Julia Lamb, who has a degenerative muscle disease, pauses following a news conference in Vancouver, B.C., Monday, June, 27, 2016. Lamb is challenging Canada’s physician-assisted dying law just days after it came into force. (Jonathan Hayward/The Canadian Press)

Chilliwack woman wins right to medically assisted death after three-year court battle

Julia Lamb has been the lead plaintiff in a legal battle to ease restrictions on Canada’s assisted dying laws

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.

ALSO READ: Death is a medical choice, but not for everyone

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.

READ MORE: Supreme Court upholds Canada’s right to reargue facts in assisted-dying case

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.


@ashwadhwani
ashley.wadhwani@bpdigital.ca

Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter.

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

Back in Time

Historical Perspective

Food bank doing well thanks to volunteers and donations

Chair applauds staff for stepping up in time of turmoil

COVID-19 highlights lack of connectivity in First Nations communities

Many don’t have access required to utilize online platforms, says First Nations Technology Council

BC SPCA team helps discover new feline virus after outbreak at Quesnel shelter

Fechavirus is a kind of parvovirus, which makes cats and kittens very sick

Restaurants adjust to loosened restrictions

Gateway Grill in Clearwater is one of the establishments that’s reopened its doors to in-house guests

VIDEO: Injured bald eagle rescued in B.C. First Nations community

Bird suspected injured in fight, whisked off to Coquitlam rehab

Toronto Raptors’ Ujiri says conversations about racism can no longer be avoided

Thousands have protested Floyd’s death and repeated police killings of black men across the United States

‘I’m afraid’: Witnesses of wolf attack on senior near Prince Rupert worried about safety

Frank Russ shows where the unprovoked wolf attacked his father

Protesters prepare to rally against racism in front of Vancouver Art Gallery

Rally is in response to the deaths of black Americans and a Toronto woman

Protesters rally against anti-black, Indigenous racism in Toronto

Police estimated the crowd to be between 3,500 and 4,000 and said there was no violence

Feds earmark $1.5M to support recovery of B.C., Indigenous tourism

B.C. money will be split between Vancouver Island and Indigenous tourism

‘We’re sick of it’: Anger over police killings shatters U.S.

Tens of thousands marched to protest the death of George Floyd

Surrey mayor’s party under fire for ‘sickening’ tweet accusing northern B.C. RCMP of murder

Mayor Doug McCallum says tweet, Facebook post ‘sent out by unauthorized person’

Most Read