Dr. Barrie deVeber founded The deVeber Institute in 1982. Courtesy of The deVeber Institute

Dr. Barrie deVeber, founder of bioethics institute, dies at 90

  • March 6, 2019

If it was up to Dr. Barrie deVeber, his name would not be on the institution dedicated to researching all aspects of human life.

Alas, there were others who thought otherwise, and in 1982 the deVeber Institute for Bioethics and Social Research was born and continues to thrive to this day.

“He always said I didn’t vote for that,” said Alex Schadenberg, executive director of the Euthanasia Prevention Coalition, but he was overruled by the board of what was then called the Human Life Research Institute.

“He wasn’t seeking any spotlight,” said Schadenberg.

Dr. deVeber, one of Canada’s leading pro-life proponents, died Feb. 28 at the age of 90.

Dr. deVeber’s hands were all over the pro-life movement in Canada. He founded Defense of the Unborn, the first official pro-life group in Canada, and was national president of Alliance for Life when it presented a pro-life petition to then Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau with more than one million signatures. 

In addition to being founding president of the deVeber Institute, he was also founding president of the Euthanasia Prevention Coalition.

Dr. deVeber was born in Toronto Jan. 27, 1929 and graduated from the University of Toronto Medical School in 1953 before launching his career as a paediatric oncologist. Dr. deVeber was a pioneer in paediatric palliative care whose work took him around the world, from Canada to England, the United States, Saudi Arabia and throughout Africa.

“His innovations in cancer, intra-uterine Rh factor treatment and hemophilia affected the lives of many,” wrote his daughter, Gabrielle, in an obituary. “He combined medical expertise and moral integrity with universal kindness. He consistently put the needs of others ahead of his own.”

Indeed, his research, said Schadenberg, saw the transformation from where up to 80 per cent of children who had the Rhesus (Rh) factor in their blood would end up dying to the point where almost all now survive.

Dr. deVeber was a founding member of a number of organizations, including Camp Trillium, the largest camp for cancer patients in North America, The Sunshine Club, London and Area Right to Life and the Montessori School of London.

In remembering Dr. deVeber, Schadenberg recalls the countless hours the man dedicated to the pro-life cause. It often meant long days on the road drumming up support in towns and cities across the landscape, all while holding down full-time work as a paediatrician. 

It’s how the Schadenberg family came to know Dr. deVeber. Schadenberg’s mother heard him speak in their hometown of Woodstock, Ont., and the experience led to the establishment of Woodstock Right to Life, he said.

It’s something that is lost on many younger members of the pro-life movement who, because of the age difference, don’t really know the story of Dr. deVeber. 

Schadenberg relates how he brought Dr. deVeber out to speak to the youth in the movement to hear exactly what it was like in the early days and what Dr. deVeber was up against.

“The next generation, they somehow think all this happened in Canada, we lost politically. They thought, ‘We didn’t do the right things,’ ” said Schadenberg. 

“I thought, they ought to hear from guys like deVeber and what they were up against because in fact it had nothing to do with whether the early pro-life movement was wonderful or not … it had to do with the changing times and people did the best they could.”

It was not lost on Marie-Claire Bissonnette, Campaign Life’s youth co-ordinator. In a blog post, she recalls his passion for the cause and how his work saved thousands of unborn children.

“His is not a story of defeat. Thousands of pro-life victories are attributable to his legacy,” said Bissonnette. “His was a vital chapter in a story of perseverance and victory in the fight for the good of humanity.”

That story is told in Barrie: The Memoirs of Dr. L.L. deVeber, published by the Euthanasia Prevention Coalition in 2015.

Dr. deVeber was married for more than 60 years to Iola, who died in 2015. They had six children, seven grandchildren and two great-grandchildren.

The funeral Mass for Dr. deVeber was held March 5 at St. Peter’s Cathedral Basilica in London, Ont.

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