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A Calgary judge has ruled a 27-year-old woman can access medical assistance in dying despite her father’s efforts to persuade the courts to block her request, although Monday’s decision also prevents the daughter from receiving the procedure for at least a month so her family can appeal.

Justice Colin Feasby, in a 31-page decision filed in court Monday, determined the harm of infringing on the woman’s autonomy and dignity outweighs the pain that her death would cause her father. The identities of those involved in the case, including the physicians who considered whether MAID was appropriate, are protected by a publication ban. In court documents, the woman is identified as M.V. and her father is known as W.V.

M.V.’s assisted death was delayed earlier this year after W.V. secured an interim injunction stalling the procedure. Justice Feasby, in his ruling, tossed out the injunction. However, he stayed his decision by 30 days, essentially delaying its effective date, so W.V. could launch an appeal. The judge said he inserted this provision at the request of W.V. and with consent from M.V.

He directly addressed M.V., who is autistic, lives with her parents, has never had a steady job, and who, according to her father, suffers from undiagnosed mental illnesses.

“My decision recognizes your right to choose a medically assisted death; but it does not require you to choose death,” Justice Feasby wrote.

M.V. did not outline her reasons for seeking death, arguing the court does not have jurisdiction to review Alberta Health Services’ approval of her MAID application. The judge determined the court does not have the power to overturn a MAID applicant’s decision or the clinical judgment of doctors and nurse practitioners who must sign off on a request for medically assisted death.

However, Justice Feasby did question the approval process, noting that M.V. twice applied for MAID and that, on both occasions, physicians disagreed on its appropriateness. M.V. most recently applied in 2023 and Justice Feasby noted AHS approved her for MAID after the doctor who supported her first request cast a tie-breaking vote in her second application.

M.V.’s lawyers did not return a message seeking comment. W.V.’s lawyer declined to comment.

Justice Feasby said the harm to M.V., if an injunction is granted, “goes to the core of her being.” It would deny her the “right to choose between living or dying with dignity.” She would then be “forced to choose between living a life she has decided is intolerable and ending her life without medical assistance.

“This is a terrible choice that should not be forced on MV as attempting to end her life without medical assistance would put her at increased risk of pain, suffering, and lasting injury.”

Trudo Lemmens, a University of Toronto professor and Scholl Chair in Health Law and Policy, said the judge’s logic reflects how Canada’s MAID legislation is short on safeguards, especially for people with disabilities.

“It prioritizes their death more than it values their life,” he said.

Prof. Lemmens said the judge too easily presumes that without MAID, M.V. faces just two outcomes: living an intolerable life or dying by suicide without medical assistance. The judge, he said, does not consider that suicide prevention is also a possible outcome.

MAID, he noted, was once viewed as reserved for those approaching death.

“It is not an unlimited right to choose one’s death,” Prof. Lemmens said.

In 2020, a woman in Nova Scotia went to court to stop her 83-year-old husband from receiving MAID. The patient suffered from an advanced case of chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) that limited his ability to breathe, but his wife argued that he was seeking death because of a mental-health condition.

The Nova Scotia Court of Appeal ruled that the courts, with few exceptions, should not intervene in assisted dying cases when the doctors involved had followed the proper procedure for assessing patients. The court also found that the man’s wife did not have legal standing to challenge his eligibility for MAID. He received MAID the day after the ruling.

Christopher Lyon, whose father received MAID in Victoria in July, 2021, applauded Justice Feasby’s decision to give a family member a legal voice in the process. In his father’s case, said Mr. Lyon, an environmental social scientist, the family had no clear steps to provide what they considered important personal information, and very limited access to the MAID medical assessments.

There should be room, he said, not only for family, but for other health care professionals who know the patient, to ensure that “every piece of possibly relevant information is considered in the decision.” And ideally, he said, “you should not have to go to court to do this.”

Justice Feasby, who sits on the Court of King’s Bench of Alberta, said that while he is not privy to why M.V. wants MAID, he believes she has struggled to find a doctor who could diagnose her condition and offer “appropriate treatment.”

He added: “Please understand that pursuant to the AHS MAID policy your doctors not only have a responsibility to inform you of the means available to alleviate your suffering, it is their duty to offer you ‘consultations with relevant professionals who provide those services or that care.’

“Though the AHS MAID Policy identifies only mental health and disability support services, in my view, the obligation on your doctors extends to offering to arrange appointments with any sort of specialist who may have greater insight into your condition and be able to offer you more effective treatment.”

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