'Please tell our story': P.E.I. widow reflects on her husband's decision to die

May 10 is a wedding anniversary Liana Brittain will never forget. It marked 14 years since her first date with the love of her life and 11 years since she married him. It was also the day she saw him for the last time.

Paul Couvrette underwent a medically assisted death at his home May 10

Paul Couvrette and Liana Brittain were married for 11 years before he chose to die a medically assisted death. ( Liana Brittain/Facebook)

It's a wedding anniversary Liana Brittain will never forget.

May 10 marked 14 years since her first date with the love of her life. Three years after that, they were married on May 10.

It was also the day she saw him for the last time.

"I said to him 'I think that's a really good choice, because I'll never look back on that day with sadness.'"

It was on that day at their home in Maximeville, P.E.I., Brittain's husband, Paul Couvrette underwent a medically assisted death. It's been legal in Canada for a year now and according to the province, at least one case has been confirmed on P.E.I. during that time. 

Diagnosis to decision

Couvrette was diagnosed with lung cancer a year and a half ago — just months after the couple fulfilled their dream of moving to the east coast from Ontario. Couvrette went to an appointment to meet his new doctor, who noticed he had a bad cough and tests later showed he had lung cancer.

Couvrette underwent surgery and thought he was cancer-free, but the illness returned, and this time spread throughout his body. That was followed by other health problems, including a few falls.

Paul knew that the window was closing.- Liana Brittain

"The chances of survival were quite slim, in the 10 to 15 per cent range, and it would have meant that he would have had to live in Charlottetown to undergo the treatments…it would have certainly reduced his quality of life and it would have separated us."

Instead, 72-year-old Couvrette lived at home for months, under the palliative care program. During that time, he got more devastating news. He had a brain tumour, which was causing the falls and severe headaches.

Brittain said that's when her husband really knew what he needed to do.

"Paul knew that the window was closing and that he wanted definitely to die with dignity and he didn't want me to see him suffer," she said.

Brittain says after making the final decision on medically assisted death, the couple was interviewed by two doctors. After a 10-day period passed, they had to choose a date. So, he settled on May 10.

The final days

Brittain says her husband spent his final day the way he spent many others — by drinking a good cup of coffee, playing with the dogs, having conversations with family and looking out at the sea.

After being diagnosed with terminal cancer Couvrette chose a medically assisted death. (Liana Brittain/Facebook)

"And we had a lovely light dinner together and we all chatted and talked and then he said 'I'm ready to start my new adventure.'"

After that, she says the children gave him a kiss, took the dogs and went for a walk on the beach. Brittain stayed with the doctor and nurse and he died in their home.

Choosing a medically assisted death was the right choice for their family, Brittain said, adding loved ones supported the decision and her advice for anyone else in a similar situation is simple: sit down and talk.

"Even if not everyone is on the same page initially, sitting down and discussing it openly and honestly and talking through all the aspects of the end of life choice, the transition, the procedure and then answering any questions," she said.

'A wonderful adventure'

And just weeks after the death of her husband, Brittain said she looks back and remembers the good moments, more than the bad. 

"I've never seen anyone so empowered by a decision. Those last weeks of his life were filled with joy and happiness and every moment of every day was a celebration."

She added despite the difficult situation he faced, her husband was optimistic until the very end. 

"One of the doctors said to him during one of the interviews…'what will happen to you when you die?" And Paul said 'I don't know,' but he said 'it's going to be a wonderful adventure and I can't wait to find out.'"


  • An earlier version of this story said May 10, 2017 was the couple's 14th wedding anniversary. In fact, it marked their 11th wedding anniversary, and 14 years since their first date.
    Jun 16, 2017 3:55 PM AT


Stephanie Kelly

Associate Producer

Stephanie Kelly is the associate producer of CBC P.E.I.'s morning radio program, Island Morning.