Bowen Island woman’s death rekindles debate over the right to die

WATCH: Debate over the right to die reaches a new level after a Bowen Island woman claimed she would rather commit suicide than lose herself to dementia. Randene Neill reports.

The debate over the right to die is reaching new heights after a Bowen Island woman’s decision to end her own life on her own terms two days ago.

Eighty-five-year-old Gillian Bennett was a psychotherapist, loving wife, mother, grandmother and great grandmother.

For several years, she suffered from dementia and decided to take her own life this past Monday.

VIDEO: Sara Bennett-Fox, daughter of Gillian Bennett, talks about her mother’s decision to take her own life

Gillian’s husband Jonathan Bennett says the day started like any average Monday.

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The two got up at a usual time, had breakfast and read the morning paper.

Gillian then got the water and whisky ready, and the couple got up on a local hill before she mixed Nembutal and drank the concoction.

Jonathan helped her lie down on a mattress and within a few minutes, Gillian was unconscious.

“[I was] desolate and elated,” says Jonathan. “I was pleased that she pulled it off and that she got it right. The only thing she was afraid of is doing this and having it not work.”

“57 years, I have not had much practice living without her,” he says.

PHOTO: Jonathan and Gillian Bennett at their wedding in 1957

Her children describe Gillian as a very strong person, with strong convictions, and say she decided her dementia would not dictate the end of her days a long time ago.

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As far as 15 years ago, Gillian has made her mind that she will have control over how she would go.

Her daughter Sara says it is something she’d been thinking about and talking about for decades, very openly.

“She’d have good days, bad days, but the good part of the days started getting smaller and smaller,” says Gillian’s son Guy.

Before going, Gillian wrote a blog titled “Dead at Noon.”

Guy published it the day she took her life, imploring people to think about how they wanted to die.

She also explained her own decision saying, “I can live or vegetate for perhaps ten years in hospital at Canada’s expense, costing anywhere from $50,000 to $75,000 per year. That is only the beginning of the damage.”

She was very clear she would hate a life of extreme dependence more than anything.

“I was not in favour of my mom’s website,” says Sara. “I thought it should be private, but having seen people’s response to it, and reading emails that we are getting from people, and seeing how much my mom’s words touched people. People are writing and saying they will make a living will, that they will have a conversation with their families. What she really wanted was for the conversation to happen.”

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PHOTO: Jonathan and Gillian Bennett in 2012

The question of how to handle dying with dignity was on the table at the annual Canadian Medical Association convention in Ottawa yesterday. 

Doctors were debating whether to revise the current policy on assisted death.

The session ended with CMA members voting overwhelmingly in favour of an advisory resolution that supports the right of all physicians, within the bonds of existing legislation, to follow their conscience when deciding whether to provide so-called “medical aid in dying.”

Peter MacKay,  the Minister of Justice and Attorney General of Canada, released the following statement to Global News in relation to the story:

Assisted suicide is an emotional and divisive issue for many Canadians.

It is our Government’s position that the Criminal Code provisions prohibiting assisted suicide and euthanasia are in place to protect all persons, including those who are most vulnerable in our society.

Furthermore, in April 2010, a large majority of Parliamentarians voted not to change these laws, which is an expression of democratic will on this topic.

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WATCH: Gillian Bennett’s family talks about her decision

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