In January 2015, I headed to the West Coast on a research trip for a book I was writing about the right to die. My lengthy interview list included John Hofsess, a journalist turned activist. He had been a key player back in the early 1990s, helping Sue Rodriguez challenge the Criminal Code’s blanket prohibition against assisting a suicide, all the way to the Supreme Court of Canada. They had a public falling-out before her death in 1994, and he had been mostly under the radar since then, eventually moving to subsidized housing in Victoria. There was another right-to-die case from British Columbia before Canada’s highest court in 2015, and I wanted to connect the dots between the two challenges.
The Toronto friend who supplied an email address for Hofsess was unsure that he was even alive because for years he had claimed to be dying. The address worked, but Hofsess declined my interview request, pleading ill health, and suggested I look up Eike-Henner Kluge, an ethicist at the University of Victoria. “There would never have been a Rodriguez challenge without him,” Hofsess wrote in italics, a stylistic device he would use often in an email correspondence that came to more than 200 exchanges over the next thirteen months. “Period.”
Hofsess was a flirtatious correspondent, a maestro of bait and switch. Having rebuffed my first interview request, he agreed to a second one, then postponed, and finally cancelled on the eve of my departure, suggesting, falsely, that he had just been diagnosed with terminal pulmonary fibrosis.
Three months later he wrote to me with a lament about our aborted interview, despairing that he might not live long enough to read my book and asking about its title and publication date. And so began an almost daily correspondence, with me asking for information about the early days of the right-to-die movement and, increasingly, with him asking me to be a sounding board for his amateurish writings. Sometimes, I was grateful for his leads and his revelations; at other times, I was repulsed by his betrayals. He had no compunction about forwarding private correspondence or denouncing colleagues to a working journalist.
As I dug deeper into my topic, I amassed plenty of warnings about Hofsess: his perfidy, his narcissism, his incessant begging for funds. I should have known my turn would come, and it did — with a gut-wrenching treachery. He was the weirdest man I never met, and, believe me, I have encountered a few oddballs in my long career. Perhaps that is why I am finally telling this tale: to try to make sense of him, so I can put him and his wiles to rest. Call it a downsizing project: I want him out of my memory bank.
John Hofsess framed his own story as that of an only child, born in Hamilton in 1938 to a loving mother and an abusive, frequently absent father. Forced to work to support his parents, he finally managed to attend McMaster University as a mature student in 1963, when he was in his mid-twenties. That’s where he embarked on a short and controversial stint as a filmmaker with Ivan Reitman, a fellow student who would later become a prominent director. They co-founded the McMaster Film Board, at first screening Andy Warhol’s Velvet Underground films and other avantgarde work and later making a couple of their own: Palace of Pleasure, from 1967, which the critic Jason Anderson described as “a trippy time capsule of Canada’s nascent ’60s film underground,” and The Columbus of Sex, from 1969, which so inflamed prudish sensibilities that it was seized at its premiere by the city’s vice squad. Both Hofsess and Reitman were charged with obscenity, and although the charges were dismissed, the movie was destroyed.
From making films, Hofsess moved on to writing about them as a critic, mainly for Maclean’s. There’s a photograph of him from the early 1970s, looking dandyish in a tweed jacket, a turtleneck sweater, and a trilby hat covering his balding pate — more like a small‑town undertaker than the crusading activist he would later become. Maclean’s is where I probably read his reviews of films by, among others, Claude Jutra, the auteur of Mon oncle Antoine and Kamouraska. The critic and the director became friends, and, as Hofsess later explained in an essay for Homemakers magazine, Jutra, who was suffering from early-onset Alzheimer’s, repeatedly asked for help to die. Hofsess, who was even then researching assisted suicide, was unable to put his beliefs into action.
