MONTREAL - Armed with a court judgment that potentially expands access to medical aid in dying across the country, one of the Quebecers who led the legal fight described it Thursday as a win for those struggling with incurable, debilitating diseases.
"It will open the doors of heaven to all those suffering like me," said Jean Truchon, speaking through a friend at a news conference the day after a landmark Quebec Superior Court decision invalidating sections of the federal and Quebec laws on medically assisted dying.
Nicole Gladu and Jean Truchon both have incurable, degenerative illnesses but they had seen previous requests for an assisted death denied.
On Wednesday, Justice Christine Baudouin ruled invalid the Criminal Code requirement that a natural death be "reasonably foreseeable" before someone can be eligible for assisted death. She also invalidated a section of the Quebec law that says people must "be at the end of life" to receive the procedure.
All other criteria remain intact, but the two Quebecers had been denied the right to have their lives ended by a doctor because their conditions were not judged terminal.
Baudouin suspended application of the judgment for six months to give federal and provincial legislators a chance to modify the laws, but she granted an exemption to Truchon and Gladu to allow them to seek medical aid in dying.
At their lawyer Jean-Pierre Menard's Montreal office, Truchon described death as a "privilege" and said he would continue living through the winter into next spring, "and after, we'll see." He has cerebral palsy and after being born with three non-functioning limbs, recently lost the use of his fourth.
Gladu, who has post-polio syndrome and suffers pain that cannot be alleviated by medication, said she was relieved the judge had given her back her liberty.
"Everybody is concerned with the death issue, and the population is getting older, so I think it will help a lot of people going beyond Mr. Truchon and myself," she said.
She said she plans to take time to absorb the judgment. "But I will certainly take advantage of this freedom that has just been granted me," Gladu said, adding that in her case it would be a matter of months before she would seek a medically assisted death.
As she contemplated the end of her life, Gladu called on politicians to make reform of the law an issue in the federal election campaign that began the same day Baudouin issued her ruling.
"There couldn't have been better timing," Gladu, a former journalist, told the news conference. "Go for it, ask the politicians to take a stand and remove the obstacles."
At a campaign stop in Victoria, B.C., Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau said his government would study the Quebec judgment before deciding its next move.
"We recognize that this is a deeply personal, extremely important choice that Canadian families often need to go through," Trudeau said. "That is why I feel that the government's responsibility is to establish the balance in the right way, between two very important competing responsibilities — that of protecting our most vulnerable and at the same time respecting people's rights and choices."
Trudeau said his government sought the right balance in drafting the legislation, but added: "We always knew, however, that there would be continued evolution and reflection in the courts and in society about the next steps to take."
NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh said he is open to finding ways to expand the law.
"People who need to make this choice for their dignity should be able to make this choice," Singh said in Brampton, Ont. "I'm open to looking at ways of making sure access is improved and that we do it in a way that respects the dignity of someone to make that choice."
Conservative Leader Andrew Scheer called the Quebec ruling an important one that would potentially change the lives of many Canadians, saying his party would review it closely before commenting further.
Menard called the judgment historic. But he took the federal and provincial governments to task for requiring his clients to mount a legal challenge when the Supreme Court of Canada had already established suffering — not imminent death — as the key consideration.
"We got a good outcome, but it doesn't explain their cowardice," Menard said.
The Canadian and Quebec attorneys general have 30 days to decide whether they will appeal the judgment, but Menard urged them not to and to focus instead on changing the laws.