Calgary woman who ended her life with physicians' help was 'in control,' doctor says
Published Wednesday, March 2, 2016 3:35PM EST
A doctor who helped a Calgary woman end her life says the patient was the “perfect candidate” for a doctor-assisted death.
“She wasn’t depressed but she was finished. She had done everything that she wanted to do and she was ready,” said Dr. Ellen Wiebe of Willow Women’s Clinic in Vancouver, one of two doctors who assisted with the death Monday.
The patient also fulfilled all the necessary legal criteria, said Wiebe.
“She had a terminal illness, she was suffering terribly and she wanted to die. And she wanted to do it on her terms.”
The woman, who cannot be identified under a court-order publication ban, was in the late stages of amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, also known as Lou Gehrig’s disease. The patient, known only as Ms. S, had won a legal exemption to current laws by an Alberta court.
Ms. S, a retired psychologist who had lived an active life until ALS took her mobility and speech, was unable to find a doctor in Calgary to assist with her death. This was the first time a legal assisted death has happened in Canada outside Quebec.
Wiebe, who has practised medicine for 40 years, told CTV News Channel she had no reservations about fulfilling Ms. S’s wish to die.
“She found it unbearable and to give her the death that she wanted felt like really good work.”
ALS is a relentless and ultimately fatal neurological disease that attacks the nerves controlling muscles. Ms. S said in her court submission that she was in “significant pain” and required constant care. She was fed by a stomach tube.
Wiebe said she has been at many deathbeds, both as a doctor and a loved one, and this death was “the best,” she told CTV News Channel Wednesday.
“She was in control. She was the one who decided. I said, ‘Are you ready?’ And she couldn’t speak anymore but she could signal and she said yes.”
She fell asleep and didn’t wake up, just as she wanted, Wiebe said.
In a landmark ruling in February 2015, the Supreme Court of Canada struck down the prohibition against assisted suicide for Canadian adults who are mentally competent and suffering intolerably and enduringly.
The court has given the Trudeau government until June to rewrite the laws. Anyone who can’t wait needs special permission from provincial courts.
In a written statement, Ms. S told an Alberta judge: “I do not wish to have continued suffering and to die of this illness by choking. I feel that my time has come to go in peace.”