Terminally ill Toronto man applies for doctor-assisted death

A terminally Toronto man is asking a judge to grant him a physician-assisted death, arguing that he can't wait for the federal government to introduce new legislation.

'I am suffering intolerable pain and distress,' man writes in court application

A close-up of two people holding hands - one person being a patient in a hospital bed.
A terminally ill Toronto man is asking a judge to allow him to have a doctor-assisted death. (Chris Kreussling)

A terminally ill Toronto man is asking a judge to grant him a physician-assisted death.

The man — who is only identified by his initials A.B. — will have his application heard by an Ontario Superior Court judge later this month.

In a court affidavit, the 80-year-old man says he is in the advanced stages of aggressive lymphoma diagnosed in 2012. 

"I am suffering intolerable pain and distress that cannot be eliminated," he says in the affidavit.

The case is believed to be the first of its kind in Ontario.

Earlier this week, a Calgary woman suffering from Lou Gehrig's disease ended her life in Vancouver with the help of two doctors after she was granted the kind of legal exemption that A.B. is seeking. 

She is believed to be the first person in Canada outside of Quebec to be allowed legally to end her life with help from a doctor. Her identity was also protected by a court-ordered publication ban.

Applicant wants identity protected

In his affidavit, A.B. said he wants his identity protected so that "neither myself or my family is subjected to public attention that might follow if my name is released to the public.

"Such attention would be detrimental to my wish to die with dignity, privately, in the company of my family."

A.B. says he wants protection from members of the media who might try to contact him. He also wants to avoid harassment from groups opposed to laws that permit physician-assisted deaths.

Under Canada's current law, it is still a crime to help another person end their life, but two recent decisions at the Supreme Court allow exemptions if certain criteria are met.

In January, the country's highest court granted the constitutional exemption to those who make an application in Superior Court and are found to have met the criteria until new legislation is crafted in June.

Should doctors' names stay confidential?

Today the court heard arguments to allow media organizations to publish the names of A.B.'s doctors.

Media outlets are not asking that the identities of A.B. or his family members be published.

Peter Jacobson, the lawyer representing CBC, National Post, the Globe and Mail, and CTV told Justice Thomas McEwen the application for a doctor-assisted suicide should be as transparent as possible because of its serious ramifications.

He said, theoretically, if the same doctors approve other patients who apply for doctor-assisted suicides, there may be a concern that those doctors are "rubber-stamping" the process.

Publicizing the names of the doctors could mean fewer doctors would be willing to risk coming forward, said Erica Baron, the lawyer for three doctors who plan to file affidavits in A.B.'s case.

"It's a fallacy to think these doctors are willing to help other patients," she said.

Jacobson also argued that publishing the names could help others.

"For those who wish to come forward in future, they may wish to know who to go to, to retain them," said the media's lawyer.

The College of Physicians and Surgeons of Ontario has issued an interim directive to its members that if a doctor is unwilling to help a patient die for conscience or religious reasons, that doctor must refer the patient to a doctor who is willing to assist.

The college says that directive could change depending on wording of the federal government's assisted dying law expected in June.