Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Rethought my stance, Martin says

MP moved by Griffiths' letter, but doesn't think House will move on issue

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OTTAWA -- A Manitoba MP says a Winnipeg woman's dying wish that Parliament revisit the issue of assisted suicide has made him reconsider his position on the subject.

Pat Martin, the NDP MP for Winnipeg Centre, said a letter from Susan Griffiths to all 308 members of Parliament, "broke my heart."

"This is the dying wish of a Winnipeg woman: that we reconsider having a vote about assisted suicide," said Martin. "It stopped me dead in my tracks. It's a powerful, moving final wish."

Griffiths, 72, died Thursday, in Switzerland. She travelled there because of the four countries in the world where assisted suicide is legal, it is the only one that accepts foreign patients. Griffiths was diagnosed in 2012 with multiple system atrophy, a degenerative brain disorder that would, over about a decade, have robbed her of her ability to move, speak and control her bodily functions and would have eventually killed her.

On April 4, just before she left for Switzerland, she wrote to MPs with a "personal and heartfelt" request to reconsider Canada's position on doctor-assisted suicide and "work very, very hard" toward legalizing it.

"I would have preferred to die in Canada," she wrote.

In the letter, she explained her symptoms, that she lived with pain, and would "eventually lie in bed heavily sedated, with mechanical contrivances and shifts of impersonal caregivers tending to my every bodily function. I have chosen not to live with this extended life sentence... " When Griffiths' planned death first was made public in early April, Martin told the Free Press he hadn't supported assisted suicide before and still wouldn't.

"If you're depressed, that can be treated. If you're in great pain, it can be relieved. If you are incapacitated, counselling may help," said Martin at the time. "No, I can't in all good conscience support it."

Now he says he's not so sure, but he also doesn't think Parliament can or will take up Griffiths' request.

In 2010, Parliament rejected a private member's bill from a Bloc Québécois MP that would have legalized assisted suicide if certain circumstances were met.

Martin said despite every MP receiving Griffiths' letter, nobody has raised the subject in his caucus and he doesn't know that Parliament could do the issue justice. He said he thinks it will be better handled by the Supreme Court.

"I think that's where it belongs," he said.

That may just happen, as the B.C. Court of Appeal is currently hearing an appeal of a ruling by the B.C. Supreme Court in 2012 that found banning assisted suicide was unconstitutional. Many expect the case to end up in the Supreme Court of Canada.

A spokeswoman for Justice Minister Rob Nicholson said earlier this month the government has no intention of restarting the debate in Parliament, respecting the vote on the 2010 bill which failed by a margin of 228 votes to 59.

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition April 26, 2013 A3

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