROM: OK, so the trick is and we are fortunate enough is that you have to start with a gene pool that's large enough and you have to start with an animal that hasn't already been bottlenecked or truncated in their genetic information. When you have pugs and bulldogs and things like that gone through a series of humans deciding what that animal should look like. When a human decides what something should look like there are many, many traits that are lost in the process to get to that final goal. Our dogs are not chosen to be looking like anything. And really they're not chosen to be a size or a color or anything like that. They are chosen to work well and live long, so it is a co-evolution with the people and the environment that has created this dog. This dog is big because a big organism keeps the temperature longer in cold weather, Mongolia's incredibly cold, it has long hair to protect itself. It has a certain physique that is very fast for running and chasing down wolves etc. They have a low metabolism so they don't eat much. All of that you can't really create by selective modern forms of breeding. This took tens of thousands of years to create. So the answer is start with something that has a high genetic diversity and the Bankhar actually turns out through a study we helped with at Cornell University to have one of the highest genetic diversities in the world. In other words, the higher the genetic diversity of the dog the more likely that dog came from the original group of dogs that was a domesticated organism. As you get farther away from that focus, which seems to be Central Asia, the genetic diversity decreases because it's farther away from the source.

DM: Thanks for telling us about the Bankhar dog.

BRUCE ELFSTROM: No problem. Thank you very much. DM: Bruce ELFSTROM: Is the founder and director of the Mongolian Bankhar Dog Project. He was in Hartford, Connecticut.

DM: There are Canadian dog breeds that are in danger too. And my next guest is as immersed as one can get in the Canadian canine scene. Dr. Richard Meen is the former President and Chairman of the Board of the Canadian Kennel Club. He's one of three Canadians to serve as a judge for the best in show at the Westminster Dog Show in New York City. He's the only Canadian breeder for the Skye Terrier from Scotland and he's with me in our Toronto studio. Hello.

RICHARD MEEN: Good morning.

DM: Which dog breeds are indigenous to Canada?

RICHARD MEEN: Well, there's the Labrador retriever from Labrador and a Newfoundland and the Nova Scotia Duck Trolling Retriever and the Eskimo dog and a dog that's now unfortunately extinct the Tahltan Bear dog.

DM: I know what a Newfoundland looks like. I know what a Labrador retriever looks like, they're pretty popular. What about a Nova Scotia duck trolling dog look like?

RICHARD MEEN: It's a medium sized dog that's red with a fairly lengthy coat with a tail wags in the air to toll the ducks in and has great personality and bounces around and is a great companion.

DM: So you mentioned some of these distinctly Canadian breeds. How healthy are the populations of those?

RICHARD MEEN: Well they're pretty healthy because breeders have been responsible to maintain what the dog was bred to do. And so depending on what they were bred to do you need to maintain those qualities. The Eskimo dog was one that almost became extinct and the Canadian Kennel Club supported there was just one kennel happening. And supported the preservation of that breed and so over the last few decades people have been becoming involved and are preserving that breed.

DM: And apologies to my Inuit brothers and sisters, Eskimo dog is kind of the preferred term or the technical term.

RICHARD MEEN: Well no, there’s a struggle with it because at this day and age, what is the appropriate language? And so is call the Canadian Eskimo dog officially, but the breeders and the fanciers are asking for the name to be changed to the Inuit Quimmiq dog. And I'm not very good at speaking Inuit, so I may have pronounced it incorrect

DM: King-mik I think.


DM: You played a role in helping revive Quimmiq, or the Eskimo dog.

RICHARD MEEN: Way back several decades ago when I was on the board of the Canadian Kennel Club, we provided some funding to a kennel to enhance the breeding.

DM: What did it mean to you to try to bring it back up to a healthy population?

RICHARD MEEN: Well, I'm passionate about the role of dogs in our lives. I mean Konrad Lorenz pointed out to us that it was dogs that traveled beside us to get out of the caves. You know just as your previous speaker was talking about the role of dogs, our lives are better because of dogs. But for me, they are the living only living history of our journey on earth. And so we need to preserve them to represent what we have gone through and how they have helped us. And dogs are more flexible than we are

DM: You mentioned you mentioned the Tahltan Bear dog. I have a lot of Tahltan friends who tell stories about how the Tahltan Bear dog protected them from the bears. What's the story with that? Where is that population?

