They’re both still wearing their wedding rings, but he’s moved out and they aren’t speaking.
A Nova Scotia couple’s marriage of 48 years splintered over a dispute about the husband’s wish to die with the help of a physician. The case is set to return to court Wednesday afternoon.
At the end of July, Katherine, 83, went to Nova Scotia Supreme Court to stop her 82-year-old husband from going ahead with the procedure that would end his life. Her request for an injunction has yet to receive a full hearing, but by filing with the courts, she forced her husband to cancel his planned death on Aug. 3.
CBC News is identifying the couple by the woman’s first name only to protect the man’s privacy and his ability to access health care. His wife has threatened to sue some of the medical professionals involved in her husband’s MAID approval process.
Wednesday’s decision from an appeal court judge could clear the legal barriers now preventing him from accessing medical assistance in dying (MAID), or extend them.
Husband cites religious differences
While the husband says he’s suffering and near the end of his life because of advanced chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), his wife says his wish to die is not based on physical illness but anxiety and mental delusions.
“I do very much lament the path she and her church friends have chosen,” the man said in a phone interview this week.
He doesn’t go to church with her or share in her Christian beliefs but says their religious differences weren’t a problem for most of the 62 years they’ve known each other.
“They are very proud of themselves [for] doing God’s work and are trying to bring me to God and all of that,” he said.
“Well, for me this has no meaning. It seems absurd. It seems unkind, actually, and very self-seeking.”
The day before her appeal was set to be heard by Justice Elizabeth Van den Eynden, Katherine met with CBC at a park in Bridgewater, N.S., where she and her husband lived together for four decades.
She said until their disagreement over his wish to die, their marriage had only been growing stronger as the years went by.
“We’ve been very much more in love than we’ve ever been in our life,” she said. “We help each other remember things, and we both stand in front of the refrigerator and look at the calendar and try to remember what we’re supposed to do today. We’d hold fingers before we go to sleep at night.”
She said she has a moral opposition to MAID and that “it’s normal to die when you’re supposed to die” of natural causes.
Wife says husband is suffering mentally
Katherine’s legal fees are being paid by a group called the Euthanasia Protection Coalition, which says on its website that “assisted suicide should be treated as murder / homicide, irrespective of whether the person killed has consented to be killed.”
Katherine added a personal caveat, saying she believes that if someone is “really, really suffering,” she might be able to reconcile a medically assisted death.
“[My husband] is a person who’s suffering but is suffering mentally, and it should have been caught and it was not.”
When he first started with the MAID approval process in April, Katherine went along with it, but she said she changed her mind when she started seeing conflicting medical opinions about his condition.
He was assessed in-person by seven medical professionals between April and August, all of whom agreed he has COPD.
Four physicians, including one psychiatrist, and a nurse practitioner reported that the 82-year-old met the criteria for MAID — he had a grievous and irremediable condition and was mentally fit enough to consent to the procedure.
But one nurse practitioner and a respirologist said they were not convinced that his COPD would cause a reasonably foreseeable death, which is currently a requirement for MAID.
The same nurse practitioner said dementia made the man incapable of making decisions about MAID.
‘I’m not a loony bin case’
Katherine said she also believes her husband is a hypochondriac — an opinion she bases on a diagnosis from a man whom she described as the son of a church friend. She said he’s a practising physician, although court documents say he is not licensed to practise in Canada.
“It turned out he is seriously ill in his mind with hypochondriasis and severe anxiety,” Katherine said.
She summed up her husband’s thinking about his health as “delusional.”
It’s a description that he said is demeaning.
“I’m not a loony bin case. I just don’t have the breath to keep going,” he said.
Katherine’s husband said he doesn’t want to have to take violent measures to end his own life, but he’s thought seriously about it in recent weeks as the court battle with his wife has delayed his plans.