Jacques Campeau saw no other way out.
Three times, the Laval, Que., man applied for medically assisted death. All three times, he was rejected.
In June, he killed himself.
Campeau’s daughters are now speaking out, urging the provincial government to reconsider the criteria for access to medical aid in dying, especially when it comes to the clause pertaining to “end of life.”
“He was fully able to give his consent. The disease was only getting worse, and he was declining faster and faster,” his daughter Adjani Campeau-Tremblay said.
“It’s the requirement to be at the end of life that was getting him denied every time.”
Campeau was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis 16 years ago. He continued to work as an engineer until his condition began to deteriorate.
“He had lost most of his autonomy. He had no quality of life,” said Campeau-Tremblay.
“The third time that he got refused, we understand now that it was for him a sign that if he wanted to end his life with dignity, [suicide] was his only option.”
His daughters are urging people to sign a petition asking the Quebec government to expand the criteria for access to medical aid in dying.
End of life clause
The federal law concerning medical aid in dying requires that a person be at a point where their death is “foreseeable.”
Quebec’s law is even more restrictive, requiring that a person seeking the right to a medically assisted death be at the “end of life.”
“For doctors, it’s a very confusing expression,” said Dr. Georges L’Espérance, president of a Quebec association for the right to die with dignity, known by its French acronym AQDMD.
“People with chronic diseases like multiple sclerosis, ALS or Parkinson’s cannot have medically assistance in dying because they don’t have a ‘foreseeable death’ in the next month or even one year.”
Campeau had been following the case involving two Montrealers with degenerative diseases closely. Nicole Gladu and Jean Truchon argue Canada’s and Quebec’s laws are both too narrow in their criteria and run counter to their charter rights.
Quebec Superior Court Justice Christine Baudouin has heard arguments from all sides, but has yet to hand down a ruling.
‘A prisoner in his home and in his body’
Being denied access to a medically assisted death not only forced Campeau to kill himself, his daughters say, but deprived them of a real goodbye to their father.
“We would have preferred to have a last moment with him,” Catherine Campeau-Tremblay said.
“To have a dinner with him, tell him that we love him. We would have liked to talk to him before he did this.”
But she also recognizes why he did what he did.
Speaking at her parents’ home, surrounded by family photos, Catherine Campeau-Tremblay says her father was increasingly despondent and withdrawn.
Once, she said, he called her at work telling her he had fallen at home and had been lying on the floor for two hours, waiting to call when he knew she was on break.
“It’s hard. You know, first you don’t want to be self-centred and say, ‘I don’t want you to die because we love you,’ but at a certain point, you need to understand that it’s his life,” she said.
“If his life is no longer good for him, then because of our love for him, after awhile, we needed to understand that.”
Government open to widening criteria
According to Alexandre Lahaie, a spokesperson for Quebec Health Minister Danielle McCann, the government is open to the idea of widening criteria for accessing end-of-life care.
Before making any decisions or debating the matter, however, the government is waiting for a second report from an external commission of experts on end-of-life care.
The commission’s first report found that between 2015 and April of this year, 1,632 people have received a medically assisted death in Quebec.
Across Canada, aside from the three territories, 6,749 people received medically assisted deaths between 2015 and Oct. 31, 2018.
The Campeau-Tremblay sisters say they hope their father’s story will have an effect.
“[Speaking out] is the only thing we can do to honour his memory,” said Adjani Campeau-Tremblay.
“Do this one last battle, so that other people don’t have to go through what he did — and what we had to go through as a family.”