Nfld. & Labrador

Terminally ill St. John's man applying for province's 1st doctor-assisted death

A St. John's lawyer representing a terminally ill client is attempting to get the province to do something they've never done before: approve an assisted death request.

If approved, case would make it easier for future patients seeking assisted death in N.L.: Kyle Rees

Doctor-assisted death

6 years ago
Duration 3:35
St. John's lawyer Kyle Rees is preparing to ask the Supreme Court of Newfoundland and Labrador to approve the request from his client.

A St. John's lawyer representing a terminally ill client is attempting to get the province to do something they've never done before: approve an assisted death request.

Kyle Rees is preparing to ask the Supreme Court of Newfoundland and Labrador to approve the request from his client.

"My client is an elderly gentleman who has been dying from prostate cancer for a number of years," said Rees.

"He's in a position where he's in a great amount of pain and has exhausted every potential treatment for that pain [including] palliative care, and none of it has been able to provide a relief for him."

The court request comes on the heels of a Supreme Court of Canada ruling last year that paved the way for competent adults who are terminally ill and suffering intolerably to request court authorization for doctor-assisted death.

Doctors reluctant to be first to aid

Assisted death requests have been approved in some provinces, and the Supreme Court of Newfoundland and Labrador has provided a list of guidelines to be met when filing a prospective request.

We hope that with this current change in the law we'll be able to do this for him.- Kyle Rees

But there still has yet to be a single assisted death that's gone before the courts in the province.

Before Rees' client is able to submit his proposal, he still requires one key signature — a signed affidavit from a physician willing to prescribe the medication needed to end his life.

"Part of my plea at this point is for any doctor who is willing to follow those guidelines and help an individual end their suffering, I'd ask that they come forward to help," said Rees.

It's still difficult to get physicians on board with assisted death, Rees said, even though there are guidelines from the College of Physicians and Surgeons to allow a doctor to do so.

"I think everybody's afraid to be the first person to do something," he said.

"It really is going to take a physician with a particular humanitarian view in order to take that first step to put themselves forward to be able to help somebody in this way."

As soon as his client is able to find a doctor who will prescribe the medication, Rees said it will only take a few weeks for the case to be heard in court.

Hopes to set precedent

According to Rees, he's representing his client on a pro bono basis.

He said he wants to lead the way for others in the province who may be facing a similar situation, and show them it's not as hard as it looks to get an assisted suicide approved.

"[If successful] then there should be better access for every client out there who wants this kind of treatment," he said.

But it's also about more than just setting a precedent, he said. It's about helping his client finally end his life.

"We hope that with this current change in the law we'll be able to do this for him."

With files from Debbie Cooper

now