TORONTO – An elderly man died Friday less than 24 hours after a court approved his doctor-assisted death in the first such case in Ontario, his family said.
The married father and grandfather, 81, had been suffering from terminal lymphoma and was all but bed-ridden and in unbearable pain.
“Our dear husband, father and grandfather passed away in peace and dignity with the assistance of his caring physicians,” the family said in a statement.
“It was his life and his choice, and we support him in that choice unconditionally.”
The man, who can only be identified by court order as A.B., was granted permission Thursday from Superior Court Justice Paul Perell to have doctors help him end his life under a recent Supreme Court of Canada ruling.
The court also ruled the coroner did not need to be notified given that the cause of death was deemed to be his disease, not the lethal drugs he was given.
“We are so thankful for the ongoing care, guidance and medical assistance from his enlightened and compassionate physicians, who,like A.B., believed strongly that an individual deserves to be the author of their own journey’s end when the pain is intolerable and there is no further hope for recovery,” the family statement said.
The courts also ruled A.B.’s relatives and the doctors involved cannot be identified.
The family said it took comfort in knowing that their relative’s wishes were carried out, and spoke of his courage.
“We are so very proud that he used his last limited energy to fight for something he believed in so fundamentally: the right to decide when he was ready to pass and the right to have the assistance to do so with comfort and dignity,” they said.
The family expressed thanks to Perell and to the lawyers involved, Andrew Faith and Emma Carver, for the successful court application and for helping their relative “stand up for his rights.”
“Seeing our beloved A.B. calm, peaceful and without stigma and shame at his life’s end gives us the strength to weather our grief at his departure,” their statement said. “In death, he has been restored to the strong, vibrant and dignified man we knew before cancer and extraordinary pain brought him to his knees.”
The family also made reference to a plea read to the court Thursday in which A.B. called for the federal government to make permanent Criminal Code changes to allow assisted suicides.
“My only regret in these last months is that my family and I have had to expend what little energy I have left to fight this court battle,” he said.
“My wish is that our government will see fit to make permanent changes in the law so that no other family will have to do this ever again.”‘
The Supreme Court last year struck down the ban on doctor-aided deaths, but put the ruling on hold for a year. The federal government in February won a four-month extension, but the court ruled that the terminally ill could apply for an exemption to the Criminal Code ban in the interim period.
So far, two other patients — someone in Manitoba and a woman in Alberta who died in British Columbia — have also won such court approval, and another case is pending in Ontario.
Quebec put in place its assisted-death regime in December.