MS Society stands by Manitoba patient granted doctor-assisted death

The MS Society of Canada is supporting a Manitoba woman with Multiple Sclerosis (MS) in her right to have a doctor-assisted death.

Patient No. 3 has MS, was granted right to die by Manitoba court on Monday

The MS Society of Canada says MS patients need to have options when it comes to end of life care. (University of Calgary)

The MS Society of Canada is supporting a Manitoba woman with Multiple Sclerosis (MS) in her right to have a doctor-assisted death.

A Manitoba judge granted the woman known as Patient No. 3 a doctor-assisted death on Monday.

The Society's president and CEO, Yves Savoie, said patients like her need to have options.

"Our basic approach to this is that this is really about an individual's choice," said Savoie.

Patient No. 3 is mentally capable of making a decision and is described as "functionally quadriplegic" and "enduring suffering," said court documents.

She requires a ventilator and feeding tube to and expressed a fear of choking to death. Savoie said not all MS patients experience these severe and debilitating conditions, but for those who do, the effects of the disease are "very disabling."

"There can be impairments to one's digestive ability, problems with swallowing, with speech, but as is the case for instance in ALS, there is no loss of one's mental capacity to make a decision," he said.

Savoie added the pain that accompanies severe MS is nearly impossible to address.

"Neuropathic pain is a kind of electrical pain you feel through your nerves that is very, very difficult to treat and very painful," he said.

But not all MS patients experience these severe, debilitating symptoms. 

For many patients, their MS symptoms can be "quite invisible," Savoie said, and there is a wide range of views on assisted death in the MS community.

"It might create problems of numbness or lack of balance but not interfere with someone's ability to raise a family or to work," he said.

MS Society critical of Liberal bill

Manitoba's Patient No. 3, while faced with a progressive disease, would not necessarily meet the Liberal government's criteria in its medical assistance in dying legislation, added Savoie.

The federal bill in its current form limits access to a doctor-assisted death to those "suffering intolerably" and whose death is "reasonably foreseeable." 

The MS Society head would like to see the Liberals refer their assisted dying legislation to the Supreme Court.