Winnipeg woman's assisted suicide plan OK'd by Swiss doctor

A Winnipeg woman is one step closer to dying today, thanks to a Swiss physician who has confirmed that she is psychologically prepared for the end.

Susan Griffiths gets confirmation her assisted suicide can proceed

Susan Griffiths looks at a note with her teenage grandchildren, Liam and Emma Griffiths, in Switzerland on Monday. (Donna Carreiro/CBC)

A Winnipeg woman is one step closer to dying today, thanks to a Swiss physician who has confirmed that she is psychologically prepared for the end.

It was one of the significant but no less painful last hurdles that 72-year-old Susan Griffiths has had to clear in advance of her scheduled assisted suicide in Zurich this week.

The CBC's Donna Carreiro reports this week from Zurich, where she is with Susan Griffiths and her family in advance of Griffiths' planned assisted suicide.

"Even the doctor that we met today and other people in the medical profession have said the same thing," said Griffiths. "If they had my disease that I have they would do what I am doing. Interesting."

Griffiths has multiple system atrophy, a rare disease that is already robbing her of the ability to perform the most basic bodily functions.

There is no cure or even hope for remission, just a virtual guarantee of a progressing debility.

So Griffiths has decided to commit suicide, but she needs help to do that, and assisted suicide is against the law in Canada.

Assisted suicide is legal, however, in Switzerland. On Thursday, Griffiths has an appointment with Dignitas, a non-profit organization that administers assisted suicides to both locals and foreigners.

Must meet with physician twice

First, however, the law requires that Griffiths be seen by a local physician twice in the space of three days to confirm both her mindset and her resolve.

Griffiths had a brief first meeting with the physician, who within minutes assessed her medical case and made arrangements for the followup meeting.

The follow-up is legally required to make sure she's not having second thoughts and if she is, to allow her to express them.

Once the followup is done, the physician will prescribe a fatal dose of drugs to go directly to Dignitas in time for her appointment on Thursday.

It is an emotional week that is taking its toll on Griffiths.

Already, she is in a wheelchair more often than she is out of it. She has trouble eating, she said, because the muscles in her mouth are weakening. She salivates and can't control it.

Griffiths' voice is weak and the pain in her legs is relentless.

"It hurts to wear my clothes," she said. "Against my skin — wherever it touches me, it hurts."

Family members gather

A brother from England, her sons from Germany and Switzerland, and her daughter and grandchildren from Winnipeg are spending a final few days together with Griffiths.

"Every now and then my granddaughter Emma gets upset," Griffiths said. "We'll be laughing about something and then she'll start to cry."

The days and evenings have been filled with memories and laughter, but moments like those remind them all what they're about to lose.

It also, however, strengthens Griffiths' resolve. These gatherings are physically hard on her, a biting reminder that she can't do it anymore, and that's when she gets angry at her disease.

"It's just a shame that I'm going to bring an end to all of that. Because I couldn't keep it up anyway — because I don't feel well, and I just want to get it over with," she said.

"I just want the old me back and there won't be one, so I might as well just finish up as soon as possible. It's hard to believe the time has come."