Photo by Michael Swan

Doctors perform English Canada’s first assisted suicide

By  Agnieszka Krawczynski, Canadian Catholic News
  • March 9, 2016

VANCOUVER - Vancouver physicians have carried out Canada’s first known case of assisted suicide outside of Quebec.

Dr. Ellen Wiebe and a colleague legally killed a Calgary woman who had requested to die Feb. 29.

“I am not suffering from anxiety or depression or fear of death,” wrote the woman, identified only as Ms. S. due to a publication ban. “I would like to pass away peacefully and am hoping to have physician-assisted death soon.”

Ms. S. was a retired clinical psychologist, a hiker and a dancer. She was diagnosed with ALS in 2013. 

Though assisting a suicide is still a crime under the law, Ms. S. asked for and received a legal exemption under a Supreme Court ruling that permits such deaths while the federal government amends the Criminal Code to legalize assisted killing. The deadline for Ottawa to pass an assisted suicide law is June 6.

Documents say Ms. S. was paralyzed and suffering serious pain. She flew from Calgary to Vancouver, where Wiebe assisted in her death. She was the first Canadian outside Quebec to die in this way. 

Wiebe told The Canadian Press she and her colleague “were grateful and honoured to be able to help her.”

Dr. Will Johnston, a Vancouver physician who heads the Euthanasia Prevention Coalition of B.C., called Wiebe’s actions “unseemly and, I would say, unprofessional behaviour that you would expect from a zealot for suicide.” He said 600 people die of ALS in Canada each year. 

“It’s very unusual for people with ALS to have pain from the ALS,” he said.

The ways and means of controlling ALS symptoms are widely known in the palliative care community, he added. Euthanasia and assisted suicide could cause patients to “throw away years of their lives” because of a poor prognosis.

A terminally ill Toronto man has also asked a judge to grant him a physician-assisted death. The man, known only as A.B., will have his application heard later this month by an Ontario Superior Court judge. The 80-year-old said he is in advanced stages of aggressive lymphoma.

Quebec’s first request for death was granted in January.

(B.C. Catholic)

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