Calgary

Hanne Schafer's friends and family speak after publication ban lifted in doctor-assisted death case

Hanne Schafer wanted privacy leading up to her doctor-assisted death but her husband and best friend say she was a 'trailblazer' who wanted to make life easier for others suffering as she was.

Friends and family call Hanne Schafer an 'activist' and a 'trailblazer'

Daniel Laurin and Mary Valentich hold up a photo of Hanne Schafer, praising her as a 'trailblazer' who wanted to make life easier for others suffering as she was. Schafer ended her life in Vancouver with the help of two physicians. (Meghan Grant/CBC)

Hanne Schafer wanted privacy leading up to her doctor-assisted death but her husband and best friend say she was a "trailblazer" who wanted to make life easier for others suffering as she was.

"She was not ashamed of what she was doing," said Schafer's friend, Mary Valentich. "She saw herself as an activist."

On Wednesday, the same Calgary judge who granted Schafer's request for a legal exemption to have a doctor-assisted death just over a month ago lifted the publication ban that protected Schafer's identity.

Schafer was diagnosed with ALS — a degenerative neurological disease — in April 2013.  

In March, Schafer ended her life in Vancouver with the help of two physicians.

"She couldn't die in her own bed, in her own home," said Schafer's husband, Daniel Laurin. "She had to die in some strange place. This shouldn't happen to anybody."

Schafer is believed to have been the first person in Canada outside of Quebec to be allowed to legally end her life with help from a doctor. (Family photo)

It is believed Schafer — who was 66 at the time of her death and worked as a clinical psychologist for 38 years — was the first person in Canada outside of Quebec to be allowed to legally end her life with help from a doctor.

Alberta Court of Queen's Bench Justice Sheilah Martin granted the application in late February after submissions were made at an in-camera hearing.

On Wednesday, Martin lifted both the in-camera order as well as the publication ban on the names of the people involved in the case.

Schafer's family will now be allowed to publish an obituary that names her and talks about how she died.

In constant pain, Schafer was almost completely paralyzed and was told the disease would have killed her within about six months.

"I do not wish to have continued suffering and to die of this illness by choking," she wrote in one of her two affidavits. "I feel that my time has come to go in peace."

'Her smile to the end'

Schafer was found to have met the criteria as she was a competent adult with a "grievous and irremediable medical condition" that causes intolerable suffering that can't be alleviated and who clearly consents to the termination of life.

"The suffering has to stop," said Laurin. "People have the right not to suffer."

Daniel Laurin tears up in speaking of his late wife: 'The suffering has to stop. People have the right not to suffer.' (Meghan Grant/CBC)

Though Martin granted the request to lift the publication ban, she urged others in similar situations to discuss the issue of privacy and publication bans more thoroughly so the courts can have a better idea of applicants' wishes after their deaths.

"This was the first case of its kind in Canada," said Martin Wednesday in court. "In some respects we were in uncharted waters."

Laurin teared up talking about his wife and what he will miss the most.

"Her smile. Her smile to the end." 

The Liberal government tabled its doctor-assisted dying legislation, which includes age requirements and limits on who can seek doctor-assisted death, earlier this month,

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