Susan Griffiths kept her appointment with death on Thursday.
The 72-year-old Winnipeg woman who went to Zurich, Switzerland to seek final relief from a horrifying disease that was slowly enveloping her like a shroud, died after drinking a drug cocktail prescribed by a Swiss doctor under the country's guidelines for assisted suicide, CBC News said..
Griffiths suffered from multiple system atrophy, a rare degenerative neurological disease that robs victims of movement and bodily functions such as eating and bladder control. The disease mainly strikes men and women in their fifties. The cause is unknown and there is no cure, no treatment even to delay its progress.
It made life increasingly hard to bear, Griffiths told CBC News. She used a wheelchair much of the time and had trouble eating because the muscles in her mouth are weakening. She was in constant pain.
"It hurts to wear my clothes," she said. "Against my skin, wherever it touches me, it hurts."
Griffiths did not want to ride her illness to its painful and inevitable conclusion. She opted to commit suicide but her debility has meant she needed someone's help, which remains against the law in Canada despite legal challenges.
So she went to Switzerland, where assisted suicide is permitted under strict guidelines.
Swiss law required she meet with a physician twice over three days to ensure she really wants to die.
The first meeting Tuesday went well, she told CBC News.
"Even the doctor that we met today and other people in the medical profession have said the same thing,” said Griffiths. “If they had my disease that I have they would do what I am doing. Interesting."
The first meeting was short, with the doctor providing an initial assessment and arranging for a followup meeting to ensure Griffiths does not have second thoughts. If satisfied Griffiths really is prepared to die, the doctor will prescribe a fatal dose of drugs, which are sent to Dignitas, a non-profit group that aids both Swiss citizens and foreigners to commit suicide, CBC News said.
Griffiths then got the final go-ahead to keep her scheduled appointment at Dignitas.
Griffiths' brother from England, her sons who live in Germany and Switzerland, and her daughter and grandchildren from Winnipeg joined her for her final days.
It was a poignant week, sharing memories and laughing, but sometimes sharply realizing why they're there.
"Every now and then my granddaughter Emma gets upset," Griffiths said. "We'll be laughing about something and then she'll start to cry."
Griffiths would have preferred to go through all this at home in Winnipeg but Parliament has been reluctant to change the law banning assisted suicide despite decades of lobbying.
Lawmakers are concerned that even with safeguards similar to those in other countries like Switzerland, sanctioning assisted suicide would lead to euthanasia, with the elderly and infirm pressured to end their lives.
The Council of Canadians with Disabilities actively opposes the legalization of assisted suicide with its "Help to Live, Not Die" campaign.
"Sadly, we as people with disabilities are viewed as living lives of suffering," the council says.
"Some consider our lives not worth living and believe we would be better off dead. Rather than being singled out as the only group deserving physician-assisted suicide, we need to know people want us alive, not dead."
The Supreme Court of Canada in 1993 upheld the ban 5-4 in a case involving Sue Rodriguez, a B.C. woman suffering from amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS or Lou Gehrig's Disease). She would later defy the law and commit assisted suicide.
The B.C. Court of Appeal now is considering the case of Gloria Taylor, another ALS sufferer, who with others is demanding the right to die with help. In a rare move, Taylor was granted a special exemption from the law but she died last October from complications related to her disease.
No matter what the Appeal Court rules, the case is bound to go back Canada's highest court. Will the 20-year interval since the Rodriguez decision change anything?
The Toronto Star's ethics columnist thinks it should.
Ken Gallinger, writing earlier this month as Griffiths prepared for her trip to Switzerland, said opposition to assisted suicide is grounded more on emotion than reason.
"Obviously, suicide is a sad business; we do well to throw every possible resource at staving it off, particularly among the young," Gallinger wrote.
"But people end their own lives, despite our best efforts and whether or not we approve. The real question about the medically-assisted version is not whether it’s good or bad, but rather, who gets to make the final decision about a particular life — the person or the state."
The able-bodied have a legal right to kill themselves, but someone like Griffiths can't avail themselves of that right without help, Gallinger observed.
"Isn’t it cruel to deny a person the help they need to perform a perfectly legal act, especially when that act is the only option available to end their suffering?" he asked.
In the moments before she died Thursday, Griffiths walked, talked and sang with family members in the garden of the Dignitas property outside Zurick, CBC News said.
In an interview with CBC News just before her death, Griffiths said she had had "the most fantastic few days" with friends and family. She also pleaded with Parliament to change the law so people like her can make decisions about the end of life without leaving Canada.
"I would like to think that they don't have to wait until they're in a bad place to make such a decision," she said.
"I just don't want to see people uproot themselves to come such a long way. The worry about getting here was major for weeks. Could I make it? Could I not make it? And thank goodness, I did make it."
Soon after, Griffiths settled into a chair and took the first of two drug-laced drinks. It was bitter, so she ate chocolate to temper the taste, CBC News said. A half-hour later, she took the second drink and died about 20 minutes later, her family said.
"It was beautiful," Griffiths' daughter Natasha told CBC News.