Winnipegger's assisted suicide completed in Swiss garden

Susan Griffiths was serenaded with children's songs as she slipped into a coma and died on Thursday just outside Zurich, Switzerland.

Susan Griffiths spends final moments with family members

Susan Griffiths, the Winnipeg woman who went to Switzerland to take advantage of the country's assisted-suicide law, has died. CBC's Cameron MacIntosh reports. 2:07

Susan Griffiths was serenaded with children's songs as she slipped into a coma and died on Thursday just outside Zurich, Switzerland.

Her final moments, by all accounts, were exactly as she had wanted. But that was little comfort to the loved ones she left behind.

"It was beautiful. She was delighted with the surroundings," said her daughter, Natasha Griffiths. "But it is a hard, hard day."

It's been just one of the many hard days for Susan's family since they learned her curious weakness and pain were caused by multiple system atrophy, a rare and incurable disease, and that Susan wanted to die, instead of live with the disease, before the symptoms completely took over.

Assisted suicide is illegal in Canada, so she made the 7,100-kilometre journey to Switzerland where it is legal, and to Dignitas, a non-profit organization that provides the service to locals and foreigners.

The facility is not easy to find, and with good reason. Although what goes on there is legal, it is controversial, even in Switzerland.

The exact address of an unmarked spartan blue cottage in Forch, outside Zurich, is only provided at the 11th hour. Cab drivers circled the small street in the industrial side of the picturesque village, confused with the vagueness of the locale.

There is nothing to mark its identity; only a small café called Blue Oasis reveals there is more here than meets the eye.

The Swiss Alps surround the area. Thatched-roof homes, people on horseback and meandering cyclists abound. There is a small English-style garden, which Griffiths noticed as soon as she arrived.

Susan Griffiths hugs her daughter, Natasha Griffiths, shortly before her assisted suicide in Switzerland on Thursday. (Donna Carreiro/CBC)
She asked the two Dignitas staff members if she could do the procedure in that garden. They responded: anywhere she wanted, any time she wanted, anything she wanted.

After that, the family, Susan's three grown children, daughters-in-law, grandchildren and a close friend rallied around her and sang Row, Row, Row Your Boat at her request.

In a robe, provided by the hotel she stayed at, wearing a homemade tiara a grandchild made for her and surrounded by small cards, trinkets and a homemade candle, she drank a fatal cocktail of sodium pentobarbital. Two minutes later she lapsed into a coma. About 20 minutes later she was dead.

Her last words to the media reinforced her reasons for allowing us there. She thanked Canadians for listening to her story. She urged Canadians, one last time, to lobby politicians to change the law. She ordered her loved ones to keep up the fight.

"I am absolutely amazed [about the interest in my story]," she said. "I'd hoped they would talk about it. I am still shocked, in a good way, how they've responded."

She also knew how controversial her decision was. She read the good, the bad and the ugly responses. She didn't care. At least, she said, they were talking about it.

While Griffiths was ready to die, her family was not ready to let her go.

Her teenage grandchildren, 17-year-old Liam and 19-year-old Emma, cried. Her daughter, Natasha, wrapped her arms around them in an effort to console them. Daughter-in-law Dana Griffiths sobbed as she struggled with the fact that her own children could not be there in Switzerland, and she wasn't with them to give them comfort.

"That is another reason [assisted suicide] should be legalized in Canada," she said. "If it was legal, my children could have properly said goodbye."

Regardless of how Griffiths died, the outcome was the same. On Thursday, a family was left grieving for their loss. A loss they could never prepare themselves for, despite the fact they knew it was what she wanted.

"That will be of comfort to them someday," said close friend Cindy Rublee. "But not now. Not right now."