'Make-a-Wish' shoots downs dreams

Posted: Aug 11, 2000 12:00 AM
Four years ago, I wrote a check to the Make-A-Wish Foundation to honor an extraordinary kid diagnosed with brain cancer. Now, the charity has dishonored him by caving in to political correctness and abandoning other terminally ill children who share this boy's passions. Erik Ness was 17 years old at the time, and he had a simple dream: to hunt a brown bear in Alaska with his dad. The Make-A-Wish Foundation's Minnesota chapter made arrangements for Erik with voluntary assistance from Safari Club International, a hunters' association. Over 500 Safari Club members attended a fund-raising dinner in Erik's honor; they raised $4,000 for gear, clothing and travel. Both organizations came under attack by anti-hunting extremists, as did Erik and his family. "We're going to hit the streets with signs and pamphlets and bloody their noses, and they won't recover," threatened Leslie Davis, president of the Minneapolis-based Earth Protector. Despite the harassment, Erik and his supporters held fast. As long as a doctor approved the wish and it was within the law, the foundation had pledged "never to deny a wish to an eligible child." Make-A-Wish declared that it would not bend to what it rightly dubbed animal-rights "terrorists." Thanks to that courageous stand, Erik and his dad made the trip to Kodiak Island. They didn't get their bear on a spring 1996 outing, but the Minnesota Safari Club and Make-A-Wish coordinated a second autumn hunt that was successful. In a letter to the magazine Outdoor Life last year, Erik's mother, Diane, described the opportunities that blossomed as a result of his Make-A-Wish-sponsored adventure: "The International Safari Club heard of Erik and decided to honor him at a banquet. They arranged for him to travel to Las Vegas, where he met former President George Bush, former Vice President Dan Quayle and Gen. Norman Schwarzkopf, among others. He met and made lots of friends at the convention. The International Safari Club also presented him with a fall elk hunt in Colorado. "While at the convention, Erik met David Van der Mullen from Sporting Out of Africa, who offered him a summer job in Africa working as a helper and guide. Erik was able to go on five hunts himself. It was a great learning experience, and a lot of fun ... "That fall, Erik also got involved with the United Foundation for Disabled Archers, with whom he has volunteered as a guide for the past two years, taking disabled sportsmen hunting in northern Minnesota for whitetails. He has also duck-hunted in Canada, fished at Great Slave Lake in the Northwest Territory, pheasant hunted in North Dakota, and hunted deer in northern Minnesota. Erik plans on graduating from Vermilion Community College in Ely, Minn., in May. He will have a degree in Wilderness Management. He goes to school during the week, has chemo on Saturdays, and enjoys hunting and fishing whenever he can (almost every day). Erik lives every day to the fullest ..." Two months after the letter was published, Erik died of brain cancer at age 21. Now that he is gone, Make-A-Wish has decided "it is not in the best interests of the children we serve for us to continue considering wishes that involve firearms, hunting bows or other hunting or sport-shooting equipment." The foundation's CEO, Paula Van Ness, said in a recent open letter to donors that the new policy is not a "value judgment" but a "safety" measure. Yet, Van Ness acknowledges that "accident statistics show fewer youngsters are hurt in hunting and sport shooting each year than in activities as common as high school sports." The foundation's timid policy change is not just a "value judgment," but also a slap in the face to Erik's memory, to hunters, and to other sick children and their families who participate in doctor-approved, lawfully bound sporting activities. The charity may have preserved its political viability with corporate and left-wing donors. But by shooting down dreams, Make-A-Wish has shot itself in the foot.