POLITICS

Winnipeg woman visits son in Europe before planned suicide in Switzerland

04/12/2013 05:23 EDT | Updated 06/12/2013 05:12 EDT
WINNIPEG - A Manitoba woman is paying a final visit to her son in Europe before her planned visit to a clinic in Switzerland where she hopes to end her life on her own terms.

Susan Griffiths, 72, left her Winnipeg home this week, choosing to travel now before a neurological degenerative disorder overwhelms her body completely.

Griffiths is aiming to spend her final moments later this month at a clinic in Switzerland — the only jurisdiction that allows doctor-assisted suicide for non-residents — and she has gone public with her story in hopes that Canada will change its laws to also allow people to end their lives with medical help.

"I think we should have an option in Canada," she told The Canadian Press on Friday from her son's home in Germany.

"If you're in pain, or if you're terminally ill, you just have to wait and wait and probably get all sorts of treatment to keep you alive longer. I want an option to be brought in by the government where you don't have to go through that."

Griffiths suffers from muscular system atrophy, a deadly disease that has symptoms not unlike Parkinson's — an ever-increasing loss of balance, movement and control of virtually every bodily function.

For Griffiths, there is no getting better — only worse — along with more pain and more pills.

"The future is totally downhill and totally ghastly, and who on Earth wants to head that way when you have to eventually have everything done for you because you can't lift your limbs or speak or swallow?"

Killing oneself is not illegal in Canada, but helping someone commit suicide is against the law, although there have been court rulings that have challenged that.

British Columbia's Supreme Court ruled last year that the federal law banning doctor-assisted suicide is unconstitutional. The federal government appealed the decision at a hearing last month before the B.C. Court of Appeal and a ruling is expected later this year.

The Quebec government has been looking at ways to allow the terminally ill to end their suffering without the act being considered an assisted suicide under federal law.

There are also support groups that help inform people about options available to them — even if it requires a trip overseas, as in the case of Griffiths.

Toronto-based Dying With Dignity fields about 600 calls a year, said executive director Wanda Morris, who added that politicians have been loath to look at changing the existing law.

"It's a bit like abortion or same-sex marriage, where you have some very strong religious views on the issue," Morris said.

Supporters of the current law, including many disability rights groups, say allowing assisted suicide would make things hard on the disabled.

"We fear that by embedding in Canadian law the message that some forms of human life are less worth living, the historic disadvantages faced by Canadians with disabilities ... will only be more deeply entrenched," the Canadian Association for Community Living said in a written statement following last year's B.C. Supreme Court ruling.

Federal government lawyers told the court that assisted suicide creates the possibility that people with disabilities, the elderly and the terminally ill could be coerced into ending their lives or do so in moments of depression and despair.

For Griffiths, it comes down to a personal choice which she says politicians should respect.

"I would like to have them start debating this immediately and give people like me, who have thought this through and have no recourse in my own country ... an option."