RICHARD MEEN: Well, to my knowledge there are no Tahltan Bear dog around anymore. I did a little bit of homework when I knew I was coming here today and I think they became extinct in the 1960s and 1970s. And then the question would be could they be revived now with selective breeding? I do believe that people are honest in the purebred dog world there are a couple of breeds and I won't name them but they did go extinct and they brought them back. So the question is can the Tahltan Bear dog be recreated as it was?

DM: Is there a theory about how these local heritage breeds came to Canada?

RICHARD MEEN: Well, my understanding is you know that human beings came to Canada because they walked here. They walked here first and didn't come by boat. And according to the experts, there were always dogs with them. And so dogs came with human beings as they trotted across the north and came south. And then they evolved according to what the needs were of the human beings that were trying to live on this earth.

DM: And there are lots of theories about how human beings ended up here in Canada. But let me ask you this. I mean heritage species are not the most popular dogs in Canada right now. What are the most popular dogs?

RICHARD MEEN: I think right now there's what the poodle crossed with a Labrador or with a golden retriever or with a big poodle cross because life has changed. I get into lots of trouble because I believe that dogs can evolve as we have need for them. So there is a need for new breeds. You don't need an Irish wolfhound on the 50th floor of a condo in downtown Toronto. But what do you need in order to be able to support your kids and your family?

DM: So why try to preserve these very distinct breeds?

RICHARD MEEN: Because they are the living history of our life. They are a living history of our journey across the world.

DM: How has our relationship changed? I mean you talk about not meeting the wolfhound anymore?

RICHARD MEEN: Well, we don't need the wolfhound, but when you look at the wolfhound you remember where we came from and what that was all about. I breed a couple of breeds that are not common, but they tell me the history and they preserve that history.

DM: Do you have a personal favorite type of dog?

RICHARD MEEN: Well, I breed two dogs: I breed Russian wolfhounds and I breed Skye Terriers and probably the Sky Terrier is the one that I'm closest to because they're loyal and they are very nice to be with. And they have a great history. We argue whether they are the original terrier or not.

DM: And then of course, we talk I mean one of most common dog is mutts and crossbreeds. I mean don't they make some of the best pets?

RICHARD MEEN: Well, it depends on what you want. And that's absolutely the point. That's where people are struggling today. So what is a mutt? And what do you need? And how do you make that mutt more reliable and consistent? Some of the health issues that the gentleman he was talking about the Mongolian dog they're important issues. And so you need to do responsible breeding rather than just hit and miss. And I think that that's a key factor.

DM: When you hear about some of the projects to revive Indigenous breeds around the world. And then we talked about the Bankhar dog. What goes through your mind?

RICHARD MEEN: I'm thrilled. I'm absolutely thrilled because I think that's reminding us of where we came from, what we're all about and our history. And so on the street, if I see a purebred dog go by, it tells me of the journey of the ten thousands of years that that breed has evolved.

DM: OK, well thank you so much for joining us.

RICHARD MEEN: Thank you so much for asking.

DM: OK. Take care. Dr. Richard Meen is the best in show judge at the Westminster Dog Show. He's in our Toronto studio. And that is our program for today. Stay tuned to Radio One for “q”. Paula Hawkins is the bestselling author of “The Girl on the Train”. Now, she's out with another suspense novel called “Into the Water”. She speaks with guest host Ali Hassan. And remember, you can always take The Current with you to go on the CBC Radio app. It lets you browse through past episodes of our show and start listening. In just a few seconds, you can search for stories you missed or you want to hear again or listen live to your local CBC station right from your smartphone or tablet. It's free from the App Store or Google Play. And finally today, after hearing from dog lovers and the lengths some take to preserve rare breeds Let's finish with a musical ode to man's best friend. Somewhat ironically it's the very first single released by Cat Stevens. The song is called “I love my dog”. I’m Duncan McCue, thanks for listening to the Friday edition of The Current.

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