British Columbia

B.C. woman wins right to receive medically assisted death

Julia Lamb, who launched a challenge of Canada's medical assistance in dying laws, says it a huge relief to know she can choose to die when she is ready.

Chilliwack's Julia Lamb says it is a 'huge relief' to know that she can choose to die when she is ready

Julia Lamb, who suffers from spinal muscular atrophy, hugs her husband, Gregory Wees, during the announcement she has adjourned her assisted dying challenge. (Ben Nelms/CBC)

A B.C. woman fighting to receive a medically assisted death says she is relieved to know she is now free to choose when to die.

Julia Lamb suffers from spinal muscular atrophy, a genetic, neurodegenerative disease. The 28-year-old Chilliwack woman is wheelchair bound and needs assistance for all of her activities. 

"My disease could force me to suffer for years without killing me," said Lamb. "The government's evidence in my case is that I could ask for MAID [ medical assistance in dying ] today, tomorrow or in 10 years, and I will have the right to end my pain and suffering." 

Lamb and the B.C. Civil Liberties Association launched a court challenge of Canada's medical assistance in dying laws in 2016, the same year MAID became legal.

Lamb argued that the provision limiting MAID to Canadians whose natural death was "reasonably foreseeable," was too restrictive.

But the challenge was adjourned after a government expert said Lamb should be eligible for MAID.  

'It is a huge relief and gives me so much peace to know that when I am ready, I do have a choice,' said Julia Lamb, centre, after learning she is eligible for a medically assisted death. (Ben Nelms/CBC)

Dr. Madeline Li, a physician, MAID provider and researcher in Ontario, said in her opinion, doctors and nurse practitioners feel they can provide MAID only when they have confidence a patient's death is imminent. 

But Li stated that Lamb is at risk of developing a chest infection if she ever stopped using her nighttime ventilator, and that a chest infection would make make her natural death "reasonably foreseeable."

Grace Pastine, a BCCLA litigation director, said the evidence given by Li, which was uncontested, gives new clarity to doctors and patients.

"[It] will improve care and provide comfort to many suffering Canadians," she said. "If you have a grievous and irremediable illness that causes you enduring and intolerable suffering, you have the right to choose MAID without having to hasten your own death."

Dr. Stefanie Green of the Canadian Association of MAID Assessors and Providers applauds the development. 

"The government's evidence suggests that anyone requiring personal care such as regular turning in bed, being fed, requiring regular dressing changes or in-dwelling catheters, would meet the eligibility requirement for a reasonably foreseeable death if they decide to refuse that care. And mercifully, they are not required to actually do so in order to qualify," said Green.

Lamb says she has no intention of seeking MAID in the near future.

"I am comfortable and happy with my days," she said. "But it is a huge relief and gives me so much peace to know that when I am ready, I do have a choice."

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