Health·Audio

Doctor-assisted suicide ruling comes too late for Toronto woman

Kathy Wardle's final wish was that she would be one of the last Canadians to travel abroad to end her life. She hopes no one will have to go through what she did.

Wait for legislation forces Canadian to choose between dying abroad, enduring excruciating pain

Kathy Wardle (left) and her sister Lesley Forrester. Wardle, 73, suffered from debilitating osteoarthritis. She chose to end her life through assisted suicide at a Swiss clinic in March.

Kathy Wardle's final wish was that she would be one of the last Canadians forced to travel abroad to legally end her life on her own terms.

Wardle, 73, suffered from debilitating osteoarthritis. Nearly 10 years of countless pills and multiple surgeries failed to treat the pain, and her thoughts turned to suicide.

"Could I use the morphine pills? I was convinced I could … [but] the doctor said you're more likely to end up in a coma," she said.

"I thought about the car in the garage thing, and I thought, who was going to have to find me? That would be awful," she added, while lying in bed just weeks before her death.

More than anything, Wardle wanted to end her life peacefully at her home in Toronto, cuddling her two standard poodles, surrounded by her closest friends and her sister, Lesley Forrester.

Having it in your own country would be a thousand, thousand times better, in every way.- Kathy Wardle

But with assisted suicide banned in Canada, she looked to the Dignitas clinic in Zurich, Switzerland. It offers accompanied suicide for individuals suffering from a terminal illness, unendurable pain or an unendurable disability.

Individuals who receive the green light from Dignitas are able to legally end their lives on their own terms, by drinking a lethal cocktail of barbiturates.

Supreme Court ruling comes 'too late'

Partway through Wardle's preparations to leave for Switzerland, the Supreme Court of Canada ruled that Canadians have a right to doctor-assisted suicide.

It was significant progress for the dying with dignity movement, but for Wardle, the ruling came too late.

The government was given up to a year to draft new legislation, and in the meantime, assisted suicide remains illegal.

"I'm happy about [the ruling] ... I'm glad that's going to happen," Wardle said.

On Feb. 6 this year, the Supreme Court gave the federal and provincial governments 12 months to amend legislation that bans doctors from assisting patients who have chosen to die.

"It won't do me any good, because I can't wait. I'm in too much pain."

Wardle said she hopes she's one of the last Canadians to go through the ordeal of preparing for physician-assisted suicide abroad.

"Having it in your own country would be a thousand, thousand times better, in every way," she said.

In Wardle's case, the Dignitas process required extensive documentation, including post-operative notes from her multiple surgeries and family records proving next of kin. The whole ordeal was a stressful and frustrating process for Wardle — who had to track down the paperwork and organize an international flight and accommodation, all while dealing with her deteriorating physical condition.

She just looked like she was falling asleep … then it was clear to us that she wasn't in pain.- Lesley Forrester

After weeks of preparations and waiting, Wardle received the green light from Dignitas — she was cleared to travel to their clinic in Zurich, where a doctor would meet with her in person and ask her if she was sure she wanted to die, before giving her the final go-ahead.

On March 17, a sunny day in the hilly countryside of Zurich, Kathy Wardle enjoyed her final moments outside, sipping cognac and enjoying a final smoke.

"She said okay I'm ready … so in we went … then we just told each other how much we loved each other," Forrester says.

"It wasn't even three minutes and her eyelids drooped, and she just looked like she was falling asleep … then it was clear to us that she wasn't in pain."

Forrester, now back home, says the whole process was peaceful, but she wishes her sister could have died at home.

"It was so far removed from being here. There wasn't that kind of comfort level at all," she says.

"It would just be so different if it could be in Canada … death is a natural part of life."



This week on The Sunday Edition

Starting at 9 a.m. ET on Sunday, March 31 on CBC Radio's The Sunday Edition:

Michael Enright: Should animals have rights similar to human rights?

Money and politics Part 1: Management guru and author Henry Mintzberg says western society has become deeply unbalanced. Our politics, economy and social policy are dominated by the interests of the private sector, while governments shrink in size and influence and the public interest goes unheeded.

Money and politics Part 2: The American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) is one of the most influential political organizations in the U.S., but one that few people know about. ALEC is almost entirely funded by giant corporations, like Koch Industries, and it doesn't just sway public policy, it seats politicians and big business at the same table, to draft laws.


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