In late 1986, Jutra jumped off the Jacques Cartier Bridge, after tucking a piece of paper into his belt on which he had written, “Je m’appelle Claude Jutra.” His body washed up on the banks of the St. Lawrence at Cap‑Santé, Quebec, some five months later. Hofsess claimed he was “haunted” by Jutra’s suicide. “His last moments must have been absolutely terrible, and I realized that I certainly could have saved him from that kind of death, had I been willing to do something,” he later told Jerry Thompson, in an interview for CBC Prime Time News.
Hofsess once accused me of a similar cowardice, when he sent me the draft of an essay he’d written in response to my long feature in the Globe and Mail in 2014 about Kim Teske, an Ontario woman with Huntington’s disease. Having watched her older brother, who had also inherited the devastating neurodegenerative condition, lose the ability to walk, feed himself, or talk coherently, Teske had chosen to forgo food and drink until she died. Instead of gawking, I should have intervened and ended her life, Hofsess insisted, even though Teske had asked me to write her story, not kill her. That isn’t the role of a journalist, I countered in our email exchange. Our role is to ask questions, listen, and double‑source. Hofsess eventually excised the accusation from his essay, but I understood that, unless challenged, he didn’t play by the normal rules. The story, no matter the characters or the plot, was always about what he wanted, even if it distorted the facts.
He had moved to Victoria in 1989 to take care of his aged mother. She died two years later, about the same time that Hofsess founded the Right to Die Society, financed, at least partially, with a grant he received from the Canada Council. The money was meant not to launch a start-up but to support the writing of a book, tentatively called “Requiem: Death and Dying in Canada.” Hofsess continued to work on the manuscript for the next twenty-five years.
It was in Victoria in 1992 that Hofsess met Sue Rodriguez, a woman in her early forties who had recently been diagnosed with amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, the devastating and progressive neurodegenerative disease that had felled the baseball legend Lou Gehrig in 1941. They quickly formed a pact that he would help her die if she allowed him to publicize her case, an arrangement that her estranged husband, Henry Rodriguez, observed “with some amazement,” according to Lisa Hobbs Birnie in her book Uncommon Will: The Death and Life of Sue Rodriguez. Hofsess was “offering to kill my wife, even drawing up a contract to do it — and he’d only just met her,” he told Birnie, expressing something like the slow-motion shock of watching a car crash about to occur, a reaction that I would also experience as I got to know Hofsess and his antics.
Svengali-like in his overarching influence, Hofsess had listened to Rodriguez’s frustration when nobody else took her seriously; connected her with Svend Robinson, the New Democrat politician who became her spokesperson and soulmate; and found a lawyer, Christopher Considine, to represent her in court challenges. Considine was sympathetic to Rodriguez’s declining health because he had seen his own grandmother die of ALS.
Hofsess, who had honed his marketing skills in the 1980s during a stint working for Dave Nichol, the showman behind the Loblaws President’s Choice brand, transformed Rodriguez into a household name with her megawatt smile and her determination to end her life before the disease robbed her of speech, breath, and dignity. Hofsess wrote the dialogue in her famous video message: “If I cannot give consent to my own death, whose body is this? Who owns my life?” But he also exploited her as a demonstration project for himself and his campaign to legalize assisted dying, not just for people who were grievously suffering but for those who were simply tired of living. When things got tough, as two levels of the court system ruled against Rodriguez’s challenge, he publicly betrayed her — twice.
The first time, after she lost at the B.C. Supreme Court in December 1992, he forged her initials on an opinion piece, which he circulated to the media. Just as a hearing for Rodriguez’s appeal was coming up, the faked article attacked the Victoria chapter of the ALS Society for not publicly supporting her case. A reporter for the Vancouver Sun picked up the press release, which is how Rodriguez was shocked to read the following in her daily newspaper: “Lately, I have come to realize that my illness is not the worst part of the ordeal I face.” The worst was “condemnation from the very society which is supposed to help people like myself. The ALS Society has done nothing but compound my misery.”
After Rodriguez denied any knowledge of the piece written in her name, Hofsess owned up, telling the Sun that she had “reached a point in her disease where she cannot feed herself. It should come as no surprise to anyone that she does not write her own letters.” Rodriguez angrily shot back, “I am sick but I can still talk. No one talks for me but me.”
