The COVID-19 outbreak has forced a Montreal man who was instrumental in challenging the country’s assisted-dying laws to hasten his own death.
Jean Truchon, whose constitutional challenge struck down restrictions in the laws, received medical assistance in dying Tuesday afternoon, almost 11 weeks ahead of his original plans.
In a statement released through his lawyers, Mr. Truchon said he had initially scheduled to receive medical assistance to die on June 22 and hoped to enjoy the last months of his life with his friends and relatives.
However, the 51-year-old was a resident at Montreal’s Paul-Émile Léger long-term care centre. Such facilities are often short-staffed, their residents in poor health. They have been hit hard across the country by the pandemic, with hundreds of confirmed cases and dozens of deaths among residents.
An official with the local regional health authority confirmed to The Globe and Mail that there is at least one confirmed case at Mr. Truchon’s facility. Like other provinces, Quebec had suspended visits to long-term care centres, leaving residents isolated.
“The Coronavirus has literally stolen my time with those I love. Seeing what is coming frightens me the most. Therefore, I made the decision to leave now and this was well thought out,” Mr. Truchon said in his statement.
He noted that even before the pandemic, his medical condition had already made his life challenging.
“Given the current context of the health crisis, I decided to take the train and leave my friends and all those who believed in me and my cause at the station.”
Quebec Premier François Legault and Health Minister Danielle McCann paid tribute to Mr. Truchon on Monday, praising his courage and thanking him for his role in the debate about medically-assisted death. “I salute Mr. Truchon and I hope his passing away was in the most serene way,” Ms. McCann said.
Mr. Truchon and another incurably ill Montrealer, Nicole Gladu, were co-plaintiffs in a civil suit filed in 2017 that challenged Canadian laws that disqualified patients who were not near death from accessing medical assistance in dying (MAID).
The court heard that Mr. Truchon was born with spastic cerebral palsy, which resulted in the loss of function in three limbs. He earned a degree in literature, lived by himself in a supervised apartment and was able to play wheelchair ball hockey and take buses to visit his parents.
Then, in 2012, his condition worsened. He lost the use of his left arm – his only functioning limb – and was in constant pain.
However, he was declared ineligible for MAID. The federal law requires a patient’s natural death to be “reasonably foreseeable," while the Quebec legislation requires them to be in an advanced state of “irreversible decline.”
The court heard that Mr. Truchon was so desperate that he considered fasting to death or steering his wheelchair into the path of an oncoming car.
In a landmark decision last September, Quebec Superior Court Justice Christine Baudouin struck down the restrictions. While the judge suspended her ruling for six months to allow governments to amend their laws, she exempted Mr. Truchon and Ms. Gladu, allowing them to proceed with their bids for medical assistance in dying.
This spring, the judge agreed to give the federal government more time to amend its legislation, extending the deadline to July 11.
Mr. Truchon’s statement ended by thanking his lawyers at the Ménard, Martin law firm and “judge Christine Baudouin for her incredible judgment.”
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