Skip to main content
The Globe and Mail
Support Quality Journalism.
The Globe and Mail
First Access to Latest
Investment News
Collection of curated
e-books and guides
Inform your decisions via
Globe Investor Tools
per week
for first 24 weeks

Enjoy unlimited digital access
Enjoy Unlimited Digital Access
Get full access to
Just $1.99 per week for the first 24 weeks
Just $1.99 per week for the first 24 weeks
var select={root:".js-sub-pencil",control:".js-sub-pencil-control",open:"o-sub-pencil--open",closed:"o-sub-pencil--closed"},dom={},allowExpand=!0;function pencilInit(o){var e=arguments.length>1&&void 0!==arguments[1]&&arguments[1];select.root=o,dom.root=document.querySelector(select.root),dom.root&&(dom.control=document.querySelector(select.control),dom.control.addEventListener("click",onToggleClicked),setPanelState(e),window.addEventListener("scroll",onWindowScroll),dom.root.removeAttribute("hidden"))}function isPanelOpen(){return dom.root.classList.contains(}function setPanelState(o){dom.root.classList[o?"add":"remove"](,dom.root.classList[o?"remove":"add"](select.closed),dom.control.setAttribute("aria-expanded",o)}function onToggleClicked(){var l=!isPanelOpen();setPanelState(l)}function onWindowScroll(){window.requestAnimationFrame(function() {var l=isPanelOpen(),n=0===(document.body.scrollTop||document.documentElement.scrollTop);n||l||!allowExpand?n&&l&&(allowExpand=!0,setPanelState(!1)):(allowExpand=!1,setPanelState(!0))});}pencilInit(".js-sub-pencil",!1); // via darwin-bg var slideIndex = 0; carousel(); function carousel() { var i; var x = document.getElementsByClassName("subs_valueprop"); for (i = 0; i < x.length; i++) { x[i].style.display = "none"; } slideIndex++; if (slideIndex> x.length) { slideIndex = 1; } x[slideIndex - 1].style.display = "block"; setTimeout(carousel, 2500); } //

A joint Commons-Senate committee has started exploring legislative recommendations on the Supreme Court of Canada's ruling on doctor-assisted death. Sen. James Cowan says the timeframe for the consultations is "limited."

The Canadian Press

A woman suffering from the paralyzing degenerative disease known as ALS has become the first to receive a judicially authorized assisted death in Canada.

The woman received permission from a Calgary judge in a hearing last week from which the media and other members of the public were barred. Known as Ms. S in a ruling made public this week, she then travelled to Vancouver where two physicians attended to her on private property.

Ellen Wiebe, a Vancouver physician, confirmed the death Monday night, saying she was with Ms. S. and pronounced her dead at 8:30.

Story continues below advertisement

Ms. S. "suffered unnecessarily because she was required to travel from Calgary to Vancouver on the last day of her life, since she could not find a Calgary physician to help her," she said in an e-mail to The Globe and Mail.

Ms. S, a retired psychologist who loved hiking in the mountains, was diagnosed with the incurable disease in 2013 after developing a speech impediment, and was told last October that nothing more could be done to slow its progress.

"I am not suffering from anxiety or depression or fear of death," she said, as quoted by Justice Sheilah Martin of the Alberta Court of Queen's Bench. "I would like to pass away peacefully and am hoping to have physician-assisted death soon.  "I do not wish to have continued suffering and to die of this illness by choking. I feel that my time has come to go in peace."

In the disease's final stages, she had already begun to experience choking episodes from paralysis and was unable to speak or move anything but her left hand, enabling her to type text that could be produced as a voice. Ms. S. attended the hearing last week along with her spouse and best friend. The court heard her request in an expedited fashion because of her situation.

A newspaper reporter and a physicians' group argued for an open hearing, but Justice Martin said in the circumstances, it was more important to protect Ms. S's privacy, and the publication of the ruling would add openness to the process.