Not only were Hofsess’s comments false, they undermined Rodriguez’s legal position that she was competent to make her own life and death decisions, a key point because the opposing side at the B.C. Court of Appeal was arguing in favour of the “sanctity of life,” no matter how intolerable it was for a suffering patient, and insisting that if assisted death were legalized, the vulnerable, such as Rodriguez, could be manipulated. Twenty years later, when I questioned Hofsess about his deceitfulness, he brushed it off as a “she said, he said” spat. “I erred in sending out a commentary in Sue’s voice that she had not seen in advance,” he explained in an email. “She erred in discussing the matter with journalists before contacting me.”
Hofsess and Rodriguez patched up their relationship. After Rodriguez lost her appeal, in a split decision handed down on March 8, 1993, it looked as though she might not be able to have an assisted death. But a week later Hofsess held a press conference to announce that two doctors would help her die, while a group of people, including himself and Svend Robinson, would attend. All would go public at the time, he told reporters. “The more people present, the stronger the message that is sent to the government.” Once again, Rodriguez was blindsided.
Appalled that Hofsess was intending to turn her death into a public spectacle, she and Robinson drafted a statement, which he released from his constituency office in Vancouver, denouncing Hofsess’s actions. “I am seeking the right to die with dignity at the time of my choosing and certainly not in the public eye,” Rodriguez said, before declaring that she and Robinson were severing all ties with the Right to Die Society and henceforth Robinson would be her spokesperson and her fundraiser.
I was still in Victoria, trying to interview Hofsess, and talking with many others, including the constitutional lawyer Joe Arvay, when the Supreme Court of Canada handed down a landmark ruling in February 2015. In an eloquent and unanimous decision, the court granted grievously suffering patients the right, under certain specific conditions, to ask clinicians for help in ending lives that had become intolerable. The court gave the government a year to introduce and pass legislation reflecting the new reality. Otherwise, the decision would stand, as had happened with the 1988 abortion challenge, another Charter case that upheld an individual’s right to make life-altering decisions.
The ruling should be good news for Hofsess, I thought, even as I wondered why he didn’t want to talk about how assisted dying had been legalized, the goal to which he had devoted himself for more than two decades. He really did seem preoccupied by the past. I found out why when I received an email from him in early summer 2015, asking me to call.
By then, I was well into writing my manuscript; planning a research trip to Holland, Belgium, and Switzerland, countries that had lengthy assisted-death histories; and scrambling to keep on top of the evolving story in Canada. When I reached him, he told me that he had written an article for The Walrus, which he would let me read and reference if I agreed not to reveal the contents until after the piece was published later that year, several months before my book was to be released.
What’s it about? I asked. I was stunned by his response. I knew that Hofsess had a publishing deal for an ebook version of the manuscript he had been working on since the early 1990s. But I had no idea that he had run an underground death service in British Columbia, that he and a colleague, Evelyn Martens, had helped eight people die, and that one of them was Al Purdy, one of our best poets and a friend of mine. I wanted to read what Hofsess had written, so I agreed to an embargo — a common journalistic arrangement with time-sensitive material. He sent me the file along with its password, which included the word “voodoo.”
Hofsess had taken a draft of the article to John Macfarlane — then the editor of The Walrus and now the chair of this magazine’s board of directors — because Macfarlane was the one who had hired him at Maclean’s all those years before. Realizing the significance of the story, Macfarlane assigned a trusted editor to work with Hofsess. The result was a dramatic and eloquent narrative about Purdy’s metastasized lung cancer, his wish to avoid a protracted death, his wife’s unhappiness about his choice, and a step-by-step account of how Purdy died at home on the evening of April 20, 2000, with the help of Hofsess and Martens. It was a great piece of writing that revealed a fifteen-year-old secret — one that was sure to make headlines in the tiny world of Canadian letters. I read it with a mixture of awe and amazement. It was far superior to anything Hofsess had previously sent me.
