After 31 years fighting to stay alive, Debbie was ready, with the help of a doctor, to die at 7 p.m. this Monday.
“There were a lot of things I didn’t need anymore, I got rid of. I got my affairs in order, because that’s what I was told,” she said.
Debbie – a Metro Vancouver woman who has asked her last name not be used – started considering a doctor-assisted death years ago, as the pain from a degenerative spinal condition caused from an accident in the 1980s became worse and worse.
“The last, I would say 20 years, has been hell. And I’m not just tired, I’m done,” she said.
She followed the debate leading to new legislation in Canada, got all of the necessary paperwork filled out, and was told last month she qualified.
But she made her appointment before Bill C-14 was passed, and on Friday her doctor told her she was advised by lawyers that because the law requires a “reasonable foreseeable death,” she couldn’t go ahead.
“They told me that this case was too high-risk. That I, and the other doctor involved, were at high risk of prosecution if we went ahead with her,” said Dr. Ellen Wiebe, a clinical professor at UBC who has delivered lethal injections to several people who fit the criteria set out by the Supreme Court.
“I was devastated. It was a terrible thing to do to someone. And I believe strongly that she does have the right to an assisted death.”
Non-terminally ill Canadians have had the right to an assisted death since February, when the Supreme Court gave the government an additional four months to craft a new law in response to its landmark Carter decision a year earlier that struck down the ban on assisted dying. In the interim, the court allowed those who met the eligibility criteria laid out in Carter to seek judicial approval for medical help in ending their lives.
The Trudeau government has taken a much more restrictive approach in C-14, which allows assisted dying only for consenting adults “in an advanced stage of irreversible decline” from a serious and “incurable” disease, illness or disability and for whom natural death is “reasonably foreseeable.”
Debbie says she wonders how many others like her feel completely abandoned by the very legislation that was supposed to help them.
“That’s why I’m speaking. This is our chance to be heard. Our voices, because if there’s going to be any kind of resolution or change, this is the time that we need to come together.”
It’s expected there will be a legal challenge of the legislation. In the meantime, Debbie says she is forced to continue living in a desperate situation.
– With files from Jill Bennett and The Canadian Press