News / Toronto

Toronto man wants to be Ontario's first case of doctor-assisted suicide

80-year-old man with advanced lymphoma will ask court to help end his “intolerable pain.” If granted, the case would be the first in Ontario.

Assisted suicide will become available to Canadians without a court process as of June 6.

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Assisted suicide will become available to Canadians without a court process as of June 6.

In what is probably the first case of its kind in Ontario, a terminally ill Toronto man will soon ask a judge for a physician-assisted death.

If allowed, it would be only the second known instance outside Quebec where an application to have an assisted death has been granted since the Supreme Court gave the federal government an extension earlier this year to craft new legislation.

The man — identified only as A.B. in court documents — will be bringing an application for a constitutional exemption before a Superior Court judge later this month, his lawyer, Andrew Faith, confirmed to the Star.

“An application of this kind requires that we carefully safeguard our client’s privacy,” he said. “As such, we cannot comment on the proceedings at this time.”

A.B. is an 80-year-old man with advanced-stage aggressive lymphoma. His request follows that of an Alberta woman suffering from amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), also known as Lou Gehrig’s disease, who was granted a constitutional exemption by a Calgary judge last week to have an assisted death. She died with the help of physicians in British Columbia soon after the ruling.

A.B. will be asking Justice Thomas McEwen on Thursday for permission to proceed with his application anonymously.

“As a result of this irremediable condition, I am suffering intolerable pain and distress that cannot be alleviated,” A.B. says in an affidavit, indicating that he is bringing the application for a constitutional exemption with the support of his family, physicians and a psychiatrist.

His case comes amid heated debate on the issue and just three months before the government must produce legislation in line with the Supreme Court’s 2015 decision striking down the Criminal Code prohibitions on physician-assisted death as unconstitutional.

On Wednesday, the Catholic Archbishop of Toronto issued a statement pressing for the “protection of conscience and the vulnerable.”

Cardinal Thomas Collins was reacting to an all-party parliamentary committee’s recommendations, made last week, that are meant to help the government create new legislation, including a recommendation that doctors unwilling to help patients seeking an assisted death must refer them to physicians comfortable with providing it.

His statement will be read or shown on video in more than 200 churches across the archdiocese this weekend.

“Once we make people’s worthiness to live dependent on how well they function, our society has crossed the boundary into dangerous territory in which people are treated as objects that can be discarded as useless,” Collins said.

The committee’s recommendation on referral also irked the Canadian Medical Association, which described it last week as disappointing.

“I in no way mean to sound alarmist, but I have heard from some colleagues that are near retirement age that if this does become enshrined in legislation, they will retire,” Dr. Jeff Blackmer, the CMA’s vice-president of medical professionalism, said last week.

“I know some colleagues who have said they’ll move to a U.S. state.”

During hearings before the committee, the CMA proposed, as an alternative, creating a central mechanism to facilitate access to medically aided dying.

The Alberta woman, identified in a court ruling as Ms. S, had to travel to B.C. to receive an assisted death because she could not find a Calgary doctor to help her.

“There isn’t a list of doctors anywhere,” said Shanaaz Gokool, chief executive officer of Dying with Dignity Canada, which is looking to build a network of physicians willing to provide the service.

A spokeswoman for the College of Physicians and Surgeons of Ontario said the regulatory body has no intention of developing a central database of doctors willing to provide the service, but that the college will add external resources to its website as they become available.

Gokool said asking judges for permission for an assisted death cannot be the process after June 6, saying it should only be used as the mechanism in this interim period, while the government comes up with a new law.

“At that point (after June 6), it should be treated as a private health-care matter between the person, their family, if the person so chooses, and their health-care team.”

With files from The Canadian Press

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