Death of dementia patient revives debate over assisted suicide
Published Wednesday, February 22, 2017 8:05PM EST
Last Updated Wednesday, February 22, 2017 8:06PM EST
The killing of a woman in a long-term care facility is reviving the debate about medically-assisted death.
Jocelyne Lizotte, 60, had Alzheimer's disease and limited mobility. She used a wheelchair to get around the Emilie Gamelin nursing home where she lived.
Her husband, 55-year-old Michel Cadotte, is charged with her murder.
Police said Lizotte may have been smothered by a pillow, and on Facebook Cadotte said that he "cracked" and "consented to her demands to help her die."
One of Lizotte's relatives said the woman had asked for medical assistance to die, but was denied.
Medical ethicists said it could be due to the woman suffering from dementia.
"Both provincially here in Quebec and federally, we're consistent on that point, you have to be competent not only when requesting it but at the time of receiving it. Which is why both federal and provincial you cannot receive an advance directive," said Dr. Eugene Bereza.
Dr. George L'Esperance, an advocate for medically-assisted death, said the law should be broadened for dementia patients.
"When you know you will be able to decide in two, three, five years after, that you cannot actually give your consent, but it would be most important that when you can give your consent you can give it so it would be available when you need it.,"said L'Esperance.
The Alzheimer Society disagrees.
It argues that patients need to be protected because everyone's progression through the disease differs, and their desires can change over time.
"It's very difficult with the complexity of dementia to know for sure what a person with dementia would want today," said April Hayward.
"They may have expressed a wish ten years ago and do we know for certain that's what they would want today?"
Veroninque Hivon drafted the law, and said the topic of advanced consent is still being debated in society at large.
"I think that it is a question for the society for sure to discuss and I think of course that we have to be very vigilant," said the MNA.
Dr. Bereza thinks a good first step would be to test the idea with unique cases, including people with dementia.
"Having a very robust requirement to do it carefully to document it with multiple evaluations, very explicitly over time, family, physicians and others - that's a very different kind of process which we haven't requested. Maybe that's a proportionate, creative response legislatively, for this category of patients," he said.
But he acknowledges that finding the perfect balance between access to assisted death, and protecting vulnerable patients, will be very difficult.