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right to die

89-year-old Kathleen "Kay" Carter, who suffered from spinal stenosis,was taken to Switzerland by her family in January 2010 to end her life.Globe files

Kathleen (Kay) Carter achieved the kind of "good death" that applicants in a right-to-die case say should be a right for all Canadians – the only problem was that she had to leave the country to get it.

Ms. Carter's death, at a Dignitas clinic in Forch, Switzerland last year, has been cited several times in a case now before the Supreme Court of British Columbia in which a group of individuals and the B.C. Civil Liberties Association is challenging Criminal Code sanctions that make physician-assisted suicide illegal.

In a written submission, filed with the court by the Farewell Foundation For The Right To Die, Ms. Carter's death is held up as a model for how physician-assisted dying should occur in Canada.

"The only regrettable aspect of the manner in which Ms. Carter ended her life was the fact that Ms. Carter was forced to end her life away from home and travel to Switzerland at great personal expense and hardship," states the submission.

The Farewell Foundation, one of several groups intervening in the case in support of the applicants, argues that the Swiss system should be adopted in Canada.

The application states there are multiple safeguards built into the system, including the requirement that a patient must be mentally competent, must undergo medical assessment, must have a hopeless medical prognosis, and must be suffering unbearably.

Once a prescription for a lethal dose of sodium pentobarbital has been issued, the patient must "express a wish to end his or her life" on the day of the assisted suicide, and then the "ultimate act of taking the medication at issue must be performed by the individual."

A notice of application filed separately by the applicants describes Ms. Carter's death in detail.

It says she was diagnosed with spinal stenosis in 2008, at age 88. As her spinal column degenerated she was confined to a wheelchair, suffered chronic pain and was told she would soon be reduced to lying flat in bed, unable to move.

"Kay expressed concern that her conditions was rendering her trapped in her own body and stripped of her independence. … Kay expressed a desire to end her life in Canada, but was aware that assisting suicide is a criminal offence," the application states.

She sought the help of family members, and arrangements were made to take her to Switzerland, where she was quickly processed through the system.

"At the clinic a Dignitas staff member, 'Erica', repeatedly asked Kay to confirm her desire to terminate her life … the accompanying family members positioned themselves around her, entwining their arms around Kay and each other … [and]witnessed Erica dispense a lethal does of sodium pentobarbital," states the application.

After Ms. Carter drank the lethal drug, she took a piece of Swiss chocolate to ease the bitter taste in her mouth, fell unconscious, and was pronounced dead 20 minutes later.

In oral arguments on Wednesday, Tim Dickson, representing the Canadian Unitarian Council, said Canada's laws against physician-assisted death "interfere with our autonomy over our bodies," and impose slow, painful deaths on many Canadians.

"Each of us wants to die a good death," he said.

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