Having enticed me with his narrative treasure, Hofsess proposed a deal. He had convinced himself that he would be charged with murder as soon as his essay appeared, although that was highly unlikely given the Supreme Court’s ruling — as several people, including me, pointed out to him. Joe Arvay had even promised to defend him at trial, if it came to that, or so Hofsess told me. Nobody, including Robinson, had been charged in Rodriguez’s death in 1994. Besides, there were Purdy’s letters to Hofsess, as head of the Right to Die Society, in which the poet described his terminal condition and articulated his wishes. Revealing his role in Purdy’s death was an opportunity to defend his actions and publicize his cause — which he had insisted was the point when he pushed the idea of Rodriguez dying on camera in the 1990s.
Instead, Hofsess planned to go to Switzerland to end his own life just before publication. Would I like to go with him, witness his death, and write about it for the Globe and Mail, he asked. Hold on, I thought, trying to unpack the ramifications of his request. Why was he pursuing the Purdy piece if it meant he would have to kill himself to avoid prosecution? And what, if anything, did the article have to do with Hofsess’s plans? For months, he had been telling me about his declining health. I had no reason to disbelieve him, at least not yet.
Coincidentally, I had already been in correspondence with Erika Preisig, the Swiss doctor Hofsess claimed was going to give him an assisted death at her Eternal Spirit Foundation near Basel. I had arranged to interview her on my research trip in September. Hofsess wanted me to make a second trip in November, but first he needed the Globe to agree to his proposed conditions, which meant buying into his marketing campaign. Hofsess’s plan was for my reported article to appear on the front page with a link to a lengthy opinion piece written by him, glorifying his career as a right-to-die activist.
Are you on drugs, I wondered, listening to this zany plot and remembering his aborted scheme to turn Rodriguez’s death into a circus. It was the same plan but using himself as the centrepiece, with my reportage as a posthumous platform for his self-eulogizing. Observing his death was within the ethical bounds of journalism, in the same way that I had reported on Kim Teske’s decision to die slowly by refusing food and drink. If the Globe wanted to editorialize on it, that was for it to choose, but to allow Hofsess to do so reeked of a quid pro quo: he would let the paper write his story if it would give him a couple of editorial pages first.
That’s not how the newspaper operates, I told him, which, of course, he should have known as a former journalist himself. He backed off, at least temporarily, and I had a discreet conversation with a senior editor about how the public interest in the right to die could be served by such an article.
After much discussion, it was agreed that I would buy a refundable ticket to Switzerland in November, so I could tell Hofsess that he could change his mind at any stage without financial pressure from me. In return, he would share his medical records with the Globe, let us interview him on videotape, and record him consenting to his death and pushing the release valve so the deadly drugs could flow into his veins. He agreed to everything, although he was surprisingly hesitant about the film rights.
Then the proverbial excrement hit the fan. Macfarlane retired from The Walrus; his successor refused to print the article, or, as we say in the trade, he killed it. Even though I knew that new editors often clean out pending stories assigned by their predecessors, I was shocked. The 4,000 or so words had been bought, edited, fact-checked, and lawyered, and the piece had been scheduled by the managing editor to run as the cover story of the December 2015 issue. (The managing editor was Kyle Wyatt, now the editor of the Literary Review of Canada. Publishing is indeed a small world in Canada.)
Hofsess was outraged and sent his rejected manuscript to a prominent journalist and former colleague at Maclean’s, asking if he would forward it to a senior editor at a large publishing house in Toronto. (I knew both, having worked with them frequently.) Never mind that Hofsess already had that ebook contract with another publisher; he promptly accepted a new deal based on the strength of the Purdy material.
