TORONTO — A chronically ill Ontario woman who went to court in a bid to clarify Canada’s laws around ending lives with medical assistance has died.
Dying with Dignity Canada says the woman known in court documents only as AB made use of the legislation last week and died with a doctor’s assistance while surrounded by her family.
The advocacy group says the 77-year-old had suffered from osteoarthritis for more than 30 years.
Dying with Dignity says the woman had previously tried to end her life with medical assistance twice this year, but doctors grew fearful of criminal prosecution and backed out of the arrangement.
AB went to court seeking both closure on her own case and broader clarification on the legal requirements to qualify for medical assistance in dying.
Ontario Superior Court Justice Paul Perell ruled in June that AB did in fact qualify for assisted dying, and clarified some of the key criteria for future cases.
Dying with Dignity said it was announcing AB’s death on behalf of her family, who are requesting privacy in light of her passing.
“A woman of deep faith, she told her loved ones in attendance that she was ‘going home,’” the organization said in its statement. “After AB died, her daughter said it was the first time in decades that she had seen her mother in a pain-free state.”
The crux of AB’s court case centred around the criteria that qualify people for medically assisted dying.
Under the terms of Bill C-14, which came into effect last June, adults can receive a medically assisted death if they have a serious and incurable illness or disability, are in an advanced state of irreversible decline, endure intolerable pain, and face a “reasonably foreseeable” death.
The last of these requirements was criticized for being too vague and caused doctors to balk at granting AB’s request for an assisted death, according to Perell’s court ruling.
The physician who had originally agreed to help AB die later declined to do so for fear of being charged with murder.
Perell laid out some definitions for the term “reasonably foreseeable” in a bid to bring some clarity to the issue for future doctors faced with the decision to approve a patient’s request for assisted death.
Under the terms he spelled out, a doctor still has some flexibility to assess the case but is not required to adhere to either a fixed time frame or a rigid set of criteria for a “reasonably foreseeable” death.”
“The legislation makes it clear that in formulating an opinion, the physician need not opine about the specific length of time that the person requesting medical assistance in dying has remaining in his or her lifetime,” Perell wrote in his June 19 decision. “The language reveals that the natural death need not be connected to a particular terminal disease or condition and rather is connected to all of a particular person’s medical circumstances.”
He went on to say that AB’s age, advanced illness and deteriorating condition were all factors that contributed to making her death reasonably foreseeable.
Dying with Dignity described AB as a single mother who is survived by her three children. The group also called her a pillar of her community.