'I can't live that way': Montreal man seeking medically assisted death due to home care conditions
A month ago, death wasn't on 66-year-old Jacques Comeau's mind.
But now, he doesn't know where else to turn. On Wednesday, he's meeting with a doctor to be assessed for medical assistance in dying (MAID).
Comeau, a retired art therapist from Montreal, is quadriplegic and uses a wheelchair.
Like everyone, he's been through ups and downs. But through homecare services, he says, he's lived a rich and happy life.
"It allowed me to go back to school, get degrees, to work. Everything I've done, travelling, it's because I'm able to not have to worry about that," he told CTV News.
Things changed over the summer, however, when his local health service centre (CLSC) underwent some changes.
As a result, aspects of Comeau's care routine are different and he said it has affected his quality of life.
"I'm stressed beyond belief, I'm not sleeping well, I'm not eating regularly," he said. "The amount of pain I'm dealing with, psychologically, is the kind I've never dealt with. I became disabled as a young person and got through that. And this is 10 times worse."
Comeau says his efforts to negotiate a solution with the CLSC have been fruitless. Depressed and desperate, there's only one path forward he can think of.
"I wake up in the morning, and my first thought is, 'how am I going to make sure I'm not going to kill myself today.'"
A SUDDEN CHANGE
CTV spoke with Comeau in his Lachine home on Thursday, where his own paintings and photographs decorate the walls.
It's here where, three times a week, orderlies appear to help him relieve his bowels.
For years, the service was performed by the same 10 to 15 people, who have become familiar with Comeau's body and its specific needs. They've also become trusted companions -- it's an intimate service, after all, and the walls come down.
But according to Comeau, the CLSC Dorval-Lachine changed the system, sending him new orderlies he doesn't know.
He says the procedure is being performed incorrectly, causing him discomfort and pain.
"The second person that came, she overdid it, and I had an involuntary bowel movement. So I had stool come out in my pants in the middle of the day, and I was in pain and cramping all day long," he recounted.
Jacques Comeau, 66, has applied for medical assistance in dying (MAID) due to what he calls inadequate home care services. (CTV Montreal/Lillian Roy)
He thought the solution would be simple: have the usual orderlies come in and train the new ones according to his particular needs.
But the CLSC allegedly refused, stating training could only be performed by a nurse.
"I was totally taken aback," he said. "When they talked about these changes coming, I knew there would be an issue with people who had never come here before, because although they're all trained in this technique, it's different with each person."
The health authority that oversees the CLSC Dorval-Lachine, the CIUSSS de l'Ouest-de-l'Île, declined CTV's multiple requests for comment about Comeau's case, citing confidentiality concerns.
However, a CIUSSS spokesperson noted that patient care can sometimes be affected by staffing issues.
"Whenever possible, we try to offer stable staff to our clients so that they are cared for by the same health care professional," wrote spokesperson Hélène Bergeron-Gamache in an email. "However, the labour shortage context we are facing does not always allow for this."
She said all orderlies have "received the required training."
"Please note that, by law, [home service workers] must be trained by a nurse."
'I CAN'T LIVE THAT WAY'
Running errands, working, visiting friends -- it's all those moments, big and small, that come together and form a life.
But these moments have been interrupted for Comeau because he can't take care of a basic need.
"Think about a period where you had diarrhea, or you had a stomach bug. Every day, you're getting up and you're like, 'Am I going to make it to the bathroom on time? Do I bother going to work today, do I get in my car? Do I go to the grocery store?' And that's my life every day now."
He says his dignity and autonomy have been stripped away.
"Is my life going to be sitting in front of a TV, wearing a diaper, sitting in stool all day long? Is that what my life is going to be?" he continued. "I can't live that way."
It's a relentless source of anxiety.
"The biggest problem is, I get up in the morning, I don't know who's coming, how it's going to go. So I'm constantly on edge wondering what's happening."
A FAILURE OF THE SYSTEM?
Accessibility advocate Adèle Liliane Ngo Mben Nkoth says Comeau's circumstances are far from unheard of.
"Everywhere in Quebec, we see this," said Nkoth, an organizer with MEMO Quebec, a group representing people with motor disabilities where Comeau worked before retiring.
"It's deplorable to see that in Canada, in Quebec, in 2022, that we find ourselves in these situations, for a country so rich as ours," she added.
Jacques Comeau (left) and Adèle Liliane Ngo Mben Nkoth (right). (CTV Montreal/Lillian Roy)
Nkoth said instances like this are preventable, and that death should not be the only option.
"It's a shame that people come to think they have to take medical aid to die because that care is not there."
Dr. Paul Saba, a family physician and board of physicians president at Lachine Hospital, agrees.
He fears failures in the system, which can be fixed with the right policy and funding, are driving people to end their lives prematurely.
"People are choosing it because they can't get proper housing, can't get affordable housing, can't get food, where they're not getting enough social services, not enough nursing help," he told CTV News.
"We're basically getting rid of people that we consider as 'undesirables' and society is going along with it. We must say 'stop.'"
But for Comeau, it feels like the only option unless something changes, fast.
"I can accept the idea of death by saying 'I've had a good life,'" he said.
"I’ve done everything, I’ve paid my taxes, I’ve contributed to society, but here I am."
CTVNews.ca Top Stories
Starting on Thursday, eligible Canadians can apply through the Canada Revenue Agency to receive funding as part of the first ever federal dental-care program, and as of Dec. 12 applications will open for low-income renters looking to access the one-time top-up to the Canada Housing Benefit.
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau says that while he's 'not looking for a fight' with Alberta, the federal government is not taking anything off the table when it comes to how it may respond to Alberta Premier Danielle Smith's new 'sovereignty act.'