I know all this because my plane had barely landed in Europe in late September when I got an email from Hofsess, bragging about the advance he had been offered by his new publisher and extolling the skills of the editor, a well-known rewriter of bad manuscripts, who had been assigned to engineer a quick turnaround for a book tentatively titled “The Future of Death.” This news was quickly followed by a note from Hofsess’s new publisher, asking me to write the book’s last chapter, based on my Globe assignment to accompany the writer on his planned one‑way trip to Switzerland. I declined, pointing out I had a book of my own in the works.
Hofsess did share his medical records with the Globe, and they revealed that he had grossly exaggerated his health problems, which made me and my editor at the paper very nervous. Then a well-respected documentarian in Canada informed me that she had a signed contract with Hofsess to film his assisted death. No wonder he had been curiously shy about the Globe’s request for video rights. Months later, Hofsess offered the same rights to another documentarian, before ultimately assigning them to a crew associated with a little-known publication called Humanist Perspectives.
Hofsess’s hubris in marketing magazine, newspaper, book, and video rights to sensationalize his own story was astounding, but his schemes began to unravel like an old sweater. I had become even more uneasy after a long interview with Svend Robinson in Geneva, where he was working with the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria. In the twenty years since he had held Rodriguez in his arms while she swallowed the lethal potion that would end her life, he had forgiven Hofsess and even promised a $1,000 contribution to help defray his travel expenses to Switzerland. The reconciliation had begun, Hofsess told me, after he wrote to Robinson to tell him about the Rodriguez chapter he had drafted for his forthcoming book, even agreeing to send it to him so they could discuss it over lunch when Robinson was back in British Columbia in summer 2015.
The lunch, the cheque, and the reconciliation were abruptly cancelled after Robinson read the chapter, in which Hofsess accused him of exploiting Rodriguez by persuading her to postpone her death from late 1993 to early 1994 — so as not to interfere with Robinson’s holiday plans and to enable him to announce his friend’s death in the House of Commons after it resumed sitting following the Christmas break. Hofsess wrote me in bewilderment that Robinson, now thrice betrayed, was outraged by this crass misrepresentation of his position. It had never occurred to Hofsess that a responsible journalist would have asked Robinson why he wanted Rodriguez, now rapidly deteriorating, to delay her death before drawing conclusions. It was another example of his inability to comprehend the effect his self-serving schemes had on the people he was pinioning.
In Geneva, the last thing Robinson said to me about Hofsess was “Be careful.”
Hofsess’s new publisher had also grown wary after seeing the lacklustre parts of his manuscript, the ones that had not been professionally honed and polished. Even more alarming, the firm was being asked to endorse a scheme for a posthumous manifesto, similar to the one that he had tried unsuccessfully on me and the Globe. After a consultation with lawyers, who were concerned that publication of the book might appear to be an encouragement to Hofsess to end his own life, the publisher decided to bail, which left him without the promised advance. He was devastated. While he searched for a new outlet for his Purdy article, offering it to at least two other publications, he postponed his trip to Switzerland until spring 2016.
He was angry that I would not comply with his crumbling plans, yet he continued to bombard me with emails complaining about his ill health. I learned more about his rectal bleeding than I ever wanted to know, especially since I had yet to meet the man. I felt sorry for him: his botched schemes, his inability to complete his manuscript or to write anything on his own that was as compelling as the Purdy material, and his ongoing health woes. But I couldn’t block him. I was like a hound sniffing a scent, which is the way I have always researched a story.
While I kept hearing from him, I kept my replies short. We had both read a Michael Pollan article in The New Yorker about groundbreaking research on hallucinogens and how guided acid trips helped some palliative patients alleviate their anxiety about death. Amazingly, Hofsess persuaded a key researcher discussed in the piece to let him visit her in the Connecticut countryside, or so he said. Apparently, she agreed to lead him through an LSD therapy session to help him cope with his death fears. Once again, I was impressed by his salesmanship and his ability to persuade strangers of his bona fides. He was terrific at forging relationships and even better at destroying them.
