TORONTO – A terminally ill man who hopes to win court approval for an assisted death wants to die from a single lethal injection.
If Ontario Superior Court grants the man his wish on Thursday, a hematologist has offered to help him die in accordance with Quebec’s detailed protocol, court filings show.
The hematologist involved says he would be willing to prescribe two drugs — pentobarbital or secobarbital — in a dose that would be deadly if taken orally.
“However, based on inquiries I have made, I do not believe these drugs are currently available in Ontario in an oral dose of this amount,” the physician states. “Therefore, I am also willing to assist (the man) in dying by following…the ‘Quebec protocol.'”
The protocol calls for a three-step process that starts with sedation, followed by putting the patient into an artificial coma, then administering a powerful muscle relaxant that causes breathing and the heart to stop.
“First the patient will be helped to relax, then he will be put in a deep sleep and will not feel anything when he stops breathing,” according to the protocol, which stresses the patient can change his or her mind at any time.
“It is advisable to explain to those present, before starting the injections, that death might come relatively quickly, and that the heart may keep beating for a long time after breathing has stopped.”
In an affidavit, the 80-year-old married grandfather says he understands the planned drug injection would result in “my certain death.”
None of those involved in what is the first such case in Ontario can, by court order, be identified.
Court documents show the man, who says he has lived a “wonderful and exciting life” and has seen “so much of the world,” was diagnosed in 2012 with lymphoma. He is currently bed-ridden and in unbearable pain. His family, physicians and a psychiatrist say he is lucid and support his request to die.
“It is crippling emotionally to see someone you love in so much pain, so much distress,” the man’s daughter says in court documents.
“I am so lucky to have a beautiful family who remain close to me,” the man says in his affidavit. “Although the decision to end my suffering is one that I alone have made, it is important to me to know that I have their support.”
Under the protocol, the dispensing pharmacist is required to prepare two identical sealed kits — in case there’s an issue with the first one — containing the deadly drugs along with the needed injection materials for use by the doctors.
The document suggests using the barbiturate phenobarbital — a drug Arkansas has used in executions — to induce coma, and then quickly injecting the muscle-paralyzing agent rocuronium bromide to induce death.
The protocol also discusses the need for the utmost sensitivity and respect when proceeding with assisted death.
“Medical aid in dying should be marked by a profound solemnity,” the protocol states. “Touching the dying person with emotion is more important than counting his breaths.”
Last year, the Supreme Court of Canada struck down laws that bar doctors from helping someone die, but put the ruling on hold for one year. The court later granted the government a four-month extension, but said the terminally ill could ask the courts for an exemption to the ban during that period.
Both the federal and Ontario governments have told The Canadian Press they would not oppose the man’s wish for a doctor-assisted death.