Toronto man who was granted right to doctor-assisted death has died
'It was his life and his choice and we support him in that choice unconditionally,' family says
An 81-year-old Toronto man who became the first person in Ontario to be granted a physician-assisted death has died.
The family of the man, known only as A.B., released a statement saying he died on Friday.
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"Today, A.B., our dear husband, father and grandfather passed away in peace and dignity with the assistance of his caring physicians," the statement reads.
"It was his life and his choice and we support him in that choice unconditionally."
A.B. had said in a court affidavit that he was in the advanced stages of aggressive lymphoma. He was diagnosed in 2012.
Ontario Superior Court Justice Paul Perell granted A.B.'s exemption on Thursday after an emotional 30-minute hearing, during which Perell paused several times as he read through the details of A.B.'s suffering.
"I don't think there was a dry eye in the room," Emma Carver, one of A.B.'s lawyers, told CBC's Metro Morning Friday.
"It was an amazing recount of his life. It almost felt like a eulogy as the judge started to talk about his circumstances, so it was a very unique, unique court case."
A.B. had said in his affidavit he was bedridden and "suffering intolerable pain and distress that cannot be eliminated," despite receiving pain medication and other narcotics.
No government opposition
Neither the federal nor provincial government opposed the man's request for physician-assisted death.
A.B.'s lawyer, Andrew Faith, read a statement on behalf of his client following the judge's decision. A.B., a married grandfather, thanked the court for rendering a decision that would allow him to die with dignity.
"This is a right of human dignity and I am thankful that I no longer have to live under a cloud of stigma and shame that I feel as I slowly and painfully lose control," the statement read.
The court had heard there are two options for a doctor-assisted death: an oral dose of a lethal medication or a lethal dose of a general anesthetic administered intravenously. The medication taken orally is not available in Ontario.
The lawyer for A.B.'s doctors said a hospital had agreed to provide A.B.'s hematologist with the lethal dosage of the anesthetic, which A.B.'s doctor was willing to administer.
When addressing the court, Faith said his client's condition was worsening. He stressed the urgency of A.B.'s request to die.
The family said in their statement that seeing A.B.'s wish granted gave them the "strength to weather our grief at his departure. In death, he has been restored to the strong, vibrant and dignified man we knew before cancer and extraordinary pain brought him to his knees."
"It is bittersweet," Carver told CBC. "Obviously the victory means the end of his journey, but I think this is really what he wanted and so he was so thankful to receive this decision."
A.B. said he'd had a good life and that his only regret was having to wage a court battle in his final months.
"My hope is that our government will see fit to make permanent changes in the law so that no other family will have to do this ever again," A.B. said.
His family said in their statement Friday, they plan to do everything they can to make certain the "legislation to allow physician-assisted death is enshrined quickly and permanently."
Carver says A.B.'s precedent-setting case in Ontario should help pave the way for future applicants.
"It's going to be really important for future applicants who want to have this done and hopefully for them, they can do this without as much work as we had to do," Carver said.
Names of doctors involved will stay confidential
Earlier this month, a judge ruled against a media request to identify the doctors involved in the court case.
Justice Thomas McEwen heard arguments from lawyers representing A.B., his doctors and media outlets over an application to keep the identities of the patient, his family and his health-care providers private.
CBC, CTV, the Globe and Mail and Postmedia did not contest the patient's own wish for anonymity, as well as anonymity for his family. However, the media outlets did ask the court for permission to identify the health-care professionals involved.
McEwen ruled that "the confidentiality order is necessary in order to ensure that the applicant, his family, physicians and other health-care professionals are not deterred from participating in a charter application for fear of unwanted publicity and media attention."
Read the family's full statement:
"Today, A.B., our dear husband, father and grandfather passed away in peace and dignity with the assistance of his caring physicians. It was his life and his choice and we support him in that choice unconditionally.
We are so thankful for the ongoing care, guidance and medical assistance from his enlightened and compassionate physicians, who like A.B., believed strongly that an individual deserves to be the author of their own journey's end when the pain is intolerable and there is no further hope for recovery.
We are grateful to our lawyers Andrew Faith and Emma Carver of Polley Faith LLP who helped us understand every nuance of this case and unwaveringly helped our treasured A.B. to stand up for his rights and articulate his reasoning to the courts.
Finally, we would also like to thank Superior Court Justice Paul Perell for listening so carefully to our story, applying the law and understanding the critical need for a speedy decision based on A.B.'s considerable and growing pain and suffering.
Seeing our beloved A.B. calm, peaceful and without stigma and shame at his life's end gives us the strength to weather our grief at his departure. In death, he has been restored to the strong, vibrant, and dignified man we knew before cancer and extraordinary pain brought him to his knees. Knowing that his wishes were carried out takes away the sting of his death. The courage he showed us at the end will dwell in our hearts forever and eventually allow the sun and the stars to shine bright enough on our family to mend the hole that is left because of his death.
We are so very proud that he used his last limited energy to fight for something he believed in so fundamentally: the right to decide when he was ready to pass and the right to have the assistance to do so with comfort and dignity. It was his most fervent hope that our government will take the steps necessary to ensure that all Canadians can gain this right — without having to battle in the courts — should they choose to exercise it according to their own circumstances and beliefs.
Our grandpa, dad, husband was a proud citizen of this country and believed Canada to be the best place in the world. In his memory, we will do everything we can to continue to make this a reality which includes making certain that the legislation to allow physician assisted death is enshrined – quickly and permanently."