Rereading his emails now, I am reminded that he had secured permission for me to go with him to Connecticut, so I could observe his therapy session. This was something I had no interest in doing, as my manuscript was due and Hofsess was only a small part of my social history of the right-to-die movement. Thinking back, I wonder about his neediness — how attached he had become to me as an amanuensis, at least by email.
There is a journalistic theory, promoted by Janet Malcolm, among others, about seduction and betrayal. Here’s the gist: A journalist is relentless in seeking an interview with a source; once it’s granted, she listens avidly, perhaps more intently than a therapist or a lover. That is the seduction part. Then she goes back to her desk, does several more interviews with related sources, transcribes the tapes, analyzes the material, and writes her version of the encounter. That’s the betrayal part, because the interviewee no longer controls the story he told so eagerly. And it’s why many journalists hate being interviewed themselves. They know how the process works. Not so with Hofsess. He was so desperate for attention that he confabulated the notion that my book was all about him; and without reading a word of it, or even asking to see the manuscript, he fantasized that I was persecuting him.
While he was in New York, on the way back home from Connecticut, Hofsess called the customer service department of my publisher’s American head office to register a complaint: that the company was about to release a title by an author named Sandra Martin who was forcing him to kill himself. It was a total lie, but it reverberated upward and northward from New York to Toronto. Late on a weekday afternoon, I had shut down my computer and was getting ready to meet a friend for a drink when the phone rang. It was my editor and the publisher’s lawyer, calling to tell me about Hofsess’s accusation and hinting that my book might be terminated before it had a chance to find any readers.
My turn had come.
I stalled and asked for details, which they were reluctant to supply. Then I remembered a great piece of advice I had been given years earlier by a senior public servant in the Ontario government: If you are in a meeting that is going badly, plead an urgent appointment and get out of there. That will give you time to figure out a strategy. It worked.
I quickly consulted my agent, who gave me excellent advice, as always, and by the time we reconvened on a conference call three days later, I had the wits to point out that I had delivered my manuscript and not only had it been accepted, but I had been given the second of three instalments on my advance, the final one being due on publication in April 2016.
Crisis averted, or so I thought. My book was saved, although it was extensively lawyered. That was good, as it made me reconsider a couple of potential pitfalls, not about Hofsess but about another source. There was a lot of talk about deleting “Dying in the Shadows,” a chapter that included well-documented accounts of Jack Kevorkian, the American doctor who helped dozens end their lives, and the trial and acquittal, in 2004, of Hofsess’s associate Evelyn Martens. It also had new material, including the death of Al Purdy and some quotes from my interview with his widow, Eurithe Purdy. She had confirmed some details and given me permission to write about her husband, as had his publisher and literary executor. She also told me that she distrusted Hofsess because he was “sensationalizing” things. That was the “selling point” for the Walrus article, she recalled. “I would feel differently about it if there had been any public comment long before Al died about his ideas on euthanasia and so on.”
Ultimately, I resisted the proposed cuts to my book with all the defiance and evidence I could muster. At my publisher’s request, I did ask for and receive explicit permission from Hofsess to retain the fewer than three pages that dealt with Purdy’s death. We even agreed not to circulate that material before my book hit shelves; in fact, the entirety of that chapter was removed from the advance copies that were sent out for publicity purposes.
Meanwhile, the legalization of physician-assisted death in Canada was moving apace. The right to die, once a slumbering issue on the public’s radar, had become breaking news as doctors, politicians, policy wonks, and patients scrambled to make sense of the new reality. In December 2015, Quebec implemented its provincial plan; early in 2016, the Supreme Court granted the newly elected Liberal government a four-month extension, to account for the period when Parliament had not been sitting. The court also granted grievously suffering individuals the temporary right to go before a superior court judge to ask permission for an assisted death, under the terms set out in its 2015 ruling.
Hofsess did not seek any such remedy. I doubt he would have convinced a judge to let him have an assisted death, as he was not terminally ill or suffering grievously. Neither, so far as I know, did he make any public statements about the coming legislation. Instead, he tidied up his affairs and set a few final acts of treachery in motion, before making his long-delayed trip to the Swiss death clinic in late February.
