Court grants Winnipeg woman with MS doctor-assisted death

A Winnipeg woman with multiple sclerosis was granted a physician-assisted death on Monday, making her the third Manitoban to get the exemption.

Judge says he was 'struck by her suffering and how intolerable it is'

The case of a woman with multiple sclerosis who wants a medically assisted suicide was discussed at the Winnipeg courthouse on Monday. (Bert Savard/CBC)

A Winnipeg woman with multiple sclerosis has been granted a physician-assisted death.

The woman, whose identity is under a publication ban and is identified as Patient No. 3, said in documents filed with the Manitoba Court of Queen's Bench that she is mentally capable of making a decision about a physician-assisted death and is or will be physically incapable of ending her life without it. 

The woman is "functionally quadriplegic" and depends on other people for all activities, including feeding, court documents said. She needed a ventilator to assist with breathing and a speech language therapist to help her communicate.

"Every day my ability to express myself or be who I am is more and more difficult. This has been the hardest part of living with progressive MS," the woman wrote in the documents.

The documents state the woman has been thinking about doctor-assisted death for more than two years and has also considered going to Switzerland to fulfil her wish to die. She considered removing her feeding tube in order to starve to death but decided against it, the documents say. In her court affidavit, the woman said she is "completely at peace" with her decision to request a physician-assisted death.

In his ruling, Associate Chief Justice Shane Perlmutter said the woman met the criteria for physician-assisted death.

"[In] a review of Patient No. 3's affidavit it is clear she is enduring suffering that is intolerable to her," Perlmutter said.

He mentioned how the patient was losing her sight and hearing, adding that he is "struck by her suffering and how intolerable it is to her."

The Supreme Court of Canada overturned a ban on medically assisted suicide in 2015 and gave the federal government until next Monday to come up with a law. Draft legislation for Bill C-14 on medically assisted dying was introduced in April.

The woman said in court documents that she could not wait for Parliament to create legislation.

"I am turning to the courts because I have had enough — I am tired of suffering," she said in the documents.

In a statement, the woman's spouse said that even as her health deteriorated, the woman has remained joyful in life. 

"My wife has not made this decision lightly. I completely support her and her wishes to die with dignity," her spouse said in the statement provided to court. 

The College of Physicians and Surgeons of Manitoba has developed standards for physician-assisted death. A patient, over the age of 18, must provide voluntary, informed, and ongoing consent in written form. They also must be assessed by at least two doctors showing their medical condition and decision-making capacity. 

In Manitoba, physicians are not obliged to carry out the death but they must provide support to patients as long as it is needed. 

The first Manitoban granted a physician-assisted was in March and a woman with ALS was granted permission in May.