WINNIPEG – Susan Griffiths won her battle Thursday for the right to die on her own terms, with the help of a doctor, before her body could be completely taken over by multiple system atrophy.
Griffiths, 72, died peacefully with some family members by her side at the Dignitas clinic in Zurich, Switzerland, a family friend confirmed. Switzerland is the only country that allows physician-assisted suicide for non-residents.
Griffiths did not go quietly, though. She went public with her story in the hope that Canada may change its laws.
“While it has been wonderful having some of my family around me, I am saddened that other close friends and family members are unable to be with me in my final days,” she wrote in an email to The Canadian Press Wednesday.
“I sincerely hope that Canadian laws will change soon to allow individuals like myself to make end-of-life choices at home.”
Killing oneself is not illegal in Canada, but helping someone to commit suicide is against the law.
“I am not afraid and anticipate a peaceful, dignified and gentle death,” Griffiths wrote. “I only wish it could take place in Canada.”
Griffiths was already losing strength from her deadly disease, which has symptoms not unlike Parkinson’s — an ever-increasing loss of balance, movement and control of virtually every bodily function.
Canada’s law banning doctor-assisted suicide is currently under review by the courts.
British Columbia’s Supreme Court ruled last year that the law is unconstitutional. The federal government appealed the decision at a hearing last month before the B.C. Court of Appeal and a ruling is expected later this year.
The Quebec government has been looking at ways to allow the terminally ill to end their suffering without the act being considered an assisted suicide under federal law.
There are also support groups that help inform people about options available to them — even if it requires a trip overseas, as in the case of Griffiths.
But supporters of the current law, including many disability rights groups, say allowing assisted suicide would make things hard on the disabled.
The Canadian Association for Community Living has said assisted suicide creates the impression that lives affected by disabilities are somehow less worthy.
Federal government lawyers told the B.C. court that assisted suicide creates the possibility that people with disabilities, the elderly and the terminally ill could be coerced into ending their lives or do so in moments of depression and despair.