Husband of Alberta woman granted physician-assisted death fights to have her name released

Click to play video: 'Widower wants wife’s name public after medically-assisted death'
Widower wants wife’s name public after medically-assisted death
WATCH: The husband of a Calgary woman who died with the help of two doctors is fighting to make her name public. It's protected under a publication ban in a court order she received to allow her to end her life. As Reid Fiest reports, the widower wants all Canadians to know who she is so others don't suffer like she did – Mar 7, 2016

Editor’s note: The video interviews have been blurred and any identifying details have been left out of our story due to a publication ban on the identity of Ms. S.

The husband and friend of a Calgary woman who was granted an exemption to allow doctors to help her die are remembering her as a beautiful woman, and trying to fight a publication ban so they can tell her story.

“My wife went through hell. I know; I saw her every day,” her husband said.

Though he wants to be able to talk about her, “for people to see how beautiful she was,” a court-ordered publication ban prevents the release of any identifying details.

“People have said to me, ‘when initials are used, it’s as if you’re hiding something. Or you’re ashamed of something,’” her friend said. “We aren’t ashamed.”

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Watch below: Global’s coverage of the case of Ms. S.

READ MORE: Calgary woman with ALS first in Alberta to be granted physician-assisted death

Known only as Ms. S., she was a long-time Calgary resident and retired clinical psychologist, who worked in a psychiatric hospital for four years, followed by three decades in the health-care system. Before she became sick, she was physically active and in good physical and mental health.

It was a love of dance that brought Ms. S. and her husband, a contractor from Quebec, together about 10 years ago.

“I asked her to dance, she says, ‘yes’ and I was a beginner dancer in those days, but she was a pro. She was fantastic,” he said. “She danced with me—a cha-cha, and she tried to follow my steps.”

WATCH: Exclusive video interview with the husband of an Alberta woman granted physician-assisted death.
Click to play video: '‘My wife went through hell’: husband of Alberta woman granted physician-assisted death'
‘My wife went through hell’: husband of Alberta woman granted physician-assisted death

But in 2013, the first signs of amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), commonly known as Lou Gehrig’s Disease, began to show. Ms. S. struggled to speak, and within the last year, the disease took over.

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An Alberta judge heard her plea Feb. 25, and granted the personal exemption that allowed doctors to help her die. She couldn’t find any willing physicians in Alberta, so she travelled to Vancouver last Monday.

READ MORE: Calgary woman forced to end her life in BC raises questions about access to physician-assisted death

Her husband remembers taking his wife in his arms and lying her in bed during her last moments.

“I took her neck brace off, she looked at me. I sat beside her…and then I held her hand. Then she looked at me with her big blue eyes, and she sort of gave me a smile.”

Ms. S. is the first Canadian outside of Quebec to choose when to end her life, but it wasn’t easy. Her husband said she had to fight to die peacefully and with dignity.

He said legal fees cost the family close to $15,000, and blames current and former governments for the delays.

“The Supreme Court has said you can do it. Governments form committees and all sorts of things to complicate the process.”

In January, the Supreme Court gave the federal government an extra four months to come up with a national assisted dying framework, which means legislation is expected in June. Canadians outside Quebec who are in pain and want help dying can apply to court for permission if they meet certain criteria, but as Ms. S.’s case suggested—it can be hard to find a doctor willing to help.

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“I’m happy that she had what she wanted, and she is in peace,” her husband said. “I’m happy that she’s not suffering anymore.”

READ MORE: BC doctor confirms she helped in Alberta woman’s doctor-assisted death

The legal process to be able to release Ms. S.’s name is underway, but there is no set timeline on a decision.

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