A champion of choice, in life and in death

Katherine M. Svec’s last act reminds us that our movement’s work is far from over, writes former DWDC CEO Wanda Morris.

I am angry because someone I love, admire and respect has died too early.

I am angry because I lost days, weeks, months or possibly even years with a dear friend who went to Switzerland this spring for an assisted death because Canada failed her.

I am angry because a win at the Supreme Court of Canada wasn’t enough. Canadians facing grievous illnesses are still forced to suffer too long — or die too early.

"The truest of friends"

Some readers will be familiar with Katherine M. Svec. She wrote “Katherine’s Corner,” researched and wrote advance-care planning guides for every province in this country, and co-edited the newsletter during my tenure as CEO.

She was an extraordinary volunteer, donating thousands of hours.

She was the truest of friends. She was not afraid to take me to task, and was never short of encouraging words. She made me want to do better than my best, by truly believing I could do the impossible.

She had passed her 80th birthday but was never past it. She dressed elegantly, spoke articulately and fiercely refused to let age diminish her.

Katherine M. was an intensely private person. She told few that she was ill, fewer still of the nature of her illness. She wanted to spend her final days looking outward at life, not inwards at her body’s frailty.

Her decision to go to Switzerland was motivated by fear of the alternative. She cut her life short because she was at risk of having a stroke and refused to be trapped in a non-responsive body in a health system that would not allow her to request her own death by advance request.

Her death has left a jagged, biting wound.

"Fallen warrior"

But Katherine M. was fierce right to the end. In a final letter sent to Dying With Dignity Canada, she used these words:

“Following the Supreme Court of Canada’s just and compassionate ruling on February 6, 2015, Canada had a unique opportunity to shine in the spotlight of the world stage. This has been denied us by Bill C-14 and subsequent legislation – a betrayal of the pre-election promises of Mr. Trudeau.

“Dying With Dignity Canada will guide us back into the light where we belong. It will not be easy, nor will it be immediate, but it will happen. And so my message to all supporters of the cause is this: however long it takes and whatever the setbacks encountered, do not falter. Take strength in the knowledge that by continuing this battle against injustice, you are fighting not only to protect the rights of all suffering Canadians, but also to honour the memory of the dedicated warriors who have already fallen.”

Her words touch me now, even from her grave. I have made a tribute donation to DWDC in her memory. Please join me in honouring this fallen warrior. Her courage and our loss must not be in vain.

To give a gift in honour of Katherine M. or another valiant champion of change, please go to Dyingwithdignity.ca/tribute_donations.

Photo caption: Katherine M. Svec (left) and Wanda Morris in 2015.