A Chilliwack woman who spearheaded a nearly four-year fight to access medically assisted dying in Canada will be able to die in her own way when she requests it.
Julia Lamb, who has spinal muscular atrophy, announced alongside the BC Civil Liberties Association on Wednesday that thy have requested an adjournment in their legal battle against the federal government after an expert witness supplied by Canada’s counsel said that Lamb, 28, would be able to qualify for an assisted death.
“This is an enormous victory for our client and for the many Canadians like her who might find themselves suffering unbearably with no end in sight,” said Grace Pastine, civil liberties association litigation director, during a news conference in Vancouver.
Lamb’s plight to gain access to medically assisted dying – or MaiD – first began in 2016, after the federal government Bill C14 – legislation that only allowed assisted dying to be requested by those who were near death or suffering from a terminal illness.
The legislation came despite a 2015 Supreme Court ruling, known as Carter v. Canada, which directed that medical assistance in dying should be available to consenting, competent adults with “grievous and irremediable” medical conditions that are causing enduring suffering that they find intolerable.
Under Canada’s law, Lamb as well as others with diseases such as multiple sclerosis, traumatic spinal injury, Parkinson’s disease and Huntington’s disease would not be eligible for medical assistance in dying, the civil liberties association argued, therefore violating the charter by excluding people who could live for years with medical conditions that cause intolerable suffering.
Spinal muscular atrophy is a degenerative disease with no cure that Lamb has said will lead to years of unbearable suffering by robbing her of the use of her hands and forcing her to use a ventilator to breathe and a feeding tube to eat.
“I feel like a shadow has been lifted now that I don’t have to live in fear of the future,” Lamb told a room full of reporters Wednesday.
She added that she’s relieved others won’t feel trapped in intolerable suffering and instead of “fearing their future, it can bring them choice, agency and peace.”
“Where I go, my spinal muscular atrophy comes too. It is something that I have lived with since birth and was diagnosed with at 16 months. The genetic, degenerative disease affects every aspect of my life,” she continued.
“It is because of my ambitions, my wanting to forge ahead that I couldn’t deny my future. What will happen when my disease, my symptoms, and my body trap me in this progressive suffering? The importance of my personal freedoms and values allow me to live my joy.”
Lamb was one of two plaintiffs in the case. Robyn Moro, who suffered from Parkinson’s disease was initially denied medical help in dying because her natural death was considered reasonably foreseeable. She died at the age of 68 in 2018.
Outside of the legal case, doctors across B.C. have worked to interpret Bill C14’s reasonably foreseeable future clause, which requires physicians can ensure, without a doubt, that the death of a patient is probable.
Slightly more than 2,600 people died with medical assistance in 2018, with 773 of those in B.C. – the highest number of such deaths compared to any other province.
Roughly 65 per cent are by those suffering from a kind of cancer. Sixteen per cent stemmed from a circulatory or respiratory system disease.
The civil liberties association said that while the case has ended in a win that will bring clarity to doctors across the country, they won’t hesitate to continue the lawsuit if a Canadian is improperly denied their right to MaiD.
“Now, agency, compassion and choice can be given to those of us who were left out,” Lamb said.
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