Brother's doctor-assisted death was sad but wonderful, says Halifax man

Thierry Delva, whose brother died with the help of a doctor in Belgium, is celebrating that it's now legal for Canadians with certain medical conditions to request assistance in death.

Thierry Delva says it's 'about time' Canada made assisted dying legal

Thierry Delva his brother's death "was the only way for him to go." (CBC)
This portrait of Steef Delva appeared on a card commemorating his life following his assisted death in Belgium in 2013. (CBC)

A Halifax man whose brother died with the help of a doctor in Belgium is celebrating that it's now legal for Canadians with certain medical conditions to request assistance in death, calling his brother's experience "sad" but "wonderful."

Thierry Delva's older brother, Steef Delva, was diagnosed with emphysema in 2001 and told he didn't have long to live. One year later, Belgium became the second country in the world to legalize euthanasia.

Delva told the CBC'sInformation MorningNova Scotia that his brother's condition deteriorated until 2013. "He basically had nothing left. He was exhausted and there was obviously no hope of improvement in terms of his health."

It was at that point, Delva said, that his brother — together with his family — made the decision to ask a doctor to help him die. 

"It was just too much and he would not have made this decision lightly," Delva said. "It was time to go."

Mixed emotions

Delva said he wasn't surprised by his brother's decision, and he doesn't personally object to assisted dying, but "by the same token, you're kind of knocked off your feet because you don't want to see your brother die. So it was mixed feelings on my part."

Delva flew to Belgium to see his brother one last time. He said his brother was not afraid. On the contrary, he was "totally at peace" with his decision. 

Truly was 'dying with dignity'

Delva said his brother was supposed to receive two injections — one to sedate him and another to stop his heart — but he only needed one. "After the first one, he just went to sleep," Delva said. "He was exhausted and it was time to go."

Delva said he flew home on the day his brother died.

"It was sad, it was wonderful," he said. "It was the only way for him to go. I know dying with dignity has become a cliché, but it truly is what it was."

It's "about time" Canada took the necessary steps to make assisted dying legal, Delva said, who is a sculptor and professor at NSCAD University in Halifax. "If I had to go, this is the way I'd like to go."

Federal government missed deadline

On Tuesday, it became legal for competent adults with "grievous and irremediable" medical conditions to ask a doctor to help them die in Canada. 

The Supreme Court of Canada had given federal and provincial governments until June 6 to create frameworks for assisted dying.

Nova Scotia has already issued guidelines for doctors, but the federal government missed its deadline. 

Bill C-14, the Liberals' proposed bill on assistance in dying, is still undergoing scrutiny in Parliament.

The Senate's legal and constitutional affairs committee continues to study the bill, which could be put to a vote as early as Friday.

But any major amendments would see Bill C-14 sent back to the House of Commons, further delaying its passage.

With the deadline passed and no federal law in place, doctors can't be prosecuted under the Criminal Code for helping a patient die. But associations of doctors and doctors' insurers are warning that the rules are still vague, and physicians could still be prosecuted.

WIth files from CBC's Information Morning