As for me, I was reading the page proofs of my book, which was going to the printers at the end of that month, with or without the Purdy material. After that, my husband and I were flying to Mexico for vacation. The day before we were to leave — February 29 — I received a message from Toronto Life, informing me that Hofsess had died in Switzerland. The note included a link to a very familiar essay and a video that had just been posted to the magazine’s website.
The video was haunting. It showed Hofsess, hanging out with some much younger companions, relishing food and hiking in the countryside, and then sitting at a desk reading the galleys of “By the Time You Read This, I Will Be Dead,” the Toronto Life article. But he also seemed depressed and, on occasion, weepy. Preisig had postponed the procedure for two days so he could have more time to contemplate whether he really wanted to die.
When he finally arrived at the clinic with his supporters, Preisig arranged to play a recording of Paul Robeson’s rendition of “Old Man River,” the same musical request Purdy had made in 2000. After a while, Hofsess, clearly uncomfortable, lay down on the bed, and the doctor inserted an intravenous line. As one of Hofsess’s companions described the scene, “John startled me by emitting a few loud, dry sobs,” before he composed himself and pushed the release valve. After claiming he was dying for a quarter of a century, John Hofsess had finally boxed himself into a death he didn’t want or need.
A month later, I received one of those chilling emails that all journalists dread. It went something like this: “We have a source who says . . . You have twenty-four hours to respond.” The message was from a Victoria Times Colonist reporter who wanted me to comment on charges that I had forced Hofsess to kill himself. On my agent’s advice, I drafted a detailed response to the unfounded accusations, so that my publisher would be working from my perspective — a tip I filed away in case I ever found myself in such a situation again. Then I gratefully submitted to another wearying conference call with lawyers, senior editors, and my agent, as the clock ticked down.
The Times Colonist ran three articles on l’affaire Hofsess that coincided with the publication of my book, A Good Death: Making the Most of Our Final Choices. I assume someone at the paper wanted to throw some shade on my credibility by giving space to two accusers. The first was Eike-Henner Kluge, the very same expert Hofsess had directed me to interview in January 2015. Kluge has never questioned anything I wrote about him, yet such was the persuasive power of Hofsess that he was able to use Kluge, a friend and financial supporter, as a posthumously poisoned arrow aimed at me. Among other accusations, Kluge told the Times Colonist that when Hofsess’s book contract “was withdrawn and he couldn’t find another publisher and somebody else was going to do it, he felt a gun put to his head.”
The second accuser was Madeline Weld, the Hofsess acolyte and editor at Humanist Perspectives, who had accompanied him to Switzerland and had publicly announced that she would be producing an electronic version of his long-delayed book about the right to die. She told the Times Colonist that Hofsess had complained about the pressure I had put him under while he was waiting for his assisted death. “What bothered him was he hadn’t authorized that book,” she said bizarrely, adding that the “timing of that book was not in John’s control.” Perhaps that is what Hofsess wanted all along: to control a narrative that he was neither writing nor publishing.
A month after the inflammatory articles ran in the Times Colonist, Dave Obee, the editor of the newspaper, gave my “highly relevant” book a favourable review under the headline “An Important Beginning to a Conversation about Death.” He also dismissed the charges his own publication had levelled against me. “While Martin pulls no punches about Hofsess and Purdy,” Obee wrote, “it would be difficult to base a criminal case on one paragraph in a book. Besides, Hofsess had not been reluctant to talk with several other people about his role in the death of Purdy, so his fears about the book should be discounted.”
Hofsess’s Purdy piece, which was quite similar to the article that The Walrus had killed five months before, eventually won a National Magazine Award. Alas, its author was not alive to share the kudos. In the end, he died for a headline in a city magazine, in a sad and futile attempt to create a legacy. His own much delayed book has not yet appeared in any format, so far as I can discover, despite Weld’s promises.