New research suggests eating grapes might help protect against skin damage caused by UV light, including sunburns and skin cancer.
Oklahoma musician Jake Flint died unexpectedly over the weekend, hours after getting married, his publicist says. He was 37.
A judge declared a mistrial Wednesday after jurors said they were hopelessly deadlocked at the trial of "That '70s Show" actor Danny Masterson, who was charged with three rapes.
Police across the country are seeing a rise in criminals preying on fears of the elderly with what's known as grandparent scams.
Christine McVie, the British-born Fleetwood Mac vocalist, songwriter and keyboard player whose cool, soulful contralto helped define such classics as 'You Make Loving Fun,' 'Everywhere' and 'Don't Stop,' died Wednesday at age 79.
A 101-year-old message has been discovered by workers removing the base of a former statue in front of the Manitoba legislature.
Morocco has looked impressive in Group F but Canada has an opportunity to finish its World Cup experience on a high.
Here's what you need to know about Ontario's 2022 annual auditor general report.
A man has been critically injured in a shooting in the city's west end.
A massive Ontario-wide investigation into child exploitation has led to more than 100 people being charged, police announced on Wednesday.
A retired RCMP officer who gathered information about “serious allegations” regarding another police force in 2020 has harsh words for the failure of Nova Scotia’s police watchdog to officially investigate.
A crowd of around 150 people gathered at St. George's Anglican Church Wednesday to remember Luke Landry. The 35-year-old died last Monday inside a public washroom next to Moncton City Hall.
The Atlantic Veterinary College hospital in Prince Edward Island needs to be expanded so it can manage the effects of avian influenza, which are expected to be around for a long time, says a wildlife technician who works at the clinic.
About 50 female students at East Elgin Secondary School took part in a walkout and rally in front of the school on Wednesday morning. The concerns stem, in part, from the handling of a male student who is now facing a number of sexual assault charges, and students are asking school administration to address their safety concerns.
An Ailsa Craig-area couple has beat out 30 others in a contest to be married on a parade float during the village’s upcoming Santa Claus Parade. The application of Katie Nigh and Trevor Vanderloo was selected, above all others, based on their personal story.
The results of ‘Project Maverick’ are in — in the month of October, 428 charges were laid against 107 people as it relates to child exploitation across the province. In London alone, five search warrants were executed and 30 criminal charges were laid.
The Moose River Attack minor hockey team has travelled by helicopter, train, car, canoe and snowmibile to get to games and practices.
Police have reopened Highway 17 in northern Ontario after a series of crashes, including one fatal, Tuesday night.
Alamos Gold says one person has died after being hit by a vehicle underground at the Young-Davidson mine Tuesday afternoon. It is the second mining fatality in northern Ontario this month.
Calgary mayor Jyoti Gondek says she wishes more thought would've went into Danielle Smith's first move as premier.
A decrease in temperatures is likely leading to an increase in utility and heating bills as Calgarians crank up their thermostats in preparation for another cold snap.
Calgary police were on the run Wednesday, trying to catch a car thief who stole – and then ditched – vehicle after vehicle.
Police have charged 107 people after a massive month-long child exploitation investigation spanning the entire province.
A Puslinch man will be allowed to continue running his holiday light show despite pushback from neighbours.
Environment Canada has issued a winter weather travel advisory for the Region of Waterloo and southern Wellington County.
Several groups of good Samaritans came to the aid of commuters during the harrowing snowstorm that rocked B.C.’s Lower Mainland Tuesday night.
Frigid temperatures are in the forecast for the Lower Mainland Wednesday night, bringing with them the risk that melted snow will turn to ice and create hazardous conditions on the region's roads.
An anecdote about police giving toy guns to students at a Vancouver elementary school was shared during a recent school board meeting.
After skewering Danielle Smith's sovereignty act idea during the UCP leadership race, several of Alberta's cabinet ministers now say they'll happily vote for it.
By a unanimous vote, Edmonton councillors decided Wednesday to dip into city savings to open a new emergency shelter in a west end hotel.
It's been more than a month since Jesse Puljujarvi has scored for the Edmonton Oilers.
While new census data shows the percentage of the Windsor-Essex population with a post-secondary education has slightly increased over 10 years, the differential between the region’s percentage and its provincial counterpart has grown.
A London based-developer is planning for a number of projects in Windsor, including a 28-storey apartment building downtown.
The Windsor Symphony Orchestra is gearing up for their Christmas holiday concert series.
The Saskatchewan NDP called on the provincial government to act on surgical and diagnostic wait times while highlighting one of the thousands of people affected by the issue.
With funding from the federal government, the hours of operation for Awasiw – The Warming Place in Regina will be extended overnight beginning on Dec. 1.
A new homeless shelter in Yorkton has shown the need for more warm-up locations in the city, along with the possible implementation of a cold weather strategy.
LRT INQUIRY | 'Unconscionable,' 'egregious:' Scathing Ottawa LRT inquiry report slams senior city staff, RTG
The construction and maintenance of the Ottawa LRT project was plagued by persistent failures in leadership and saw 'egregious violations of the public trust,' a scathing new report has found.
CTVNewsOttawa.ca looks at ten key takeaways from the Ottawa Light Rail Transit Public Inquiry final report released on Wednesday.
The conclusion of the Ottawa LRT inquiry report's executive summary stands out for its scathing criticism of senior city staff and Rideau Transit Group.
A judge has cleared the way for a dog that fatally attacked another dog in Saskatoon to be killed.
Saskatoon police are requesting the public's help in finding a woman who was last seen in late October.
Krysta Arsenault has been a patient at Broadway Family Physicians since it’s been open but walked out the doors for the last time on Wednesday.