Canadian medical professionals should look to the recent death of a plaintiff in a court challenge to the federal right-to-die law to better their understanding of how the eligibility rules for assisted dying can be applied, Dying With Dignity Canada says.
Robyn Moro, who was in constant pain as a result of Parkinson’s disease, had requested an assisted death earlier this year. She was refused because her doctor didn’t believe that Moro’s death satisfied the legal requirement that her natural death be “reasonably foreseeable.” This decision led Moro to become a plaintiff in a B.C.-led court action challenging aspects of Bill C-14, the federal assisted dying law.
However, a judge’s ruling in the case of an Ontario woman who went to court to access her right to assisted dying led Moro’s physician, Vancouver’s Dr. Ellen Wiebe, to change her mind. As a result, Moro was able to access medical assistance in dying (MAID) on Aug. 31, according to a statement released by the B.C. Civil Liberties Association. She was 68 years old.
The leading national organization defending Canadians’ end-of-life rights, Dying With Dignity Canada (DWDC) says that the country’s medical community should educate itself about Moro’s situation and the court decision that made it possible for her to access her right to a peaceful death.
“We are relieved that Robyn finally found the peace she fought so hard to achieve, and we send our heartfelt condolences to her family,” said DWDC CEO Shanaaz Gokool. “Her case is a prime example of how confusion surrounding the federal assisted dying rules has thrown unreasonable hurdles in the way of Canadians who want to exercise their right to a peaceful death.”
Moro would not have been able to access MAID had it not been for a June court decision in Ontario that clarified Bill C-14’s eligibility rules, Gokool stressed. Earlier in the spring, a 77-year-old woman with severe osteoarthritis went to court to confirm her eligibility for MAID. Two independent doctors had assessed her as eligible under Bill C-14. However, the physician who was supposed to provide her with life-ending treatment was not comfortable moving forward because of the disagreement surrounding Bill C-14’s most controversial eligibility requirement: that one’s “natural death must be reasonably foreseeable.”
On June 19, Justice Paul Perell ruled that AB, whose real name is protected under a publication ban, satisfied the law’s reasonably-foreseeable requirement. In addition, Perell’s ruling provided much-needed clarification on how physicians and nurse practitioners should go about applying the federal law. The decision reaffirmed that a patient need not be imminently dying to be eligible for MAID. In addition, Perell wrote that, in assessing whether a patient’s death is reasonably foreseeable, “the physician need not opine about the specific length of time that the person requesting [MAID] has remaining in his or her lifetime.”
Perell’s ruling is a significant step forward, Gokool said, because it dispels erroneous interpretations of Canada’s assisted dying law. DWDC, she added, is working to educate clinicians about the AB decision in the hopes of eliminating harmful inconsistencies in how the law is being applied.
“AB’s courageous decision to go to court to defend her rights not only broke down barriers that she faced, but it’s now helping others as well,” said Gokool, who provided personal support for AB in the last months of her life. “This is what she hoped for, and indeed it is part of her legacy.”
(Header photo credit: Nathaniel Lowe/B.C. Civil Liberties Association)