Winnipeg woman urges MPs to reopen assisted suicide debate

A Winnipeg woman who is seeking an assisted suicide in Europe says she and her friends will continue pressuring Canadian politicians to allow the practice in this country.

Friends of Susan Griffiths are sending her letter to federal politicians

Friends of Susan Griffiths, a Winnipeg woman who is seeking an assisted suicide in Europe, are helping her call on Canadian politicians to at least reopen debate on the issue. 1:58

Canada's justice minister has rejected Susan Griffiths's plea to allow assisted suicides in this country, but she and her friends are vowing to continue fighting.

The Winnipeg grandmother, who is in Europe to access an assisted suicide, says she will fight until her dying days to have the practice legalized in Canada.

And when she is gone, her friends and loved ones will continue the battle, she said.

"Please, you must change the law, or make a new one," Griffiths said moments before leaving Winnipeg this past weekend.

Griffiths, 72, was diagnosed a year ago with multiple system atrophy. It is a rare disease, it is incurable, and it virtually guarantees a bleak end for those who have it.

That's why Griffiths decided almost immediately that she would not stick around to meet her fate.

"I knew that the future was absolutely hopeless," she said. "It's horrible."

But Griffiths said she would need help to commit the act, and while suicide is legal in Canada — it was decriminalized in 1972 — assisted suicide is not. In fact, it has been illegal since the late 1800s.

So on Saturday, surrounded by friends and family, Griffiths flew to Europe. Her eventual destination? Switzerland, where assisted suicide is legal.

There, she will check in with an organization that performs the service. She hopes to be dead by the end of the month.

MPs voted against changing Criminal Code

On Monday, a spokesman for federal Justice Minister Rob Nicholson told CBC News a majority of MPs voted in 2010 against amending the Criminal Code to permit assisted suicide in Canada under strict conditions.

Friends of Susan Griffiths on Tuesday get 286 letters ready to send to all MPs. (Nelly Gonzalez/CBC)

The federal government does not intend to reopen that debate, the spokesman added.

But Winnipeg Conservative MP Steven Fletcher believes the debate has already been opened, at least in the public gallery.

Fletcher, who was left paralyzed from the neck down after a car crash in 1996, abstained from voting on the assisted suicide bill in 2010. He said he is in favour of it in certain circumstances.

At the end of his life, Fletcher told CBC News, he wants to be empowered to make the decision for himself. If he can't make it, he wants his loved ones to make it.

Griffiths's pleas to Canadian politicians have been met with resistance, and opponents of assisted suicide have also been quick to weigh in.

Winnipeg lawyer Dean Richert says legalizing assisted suicide could send the wrong message about the quality of life for people with disabilities.

"There's already a devaluation of people with disabilities," he said.

Meanwhile, Griffiths's friends in Winnipeg are promising to continue her crusade.

This week, they are mailing 286 letters — written by Griffiths before she left for Europe — to MPs across the country, advocating for change.

"Susan wrote a letter, explaining her situation, and asking MPs to open this question again," explained Mary Dixon, a friend.

Dixon said she hopes that weeks from now, Griffiths's message will have made a difference, even though she will be gone by then.

"It will be very interesting to see what all of this effort, mostly on Susan's part, has reaped," Dixon said.

"Because who knows … what the fallout will be? If the fallout is positive, we'll be, we'll be thrilled. If it doesn't, we'll just keep on working."