TORONTO – A decision is expected Monday as to whether the identities of doctors who might be involved in helping a terminally ill man in Ontario kill himself should be kept secret along with those of the patient and his relatives.
Superior Court Justice Thomas McEwen had been expected to rule on the issue as early as Friday in a case the government said was the first in the province.
A group of news outlets agreed the identity of the man and his family should remain private but in a hearing on Thursday opposed secrecy for the doctors who help him die. In an interim order, McEwen ordered identifying information withheld pending his ruling.
Court documents show the man, 80, identified only as A.B., is seeking a constitutional exemption for a doctor-assisted suicide. That hearing is set to take place later this month, but A.B. and his family want the case to proceed anonymously.
“To die with dignity, the moving party must do so with privacy and away from media scrutiny and public attention,” his court application stated.
“(He) therefore requires this court’s assistance to help ensure that his final days are as peaceful and as private as possible, and that the emotional suffering of both him and his family members is not exacerbated by potential intrusion by the public.”
In a supporting affidavit, the man writes that he was diagnosed with advanced aggressive lymphoma in 2012, a terminal condition that has left him in “intolerable pain and distress that cannot be alleviated.”
The man and his daughter expressed concern that reporters might try to contact the family, or that they could face unwanted scrutiny.
“I am anxious about the possibility of individuals or groups who oppose physician-assisted suicide making contact with, or harassing, me or my family members,” he says.
Last year, the Supreme Court of Canada struck down laws that made it a criminal offence for doctors to help someone die. The court gave the government a year to rewrite the laws.
However, unable to meet the deadline, the government asked the court for an extension. The courts granted another four months, but said the terminally ill could apply to superior courts for an exemption to the ban during that period.
On Monday, a Calgary woman, identified only as Ms. S, gained what is believed to be the first such exemption. She died with the help of two doctors in Vancouver the same day.
In arguing for his need for privacy, the Ontario man’s lawyers called him a “patient in need of medical services” rather than a traditional litigant.
“Protecting his privacy and that of his family and physicians is of utmost importance in these final days of his life, whereas the relevance and public interest in the identity of these individuals are extremely limited or non-existent,” his lawyer argued in court documents.
“His pursuit of a dignified death would be undermined by the stresses, distractions and unwanted interference associated with media and public scrutiny of the exercise of his constitutional right to die.”