AB, plaintiff in landmark Ontario assisted dying case, dies at 77

It is with both relief and sorrow that we announce the passing of AB, the Ontario woman whose court action has helped to clarify Canada’s assisted dying law.

AB died last week, with medical assistance, after living for more than 30 years with an excruciating form of osteoarthritis. She was 77 years old.

A woman of deep faith, she told her loved ones in attendance that she was “going home.” After AB died, her daughter said it was the first time in decades that she had seen her mother in a pain-free state.

Though AB’s identity is protected under a court-ordered publication ban, her courage and tenacity have touched Canadians from coast to coast. Aware of her right to end her life with a doctor’s help, she made her initial request for medical assistance in dying (MAID) in early 2017. Two physicians told her she satisfied the eligibility criteria laid out in Bill C-14, the federal assisted dying law, and a date was set for AB to achieve final relief.

However, confusion surrounding Bill C-14’s eligibility criteria — in particular, the requirement that one’s natural death must be “reasonable foreseeable” — caused the providing physician to develop cold feet. It was a cycle that repeated itself twice in the last months of AB’s life.

Having her choice granted and then taken away on three separate occasions was unacceptable to AB. She believed that neither she nor anyone else should be subjected to the same emotional rollercoaster. With the help of Toronto lawyer Andrew Faith, she made an application to the court to have her eligibility for MAID confirmed once and for all.

On June 19, AB was vindicated. Ontario Superior Court Justice Paul Perell ruled that AB satisfied Bill C-14’s reasonably-foreseeable requirement. In addition, Perell’s ruling took aim at some of the misconceptions surrounding this controversial rule. A person needn’t be terminally ill for her natural death to be “reasonably foreseeable,” nor does one need to be suffering from a fatal medical condition in order to qualify for MAID. When making a determination about a patient’s eligibility, providers of MAID, “need not opine about the specific length of time that the person requesting medical assistance in dying has remaining in his or her lifetime,” Perell noted.

The federal government and the Government of Ontario were respondents in the case. Both opted not to appeal Perell’s ruling.

DWDC CEO Shanaaz Gokool was in court in support of AB on June 19 and called her soon after Justice Perell announced his decision. “She was in giddy disbelief,” said Gokool. “She asked me repeatedly if the ruling meant what she thought it did. And she wanted to know whether other Canadians in her position might benefit from the decision, too.”

AB derived comfort from knowing that her struggle would help other Canadians facing unfair barriers to MAID access. This did not come as a surprise to people who knew her well. As a single mother, she worked hard to support her family and was dogged in ensuring that her children received a good education. A pillar in her community, she organized social gatherings at the long-term care home where she resided during the last years of her life.

Though much of AB’s life was dedicated to attending to others’ needs, her last act was about tending to her own. “I’ve reached a stage in my life where I’ve done all the things I want to do,” she told DWDC in early May. “I’ve produced three children — they’re fantastic young people. I enjoyed being in business and I did a lot of meaningful work over the years. But now I’m ready to go home.”

We are immensely grateful to AB and her family for allowing us to share her story. AB believed strongly in our work to support and advocate for Canadians who are exploring their legal end-of-life options. In fact, she wanted Canadians to know that she accessed Dying With Dignity Canada's Personal Support Program starting in the spring.

Individuals and families who are dealing with a MAID request, or who are grieving the loss of someone who exercised their choice, are encourage to contact DWDC’s Personal Support Program Manager Nino Sekopet at nino@dyingwithdignity.ca or toll-free at 1-844-396-3640. Please note that DWDC does not encourage anyone to end their life, nor do we provide the means to do so.

(Header photo credit: Photographee.eu/Adobe Stock)


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