Updated: Legal action filed contesting restrictions on medical aid in dying

Updated: Legal action filed contesting restrictions on medical aid in dying

Nicole Gladu, who is incurably ill, is seen in her lawyers office Wednesday, June 14, 2017 in Montreal. Gladu and Jean Truchon filed an action in Quebec Superior Court on Tuesday, arguing the eligibility requirements for physician-assisted death are too restrictive and violate their rights to the procedure. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Paul Chiasson.

MONTREAL — Nicole Gladu wants to die at home, surrounded by friends, with a glass of rose champagne in one hand and a canape of foie gras in the other.

And now the former journalist and trade unionist, who is slowly being robbed of her ability to function because of complications from childhood polio, is fighting the Quebec and Canadian governments for that chance.

“At age 71, I am concerned far more by the quality of my life than by its extension,” she told a news conference Wednesday.

“What I am asking is respect for all those like me, who have been watching death in the face for a long time in a progressive, rather than spectacular fashion.”

Gladu is one of two incurably ill Montrealers who are taking legal action to challenge the constitutionality of the Canadian and Quebec laws on assisted dying.

She and Jean Truchon filed an action in Quebec Superior Court on Tuesday, arguing the eligibility requirements for physician-assisted death are too restrictive and violate their rights to the procedure.

At the news conference alongside their lawyer, Jean-Pierre Menard, they explained they suffer from degenerative diseases but are not eligible for medical aid in dying because their deaths are not reasonably foreseeable and they are not at the end of their lives.

They want the court to allow doctors to provide them with medical aid in dying and to invalidate the articles of the laws setting the criteria.

Truchon, who was born with cerebral palsy, said he managed to live a fulfilling and independent life until 2012, when he lost the use of his one remaining limb, his left arm.

In a statement read aloud by an assistant, the 49-year-old said he would like to end his suffering and can’t face the prospect of life confined to an institution.

“Life in an institution until the end of my days is not made for me,” he said. “I have enjoyed another side of life before and I can no longer endure my misery.”

Gladu said that for the last 30 years, post-polio syndrome has led to an ever-growing list of health problems and a deteriorating quality of life.

“Each breath has become for me a conscious effort which consumes three-quarters of my waning energy,” she said.

“I’d like to die at home… in the company of my friends and with a glass of rose champagne in one hand and a canape of foie gras in the other.”

She said that while cancer patients are allowed to refuse treatment, those who suffer from degenerative diseases have no options, because there is no treatment.

Menard said Ottawa’s decision to limit medical aid in dying to patients whose death is “reasonably foreseeable” goes against the landmark Supreme Court ruling that paved the way for the legislation.

Menard said the ruling, known as the Carter decision, requested the legislation cover competent, consenting adults who had an incurable illness that caused intolerable suffering.

“The federal government has decided, against a large part of legal advice, to go against the Supreme Court ruling and against the Charter rights the Supreme Court has recognized to citizens,” he said.

He said Gladu and Truchon meet all the other criteria for assisted death and should be allowed to end their suffering.

Speaking in Quebec City, the province’s health minister said he welcomed the plaintiffs’ action.

“I’m to some extent happy that someone is asking the courts the question, because unfortunately it’s the courts who will decide this,” Gaetan Barrette told reporters at the legislature.

In Ottawa, federal Health Minister Jane Philpott said the existing legislation was drafted to strike a balance between respecting the rights of those who want assisted dying and the need to protect vulnerable Canadians.

But she said the issue is still under review and the government isn’t ruling out future changes.

“We are always open to hearing the views of the court and we are open to hearing the views of Canadians,” she said.

— With files from Pierre Saint-Arnaud

Morgan Lowrie, The Canadian Press

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