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Calgary woman carries out doctor-assisted death in British Columbia

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March 02, 2016 - 10:26 AM

CALGARY - A Calgary woman who received a legal exemption for doctor-assisted death has ended her life in Vancouver with the help of two physicians.

The woman, who cannot be identified because of a court-ordered publication ban, died on Monday with her family at her side.

"My colleague and I were grateful and honoured to be able to help her," Dr. Ellen Wiebe, a clinical professor at the University of British Columbia, said in an email to The Canadian Press, adding the woman made the trip from Calgary to Vancouver the same day.

Wiebe is one of a group of doctors who have formed an organization called Hemlock AID to provide B.C. patients with information about and access to assisted death.

She has said she has no qualms about helping patients fulfil their final wish.

"I don't consider giving someone a good death to be causing harm," she said late last year.

"That's the main aim of helping somebody at the end of life, to help them have a good death.... If what they want is to die sooner rather than later and do it comfortably, then that's a good death for them."

The judge's ruling on the Calgary woman's case was released Tuesday.

She was in the final stages of amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, or ALS, also known as Lou Gehrig's disease.

The court decision indicated the woman had no more than six months to live and was in significant pain.

"I am not suffering from anxiety or depression or fear of death," the woman, referred to as Ms. S, said in a court affidavit.

"I would like to pass away peacefully and am hoping to have physician-assisted death soon.

"I feel that my time has come to go in peace."

The Supreme Court ruled last winter that consenting adults enduring intolerable physical or mental suffering have the right to end their lives with a doctor's help.

The high court has given the federal government more time to write a new law on physician-assisted death, but is allowing anyone who wants to die sooner to ask a judge for an exemption.

Court of Queen's Bench Justice Sheilah Martin said the woman's application was the only one she is aware of in Canada.

Quebec has its own law governing what it calls medical aid in dying, which went into effect in December. Health officials in Quebec City confirmed the first death under the law in January.

"I am satisfied that Ms. S fully and freely consents to the termination of her life," Martin wrote in her ruling.

"Her application is not made in a moment of weakness and her desire for physician-assisted death is long standing."

Court heard that Ms. S was a retired clinical psychologist and former award-winning dancer who was active before her diagnosis in 2013.

ALS is a degenerative neurological disease that causes muscle weakness. Ms. S was in the final stages, unable to speak and almost completely paralyzed. She could not swallow liquids and water was pumped into her stomach through a tube.

She was able to text words using her left hand, but "even this form of communication is rapidly declining," wrote Martin.

The woman had frequent muscle cramps and, in the last two months, suffered frequent breathing problems, often choking at night on saliva and mucous in her throat.

"It is not acceptable to me to live sedated to the point of unconsciousness until I choke on my own bodily fluids," Ms. S said in the court document.

The woman had no children and her husband acted as her main caregiver. The ruling said he initially was resistant to her request to die, but after months of discussion came to respect her choice.

News from © The Canadian Press, 2016
The Canadian Press

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