The assisted death is the first under an extraordinary process created by the Supreme Court of Canada, and required Justice Martin to decide how many doctors were needed to verify Ms. S's physical and psychological suffering and whether a psychiatrist was required to assess her mental competence. She also had to decide whether an Alberta ruling would apply in British Columbia, and whether her mental competence must be assessed again on the day of death, as the B.C. Attorney-General argued in this case.

Justice Martin, a former law dean at the University of Calgary, decided statements from two doctors were sufficient, and no psychiatric assessment was necessary. She made it clear that she would not allow Ms. S's request for an assisted death to be defeated on technical or legalistic grounds, and she expressly rejected guidelines from the chief justices of B.C's and Ontario's superior courts, calling for statements from more doctors than Ms. S provided. She also said an assessment of mental competence on the day of death was not necessary, and the ruling would apply across Canada.

Story continues below advertisement

"The constitutional exemption for which Ms. S. qualifies is personal to her and should accompany her throughout Canada, a country where she enjoys mobility rights."

Ms. S's disease, amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, also known as Lou Gehrig's disease, had progressed to the point that she was in constant discomfort. She needed constant care from her spouse and found her near-total dependence on others difficult, Justice Martin said.

Dr. Wiebe said Ms. S found her through a network in the Netherlands, and encouraged other doctors who are willing to assist with the end of life to make themselves known. The family doctor caring for Ms. S was willing to write a letter to the court, but not to help hasten her death.

"It is so much like abortion. You have a legal right, but you can't exercise that right unless there is a provider," Dr. Wiebe said in an interview.

Shanaaz Gokool, chief executive officer of Dying with Dignity, noted the decision was made just five days after the hearing. "I would hope that this will be the model for other provinces in this interim period."

Toronto media lawyer Peter Jacobsen objected to the courtroom being closed and documents sealed. "Because of the gravity of the decision, it is all the more important that there be public oversight."

Story continues below advertisement

The Supreme Court struck down Canada's ban on doctor-assisted dying last year, and suspended the effect of its ruling for a year. This winter, the federal government asked for a six-month extension to draft a new framework. The court granted four months, and said that people who are suffering intolerably and irremediably are entitled to a "constitutional exemption" from the Criminal Code ban on an assisted death, and could ask a superior court judge for authorization.

Last week, a parliamentary committee drafted a set of proposed rules for assisted death now being considered by the federal government.

Your Globe

Build your personal news feed

  1. Follow topics and authors relevant to your reading interests.
  2. Check your Following feed daily, and never miss an article. Access your Following feed from your account menu at the top right corner of every page.

Follow the authors of this article:

Follow topics related to this article:

View more suggestions in Following Read more about following topics and authors
Report an error Editorial code of conduct
Due to technical reasons, we have temporarily removed commenting from our articles. We hope to have this fixed soon. Thank you for your patience. If you are looking to give feedback on our new site, please send it along to If you want to write a letter to the editor, please forward to

Welcome to The Globe and Mail’s comment community. This is a space where subscribers can engage with each other and Globe staff. Non-subscribers can read and sort comments but will not be able to engage with them in any way. Click here to subscribe.

If you would like to write a letter to the editor, please forward it to Readers can also interact with The Globe on Facebook and Twitter .

Welcome to The Globe and Mail’s comment community. This is a space where subscribers can engage with each other and Globe staff. Non-subscribers can read and sort comments but will not be able to engage with them in any way. Click here to subscribe.

If you would like to write a letter to the editor, please forward it to Readers can also interact with The Globe on Facebook and Twitter .

Welcome to The Globe and Mail’s comment community. This is a space where subscribers can engage with each other and Globe staff.

We aim to create a safe and valuable space for discussion and debate. That means:

  • Treat others as you wish to be treated
  • Criticize ideas, not people
  • Stay on topic
  • Avoid the use of toxic and offensive language
  • Flag bad behaviour

If you do not see your comment posted immediately, it is being reviewed by the moderation team and may appear shortly, generally within an hour.

We aim to have all comments reviewed in a timely manner.

Comments that violate our community guidelines will not be posted.

UPDATED: Read our community guidelines here

Discussion loading ...

To view this site properly, enable cookies in your browser. Read our privacy policy to learn more.
How to enable cookies