About Me

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Melfort, Saskatchewan, Canada
I am a lawyer in Melfort, Saskatchewan, Canada who enjoys reading, especially mysteries. Since 2000 I have been writing personal book reviews. This blog includes my reviews, information on and interviews with authors and descriptions of mystery bookstores I have visited. I strive to review all Saskatchewan mysteries. Other Canadian mysteries are listed under the Rest of Canada. As a lawyer I am always interested in legal mysteries. I have a separate page for legal mysteries. Occasionally my reviews of legal mysteries comment on the legal reality of the mystery. You can follow the progression of my favourite authors with up to 15 reviews. Each year I select my favourites in "Bill's Best of ----". As well as current reviews I am posting reviews from 2000 to 2011. Below my most recent couple of posts are the posts of Saskatchewan mysteries I have reviewed alphabetically by author. If you only want a sentence or two description of the book and my recommendation when deciding whether to read the book look at the bold portion of the review. If you would like to email me the link to my email is on the profile page.

Monday, May 20, 2024

What Would You Do If a Suffering Loved One Asked You to Kill Him/Her?

In Denial by Beverley McLachlin the subject of MAID (Medical Assistance in Dying) is an important issue. The murder victim, Olivia Stanton, was suffering from cancer. She repeatedly expressed the desire to have her life ended.

Under Canadian law at the time the book is set she cannot have MAID because, though her cancer is incurable, death is not imminent.

Vera’s best friend, Elsie Baxter, is an active member of Dying with Dignity, a group that promoted a change in the law to allow Canadians such as Vera to access MAID. 

McLachlin, in her former position as a Canadian Supreme Court judge, has long favoured medical assistance in dying.

In Rodriguez v. British Columbia (Attorney General) in 1993 the Supreme Court split 5 to 4 against allowing medical assistance in dying. McLachlan wrote an opinion in dissent in favour of medical assistance in dying.

In 2015 in Carter v. Canada (Attorney General) the Supreme Court revisited the issue and decided in favour of medical assistance in dying. With McLachlin, as Chief Justice, the Court issued a unanimous decision.

Subsequently, Parliament created the MAID statue which was in place when McLachlin wrote Denial.

The law was changed in 2022 after Denial was written to provide that it is no longer a requirement that death be “reasonably forseeable”. At the same time the law denied MAID if the sole medical condition was mental illness. The law is to change in 2027 to allow application for MAID if the sole medical condition is mental illness.

Incrementally, the eligibility for MAID has steadily increased. 

The next issue will be whether a person can have an advanced health care directive directing death in such situations as dementia.

I acknowledge a reluctance with MAID. As a Catholic and a lawyer who has dealt with many people in difficult situations I consider all lives meaningful, as I stated in a recent post on my niece, Alanna, who was profoundly disabled from birth to her death at 34. 

There are procedures in place in MAID to safeguard applicants from hasty decisions but I will never be comfortable with assisted death.

People can change their minds. In Discourtesy of Death by William Broderick, Jenny Henderson, paralyzed in a fall and suffering from terminal bowel cancer, changes her mind about wanting death. She tells Father Anselm in a powerful passage:

‘Now? she replied. ‘I want my life. I was ready to die before but now I want my life. I know that in one way it’s broken, disappointing, limited, worthless, empty and insignificant … but it’s mine. It’s all I’ve got. I’m still me. And I know it will soon become messy and painful and frightening, but I still want it. I want to live what I’ve got … do you understand? It’s as valuable to me now as it ever was. I’m still … full of something … and it can exhilarating, despairing, violent and peaceful - every state you can think of - and I just want to keep hold of it … for as long as possible.’

MAID is irreversible.

I have never been in the situation of representing someone seeking death.

McLachlin has personally been in that situation. In the late 1980’s her first husband, Rory, was dying. 

The Globe & Mail, in reporting on McLachlin’s memoir, Truth Be Told, said:

Years before Beverley McLachlin urged the Supreme Court of Canada to legalize medically assisted dying, her husband, dying of cancer, asked her to end his life with a massive dose of morphine.

In a CBC interview on the memoir she said:

And at one point he told me that he wanted to take
his life, but he wanted me to help him. And I had
been unable to do that.

(Interviewer) He asked you to inject him with morphine.

Well, not an injection, but yeah. And I just - whether lack of courage or whatever - I could not bring myself to do it.

In Denial Olivia is killed by an injection of morphine.

Vera, as with McLachlin, said she could not kill her mother. In her evidence at trial Vera said:

“Did your mother ever ask you to help her die?

“Yes, several times.”

“What was your response?”

“I told her I couldn’t do it.”

“Why did you feel you couldn’t do it Mrs. Quentin? Was it the fact it would be illegal?”

“No, I didn’t think about whether it was illegal or even immoral, as it is in the view of some. All I knew was that I could not do it. I knew in my heart that if I gave her the morphine, I would be calling 911 within minutes to have it pumped out. Every person has their limits. There are some things they just can’t do. I knew myself, knew what I could not do. It wasn’t rational; it was visceral.” Her eyes slid to the jury box, willing them to believe her. “Killing my mother, killing anyone, is something I know I could never do.”

I believe McLachlin was talking about herself and Rory in that excerpt providing the explanation she was not able to articulate in the CBC interview. 

Who knows what we will do in a terrible situation? In Saskatchewan, Robert Latimer killed his 12 year old daughter, Tracey, on October 24, 1993. She was grievously suffering from cerebral palsy. He asserted it was a mercy killing. A jury convicted him of second degree murder. It was a hard case. I think he should have been found guilty of manslaughter which would have enabled a shorter sentence than the 10 year minimum for second degree murder. Advocates for the disabled argued he should be convicted for murder as all life is meaningful.

In Denial Vera was charged with second degree murder and declined a plea bargain to manslaughter with a sentence of 2 years which would have meant her release in about a year.

In Denial McLachlin has a powerful thought on the moment of death that is reflected in the real life judgments she wrote:

Olivia never knew  that death awaited her, never, as she drifted off to sleep, that she would not wake again. But that unawareness brings its own cruelty. To die is part of life, the last great act, and Olivia was denied the right to live that act with dignity, as she would have wished.

Deciding life and death is a perilous process. Unfortunately, I believe we have become a society that does not value all life as meaningful.


McLachlin, Beverley - (2018) - Full Disclosure and Full Disclosure Within Full Disclosure; (2024) - Denial and The Law in Denial



  1. The question of assisted dying is so difficult, Bill. There are people with the best intentions on both sides of the issue, and even in cases where the person clearly states a desire for assisted dying, as you point out, that doesn't put the controversy - the conflicted feelings - to rest. I understand why you feel the discomfort that you do. There are many people who feel the same way, even after having weighed everything carefully and really considered the issues.

    1. Thanks for the comment. I fear where we are headed with MAID.