No charges laid in Nova Scotia assisted suicide

By 
  • July 4, 2007
euthanasia.jpgOTTAWA - The RCMP investigation into a complaint laid by the Euthanasia Prevention Coalition concerning the death of a Nova Scotia woman who sought assisted suicide in Switzerland will not lead to any charges being laid.
On June 8, Elizabeth MacDonald, a 38-year old Windsor, N.S, resident with aggressive multiple sclerosis “was euthanized at a clinic in Zurich, Switzerland, which is legal to do in that country,” said a June 26 RCMP press release from the province’s Kings district RCMP.

“There is one specific criminal code that would apply, that is called aiding and abetting in a criminal offence,” said Constable Les Kakonyi in a June 27 interview from New Minas, Nova Scotia.

Investigators interviewed family members, including Eric MacDonald, the deceased’s husband, a retired Anglican minister who accompanied his wife to the Swiss clinic. An RCMP spokesperson said July 3 that no charges would be laid in Canada against him.

Euthanasia Prevention Coalition executive director Alex Schadenberg laid the complaint through the Windsor rural RCMP after someone from the province alerted him to MacDonald’s obituary in a Halifax newspaper. Schadenberg said the obituary requested donations to the Right to Die Society.

Multiple sclerosis had confined MacDonald to a wheelchair in 2002. According to a June 23 story in the Halifax Daily News, the woman had first tried to end her life in 2006. With the support of her family, she spent the past year saying her goodbyes. Her husband told the newspaper she suffered from “excruciating pain.”

He accompanied her to Switzerland, where her suicide — through drinking a lethal dose of barbiturates — was filmed to assure Swiss police she drank it willingly. Her death took place at Dignitas, a clinic that assists suicides through doctor-prescribed drugs. She died in her husband’s arms.

Mark Pickup, an activist for the rights of the disabled, responded to the story with an open letter June 26. Pickup wrote that he too has been confined to a wheelchair through aggressive MS and has also experienced excruciating pain that was “completely eliminated with proper pain management.”

“Her attending physicians should be investigated and possibly disciplined by Nova Scotia’s College of Physicians and Surgeons,” he said. “There was no need to suffer as her husband states.”

Since filing the complaint, Schadenberg has faced a hostile reaction from family members and others. He acknowledged the tragedy and suffering of the MacDonald family, but noted the danger to vulnerable members of society if assisted suicide becomes legal.

“We can’t allow other people to be directly involved in the taking of other people’s lives,” he said.

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