Nova Scotia

Husband, 83, dies with medical assistance after wife's court bid to stop him fails

A Nova Scotia man whose wife tried to stop him from having a medically assisted death has followed through with the procedure following two months of court challenges by his wife.

Jack Sorenson of Bridgewater, N.S., died on Saturday following legal battle with wife over MAID

Jack Sorenson, whose wife challenged his right to a medically assisted death in court, died on Oct. 3 at the age of 83. (Submitted by Jack Sorenson)

A Nova Scotia man whose wife tried to stop him from having a medically assisted death has followed through with the procedure, which was delayed by court proceedings for the past two months.

Jack Sorenson of Bridgewater, N.S., died with medical assistance at the Fishermen's Memorial Hospital in Lunenburg, N.S., on Saturday at the age of 83, according to his obituary

He was approved and scheduled for medical assistance in dying (MAID) this summer, but his plans were put on hold when his wife, 82-year-old Katherine Sorenson, applied to Nova Scotia Supreme Court to stop him.

Jack Sorenson had Stage III chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) and was assessed with only 49 per cent lung capacity. In an interview in August, he said his shortness of breath caused him immense suffering.

Katherine Sorenson has acknowledged her husband's suffering, but she said it was mental, not physical. She opposed his request for MAID because she said his wish to die was rooted in anxiety and mental delusions. She has also said she has a moral opposition to MAID.

The day before Sorenson's death, the Nova Scotia Court of Appeal had rejected his wife's latest bid to block her husband's efforts

Justice Cindy Bourgeois, who authored the decision on behalf of the three-judge panel, ruled that, with only rare exceptions, courts should not intercede if medical authorities have followed the proper procedures for assessing a patient's MAID request.

A divisive dispute in a long marriage

The Sorensons had known each other for more than 60 years and were married for 48. After Katherine Sorenson launched her legal efforts to stop her husband from accessing MAID, he moved out of their shared home and the couple stopped speaking.

In an interview Tuesday, Katherine Sorenson said she last spoke to her husband on Aug. 15, when she called him and learned he had made a suicide attempt. At that time, a temporary injunction was legally preventing him from MAID.

She learned of his death when the funeral home called to tell her they had his body.

She said that after months of separation, his passing was not a shock and she was doing "pretty well, considering."

"I've had a wonderful life with Jack. There have been, as with any marriage, lots of varying opinions between the spouses and I thought we did a pretty good job of reconciling two pretty opposite views," she said, referring to their difference of religion. She is a practising Christian and he had been an atheist since his early adulthood.

She said they dealt well with their differences "until this issue came up of end of life."

In the obituary she wrote for her husband, Katherine Sorenson asked for donations to the Euthanasia Prevention Coalition in lieu of flowers. That organization has been paying her legal fees throughout her court challenge.

As for what her husband would make of that request appearing in his obituary, she said, "I don't think he would like it."

"But I don't know where he is right now, so I haven't got any idea what his frame of mind would be."

Pursuing a Supreme Court of Canada appeal

After last week's decision from the Nova Scotia Court of Appeal, Katherine Sorenson's lawyers said they had instructions to seek leave to appeal to the Supreme Court of Canada. On Tuesday, she said that plan had not changed.

"Because this is an important issue that has not been dealt with, and it isn't just for Jack. It's for any vulnerable person. I think MAID is not very concerned about mentally ill people," she said.

Kate Naugler, one of Katherine Sorenson's lawyers, said she and her colleagues were in the midst of drafting their application to the court.

In addition to Jack Sorenson, the Nova Scotia Health Authority and Schelene Swinemar — a nurse practitioner with the health authority — were also listed as respondents in Katherine Sorenson's court challenge.

A spokesperson for the health authority told CBC Tuesday, "we are confident that in this case appropriate steps and processes were followed, in accordance with current legislation and policies."

Brendan Elliott also said the health authority recognizes Katherine Sorenson's right to apply for leave to appeal to the Supreme Court of Canada, and respects the legal process.

After her request for an injunction was dismissed by Nova Scotia Supreme Court, and dismissed again by the Nova Scotia Court of Appeal, Katherine Sorenson's husband went ahead with his MAID plans. (Anjuli Patil/CBC)

Jocelyn Downie, a Dalhousie University law professor who has been a member of multiple expert panels on MAID, said she believed that if Katherine Sorenson were granted leave to appeal to the high court, she would lose.

In an email to CBC, Downie said the decisions from the courts in Nova Scotia were "incredibly robust."

"The judges (six in all) walked carefully through all the relevant case law, applied the relevant tests to the evidence, and came to correct decisions."

Downie said she suspected this case may have given some clinicians pause about whether to continue providing MAID if they could end up in court.

"These decisions, especially the Court of Appeal decision, should provide reassurance to clinicians and to the lawyers who advise them."

Sorenson remembered as great musician, teacher

Jack Sorenson's obituary said he was born May 3, 1937, in the small mining town of Wallace, Idaho.

Carrying a masters and a doctorate in music from the University of Washington at Seattle, he taught at Dalhousie University in Halifax from 1970-1974. Following that, he was a music producer for CBC for several years before he and his wife bought a restaurant in Mahone Bay on Nova Scotia's South Shore. 

The couple ran two Mahone Bay restaurants over the years, selling the last one in 2003. He also taught private piano lessons, and many students and employees remember him with fondness for his kindness in encouraging them in their skills whether in music or cooking.

"Many good friends will miss Jack for his interesting, quirky, challenging ideas," the obituary said.

About the Author

Taryn Grant

Reporter

Taryn Grant is a Halifax-based reporter and web writer for CBC Nova Scotia. You can email her with tips and feedback at taryn.grant@cbc.ca

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