Calgary woman can have doctor-assisted death: court


CALGARY – A judge has ruled that an Alberta woman with a terminal illness can have a doctor-assisted death.

The Calgary woman, who cannot be identified due to a publication ban, is in the final stages of amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, or ALS, also known as Lou Gehrig’s disease.

The court decision released Tuesday says the woman has no more than six months to live and is in significant pain.

“I am not suffering from anxiety or depression or fear of death,” the woman, referred to as Ms. S, said in a court affidavit.

“I would like to pass away peacefully and am hoping to have physician-assisted death soon.

“I feel that my time has come to go in peace.”

The Supreme Court ruled last winter that consenting adults enduring intolerable physical or mental suffering have the right to end their lives with a doctor’s help.

The high court has given the federal government more time to write a new law on physician-assisted death, but is allowing anyone who wants to die sooner to ask a judge for an exemption.

Court of Queen’s Bench Justice Sheilah Martin said the woman’s application is the only one she is aware of in Canada.

Quebec has its own law governing what it calls medical aid in dying, which went into effect in December. Health officials in Quebec City confirmed the first death under the law in January.

“I am satisfied that Ms. S fully and freely consents to the termination of her life,” Martin wrote in her ruling.

“Her application is not made in a moment of weakness and her desire for physician-assisted death is long standing.”

Court heard that Ms. S is a retired clinical psychologist and former award-winning dancer who was active before her diagnosis in 2013.

ALS is a degenerative neurological disease that causes muscle weakness. Ms. S is in the final stages, unable to speak and almost completely paralyzed. She cannot swallow liquids and water is pumped into her stomach through a tube.

She is able to text words using her left hand, but “even this form of communication is rapidly declining,” wrote Martin.

The woman has frequent muscle cramps and, in the last two months, has suffered frequent breathing problems, often choking at night on saliva and mucous in her throat.

“It is not acceptable to me to live sedated to the point of unconsciousness until I choke on my own bodily fluids,” Ms. S said in the court document.

The woman has no children and her husband has acted as her main caregiver. The ruling says he initially was resistant to her request to die, but after months of discussion came to respect her choice.

Court heard Ms. S plans to have two doctors medically induce her death soon on private property in Vancouver.