Skip to main content

Nicole Gladu, who is incurably ill, is seen in her lawyers office Wednesday, June 14, 2017 in Montreal.Paul Chiasson/The Canadian Press

Having lost the use of his left arm, his only functioning limb, Jean Truchon started pondering ways to kill himself, wondering whether he could buy a lethal dose of heroin from a drug dealer or whether he could steer his wheelchair into the path of an incoming car.

Instead, Mr. Truchon and another incurably ill Montrealer have joined in a civil suit filed in Quebec Superior Court on Tuesday, the latest court case challenging current Canadian laws that disqualify patients who are not near death from getting doctor-assisted dying.

Both Mr. Truchon, 49, and his co-plaintiff, Nicole Gladu, 71, whose childhood polio has left her with a number of degenerative health problems, have incurable conditions but don't face imminent death. As a result, both were ruled by doctors to be ineligible for medically assisted death.

Related: Assisted-death providers publish clinical-practice guideline

Related: Second plaintiff added to court challenge of assisted-dying law

Read more: At least 970 people received an assisted death in Canada in 2016

"The plaintiffs are condemned to a life of complete dependency and a total loss of their autonomy. The plaintiffs would rather die with dignity than live with intolerable suffering," their court filing said.

If their request is rejected, Mr. Truchon is seriously considering suicide by fasting, while Ms. Gladu would fly to Switzerland, where right-to-die groups assist foreigners, the statement of claim warned.

Both the federal law, Bill C-14, and Quebec's own law, which predated the federal amendments to the Criminal Code, are contravening the Supreme Court of Canada's 2015 Carter decision, which sets out the minimum criteria for physician-assisted dying, the statement of claim said.

The civil suit filed by Mr. Truchon and Ms. Gladu claims that their constitutional rights are being denied by Bill C-14's requirement that a natural death must be "reasonably foreseeable" for a patient to qualify for physician-assisted dying.

"By totally prohibiting medical assistance to die for people with serious and incurable illness who feel intolerable pain but don't face reasonably foreseeable death, the federal lawmaker is denying them the constitutional right recognized in the Carter decision," their claim said.

Bill C-14 is already the object of a constitutional challenge from the British Columbia Civil Liberties Association and two B.C. women.

The first B.C. woman, Julia Lamb, who has spinal muscular atrophy, did not wish to die immediately but said she wanted to have peace of mind and be ready should her condition get worse.

However, the second B.C. woman, Robyn Moro, who was added as a plaintiff in May, has Parkinson's disease and had seen her request for a medically assisted death denied because her death is not "reasonably foreseeable."

"The only unassisted means of death Robyn has practically available to her is to refuse food and water. Robyn believes that death by that means will be slow, painful and distressing," said an amended notice of civil claim in the B.C. case.

The Quebec lawsuit notes that the existence of the B.C. court challenge, but says that its plaintiffs cannot wait years for the other litigation to be resolved.

The court claim says that Mr. Truchon was born with spastic cerebral palsy, with a weakening of three limbs.

Only his left arm was functional, which he used to control his wheelchair. The statement of claim notes that he was able to stay in a university residence while completing a bachelor degree in literature and was autonomous until 2012, living by himself and playing cosom hockey.

He gradually lost control of his left arm and had to move to a long-term care centre. He now has to use a mouth-controlled wheelchair.

At a news conference alongside their lawyer, Jean-Pierre Ménard, Mr. Truchon had an assistant read a statement explaining that he couldn't face the prospect of life confined to an institution.

Ms. Gladu said she survived childhood polio and went on to become an accomplished journalist and trade unionist.

But for the last 30 years, post-polio syndrome has led to an ever-growing list of health problems and a deteriorating quality of life.

"Each breath has become for me a conscious effort, which consumes three-quarters of my waning energy," she said.

With a report from The Canadian Press

Grant’s family wanted him to die peacefully and with dignity, but that isn’t what happened

Globe and Mail Update

Follow related authors and topics

Authors and topics you follow will be added to your personal news feed in Following.

Interact with The Globe