MONTREAL — One of the two Quebecers who successfully fought to expand medically assisted dying laws has undergone the procedure, saying the COVID-19 pandemic forced him to push up his death.
Lawyers who represented Jean Truchon announced his passing in a statement on Tuesday, saying he received medical aid in dying at a Montreal-area long-term care facility.
"Before this pandemic, I had all the difficulties in the world keeping my head above water, with all my activities," Truchon said in the statement, released by his lawyers after his death.
"The coronavirus has literally stolen my time with those I love. Seeing what is coming frightens me the most. Therefore, I made the decision to leave now and this was well thought-out."
Truchon and Nicole Gladu — Quebecers who suffered from incurable degenerative diseases but didn't qualify for a medically assisted death under the original rules, fought successfully to have the laws changed.
Their lawyers argued that the "reasonably foreseeable natural death" requirement of the Criminal Code, as well as a section the Quebec law that states people must "be at the end of life," were overly strict and prevented access to medical assistance in dying for some.
A Quebec Superior Court ruling invalidated those laws in September 2019.
Truchon had cerebral palsy. Three of his four limbs were not functional at birth, and he subsequently lost the use of the fourth, but he could have continued to live for many more years.
Last September, Truchon described death as a "privilege" and said he would continue living through the winter into the spring, "and after, we'll see."
In his final note, Truchon revealed he'd originally planned to die in late June before COVID-19 changed those plans.
"Initially, I was going to die on June 22, 2020, in order to spend more time with my relatives and friends," Truchon said. "Given the current context of the health crisis, I decided to take the train and leave my friends and all those who believed in me and my cause at the station."
He thanked Quebec Superior Court Justice Christine Baudouin for triggering a change in who qualifies for medically assisted death in the province, and eventually in the rest of the country.
He also thanked his lawyers — Montreal malpractice attorney Jean-Pierre Menard and his firm.
Both the Quebec and Canadian governments announced they wouldn't appeal Baudouin's ruling.
In January, Quebec announced it would simply let the problematic sections drop ahead of a March 11 deadline.
The Trudeau government received more time to amend the federal law, until July 11.
In the interim, Baudouin ruled people who meet the other criteria for the procedure but whose natural death is not "reasonably foreseeable" can apply to a court for an exemption to receive an assisted death before the July 11 deadline.
Truchon and Gladu both received such exemptions at the time of her initial ruling.
"I ask you to try to understand me and not to judge me," Truchon wrote in closing.
Premier Francois Legault and Health Minister Danielle McCann paid tribute to Truchon on Wednesday.
"This guy had a lot of courage, he helped everybody in Quebec making tough decisions," Legault told reporters.
Quebec is undertaking a look at expanding its provincial right to die law further — a testament to the role played by Truchon and Gladu in bringing those cases to light, McCann said.
"I salute Mr. Truchon," she said. "And I hope that his passing away was in the most serene way."
This report by The Canadian Press was first published on April 8, 2020.
Sidhartha Banerjee, The Canadian Press