90-year-old woman chooses euthanasia rather than endure another COVID lockdown
November 23, 2020 (LifeSiteNews) – A 90-year-old long-term care home resident in Ontario chose to end her own life by means of legal euthanasia last month rather than endure the loneliness and isolation of further coronavirus restrictions.
Nancy Russell had been “exceptionally social and spry” before the spring lockdown, according to her family. But after two weeks of doing nothing but sitting and standing due to being isolated in her room, her family noticed a sharp decline in her energy. Saying “contact with people that was like food to her, it was like, oxygen,” her daughter Tory told CTV News that during her confinement “she would be just tired all the time because she was under-stimulated.”
Russell’s daughter also said her mother had always intended to avail herself of “medical assistance in dying,” but her belief that another lockdown was inevitable accelerated her desire to end her own life. Her initial application was denied, but her second was granted due to the presence of “more concrete medical issues.”
Nevertheless, her daughter indicated that the fear of further restrictions was the primary driver of her desire to die, saying, “She just truly did not believe that she wanted to try another one of those two-week confinements into her room.”
Dr. Samir Sinha, the director of geriatrics at Mount Sinai Hospital who has been advocating for the rights of long-term care home residents during the course of the pandemic, told CTV News that “the balance of evidence out there actually says that these restrictions, in too many circumstances, are overly restrictive and actually causing unnecessary harm.”
When older Canadians like Nancy are choosing Medical Assistance in Dying to end the suffering that comes with overly restrictive Canadian care home lockdowns + isolation its clearly a sign that we need to find a better balance. @CTV_AvisFavaro reports: https://t.co/rLRmPRWz6h pic.twitter.com/QiyzHNYu8u— Samir Sinha (@DrSamirSinha) November 20, 2020
“Frankly, we’ll find that a lot of the restrictions that are being put in place right now actually violate the rights of the residents themselves, their families, their substitute decision-makers,” he said.
He also told CTV that many patients feel the only right they have left is the right to end their lives on their own terms. “I hear stories of people saying, I’d just rather die. I've had my patients say that, when their family caregivers share those stories with me. My heart breaks just as theirs does as well because you can tell someone's given up, and someone really feels at that point, the only option they have -- or the only right that they have to exercise -- is the right to end their life early ... when it truly isn't,” he said.
The Calgary-based Justice Center for Constitutional Freedoms highlighted Russell’s story in connection with a submission to the government on the danger that Bill C-7 will pose to the elderly, especially during this time of greater social isolation.
Bill C-7 will remove various “safeguards” in Canada’s euthanasia legislation if passed, including the requirements that the one requesting “aid in dying” be terminally ill and capable of consent at the time of death. Further, the proposed law will not require two witnesses to attest to the patient’s instructions, which is a “safeguard” against coercion and undue influence.
Saying that long-term care homes have “blurred the lines between care and incarceration,” the Justice Center’s submission notes that “many patients today are already at a heightened risk for undue influence and coercion due to the COVID lockdowns.”
“Canadians generally are dealing with unprecedented levels of stress, isolation, loneliness and suicidality as a result of the COVID lockdowns,” the submission continued. “These symptoms are far more pronounced in long-term care homes where residents have been isolated for months without visitors, and in some cases in appalling conditions which include bullying from staff, cockroach infestations and rotten food.
“Depression, despair, and a lack of will to live are often born out of abuse, neglect and isolation. Such circumstances conceivably pave the way for undue influence and coercion for improper purposes, such as a beneficiary coercing a testator to request MAiD in order for the former to obtain a material gain and the latter to escape isolation and abuse.”