WINNIPEG – Manitoba has become the latest province to have a court grant a patient the right to die with the help of a doctor.
Chief Justice Glenn Joyal made the ruling after a hearing Tuesday during which the patient’s application was unopposed. Joyal also granted a request not to identify the patient or any health-care professionals involved.
“The applicant has satisfied the court that the applicant is competent to request physician-assisted death,” Joyal said. “The applicant clearly consents to the termination of life… and has a grievous, irremediable medical condition that causes the applicant enduring suffering that is intolerable.”
The Supreme Court last year struck down a law that prohibited medical aid in dying. In January, it gave the federal government more time to craft new legislation, but said anyone who wants an assisted death sooner can apply to a judge.
Neither the patient nor any of the patient’s family was in court. The patient issued a written statement following the ruling indicating peace with the decision to die.
“While it has been sad to say goodbye and to plan to leave my family, I am not feeling anxious, depressed or in fear of death,” the patient said. “I wish to spend the remaining days of my life in the privacy and company of my family.”
The patient’s spouse said in the same statement that the family “deeply appreciate that the decision… will also help to relieve our emotional burden, having watched my spouse suffer enormous pain and watched as their quality of life has rapidly deteriorated.”
Lawyer John Myers, who represented the patient, choked up as he told court his client wants to be left in peace to die in the coming days with the help of a doctor. Court heard the patient has been given less than a month to live and is suffering.
“All my client asks for is the privacy to die with dignity in the presence of family,” Myers said.
He argued that the patient meets the definition of a vulnerable person and should be “accorded a very, very high degree of protection.” The patient’s wish was supported by four doctors, including at least one designated to assist in the death.
Any of the parties can decide not to go ahead with the death at any time, Myers said.
“You are not being pushed to rule on a matter of life or death,” the lawyer told Joyal.
Allison Fenske with the Public Interest Law Centre – Legal Aid Manitoba told court the patient qualified for an exemption under the Supreme Court’s ruling and is not clinically depressed.
The request for an assisted death was “not borne lightly,” she added.
The patient’s application argued for a publication ban on identity – including gender, age and diagnosis – for fear of harassment from those opposed to physician-assisted death. The application also stated that doctors willing to help the patient die were reluctant to do so if their identities weren’t protected.
The patient’s application noted that an Alberta court already allowed a physician-assisted death and granted a publication ban. Last week, the Ontario court ordered the identity of an 80-year-old man seeking help in dying, his family and any doctors involved be kept secret.