Judge grants B.C. woman permission for physician-assisted death

A British Columbia woman living with multiple sclerosis has become the first in the province to be granted a court exemption to have a doctor help her die. Photo by The Canadian Press.

VANCOUVER — A British Columbia woman living with multiple sclerosis has become the first in the province to be granted a court exemption to have a doctor help her die.

B.C. Supreme Court Chief Justice Christopher Hinkson said in his written ruling that the woman, identified in court documents only as A.A., is suffering so badly that it will not be bearable for much longer.

"I find that the petitioner is experiencing enduring and intolerable pain and distress and that her quality of life has deteriorated dramatically over the last six years," he wrote.

Last year, the Supreme Court of Canada struck down laws that bar doctors from helping patients die and gave the federal government one year to come up with legislation.

In February, the court gave the federal government an extension until June 6 to create new legislation but said patients could apply to a judge for an exemption in the meantime.

A.A. meets all of the requirements for an exemption, Hinkson's ruling said, including competence, consent and a lack of available treatment options.

"I am satisfied that the petitioner has carefully and thoughtfully come to her decision to seek a physician-assisted death and that she fully and freely consents to the termination of her life," the judgment reads.

The woman and her husband both testified in court last month, and her family doctor of several decades provided an affidavit for the judge to consider.

The ruling will allow family physician Dr. Ellen Wiebe to provide A.A. with a voluntary lethal injection on or before May 4, 2016.

Wiebe helped a Calgary woman living with ALS end her life in February and has been a vocal advocate for assisted-dying legislation.

Hinkson's ruling exempts Wiebe, two un-named registered nurses and two un-named registered pharmacists from being prosecuted in A.A.'s death.

Three other patients have applied for an exemption to Canada's current laws prohibiting doctor-assisted death ahead of new federal legislation.

A lawyer in Newfoundland and Labrador is currently seeking another doctor to approve his client for the province's first court-approved assisted death.

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