Canadian undergoes doctor-assisted death in B.C.
Published Tuesday, March 1, 2016 6:06PM EST
Last Updated Tuesday, March 8, 2016 8:16AM EST
A Calgary woman who was granted a legal exemption for doctor-assisted death has ended her life in British Columbia with the help of a physician.
The woman, who cannot be identified because of a court-ordered publication ban, suffered from amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, or ALS.
She died on Monday, with her family at her side, in Vancouver.
An Alberta court decision released on Tuesday says she was in the final stages of ALS, also known as Lou Gehrig’s disease. The degenerative neurological disease progressed rapidly after diagnosis and the woman was given "at most" six months to live at the time of the court hearing.
The court document says the woman, referred to only as Ms. S, was "in significant pain" and required constant care and support. She could not swallow any liquids and had to be fed via a gastric tube.
"I am not suffering from anxiety or depression or fear of death," the woman said in her court application.
"I would like to pass away peacefully and am hoping to have physician-assisted death soon. 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."
Her doctor was Ellen Wiebe, a clinical professor in UBC's Department of Family Practice.
Wiebe is part of a group of like-minded physicians who have formed a group called Hemlock AID, which looks to other doctors and patients for counselling and support and, if requested, access to assisted death when it becomes law later this year.
Her involvement with the group provided an impetus for her to step forward and help the patient end her life. This was her first assisted death.
"I thought it was really important that across Canada other physicians might stand up and say, 'Yes, I can do this,' so the access will improve," said Wiebe in an exclusive interview with CTV’s Avis Favaro. "It is so important that the colleges step up: that the colleges of pharmacy, nursing and of physicians all across the province get their guidelines in place and know that it is their responsibility and of course be reasonable in this interim period; that they say if the court allows it then the pharmacist, the nurse and the physician are exempt from any criminal prosecutions."
Wiebe says she was grateful to be able to help Ms. S. end her life on her own terms.
"She was finished. She had the horrible ravages of ALS that had taken away all the things important to her, and she wanted to end it. She wanted to end it in a way where she could have all her family with her and she was able to," Wiebe said. "I felt so grateful to give her what she wanted and to end her suffering."
Wiebe says she is willing to see more patients before the assisted-death law comes into effect.
The Supreme Court of Canada ruled last year that consenting adults who are enduring intolerable physical or mental suffering have the right to a doctor-assisted suicide. The top court recently gave the federal government more time to come up with a law on physician-assisted death. In the meantime, exemptions from the current law prohibiting assisted suicides can be sought from provincial courts.
In her ruling, Alberta Court of Queen's Bench Justice Sheilah Martin said she’s satisfied that Ms. S. is a competent and mentally alert person who meets the criteria for a physician-assisted death.
With a report from CTV medical specialist Avis Favaro and producer Elizabeth St. Philip