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MS sufferer Linda Jarrett reflects on Supreme Court right-to-die ruling

02/13/2015 06:00 EST | Updated 04/15/2015 05:59 EDT
KITCHENER, Ont. - The federal government has a year to come up with new legislation after a unanimous Supreme Court of Canada ruling on Feb. 6 in favour of physician-assisted death. In a decision that went beyond the expectations of even committed activists, the high court said a new law must recognize the right of consenting adults enduring intolerable suffering to seek medical help to end their lives. Reporter Colin Perkel of The Canadian Press spoke to right-to-die activist Linda Jarrett, 66, who has multiple sclerosis and has been reflecting at her home in Kitchener, Ont., on what the decision means for her.

CP: Initially, when the Supreme Court decision was announced, you seemed more subdued than exuberant. Tell me about that.

L.J.: It just threw me for a loop. I was so taken aback. I didn't even know how to react. I didn't really understand that: 'Linda, this means that instead of thinking about how you're going to hasten your own death, you can relax now, enjoy life, and not worry so much about it.' That took a while to sink in.

CP: Now that it has sunk in, you say you feel relief?

L.J.: Before this ruling, I was faced with the possibility that I would almost certainly have to prematurely end my life while I was still physically capable of doing so, because I don't want anyone going to jail for helping me die. The relief is I'm not going to start now looking for which drugs to take or which helium bag to use. I can just enjoy the quality of life that I have. When that quality is not one that I can accept, there is a viable option now.

CP: Does the ruling put pressure on people to exercise the new choice of physician-assisted death?

L.J.: That's fearmongering, the slippery slope, that whole thing. That drives me insane. I would not for one minute expect anyone else to make the choices I make. The legislation that will hopefully come out of this will respect the individual's right to choose.

CP: Isn't having the choice a bit scary?

L.J.: I've already pictured in my mind for the last couple of years when I would like to leave this life. I will know. I'm not afraid of dying. I am afraid of the kind of life I would have to live until I die.

CP: Can you paint that picture of when that might be?

L.J.: I have been a very independent, active person. It is my wish that I don't spend the final months or years of my life in a long-term care facility. That's a very real possibility for someone like me. Now, I could ask for a physician-assisted death before I endure the indignities that I don't want to be remembered for. Of course everyone's sad at the moment of death. But I want all of my family and friends to think, 'She did it her way. Hooray for Linda!' That would bring me so much joy that the thought of death doesn't bother me.

This interview was condensed and edited.

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