Introduction

Webcast archive: No free choice to die – Cecilia Chmura’s story

This week, we look at the story of Cecilia Chmura, and an update in the Tine Nys case.

Webcast archive: No free choice to die – Cecilia Chmura’s story

In this episode of Euthanasia & Disability, Amy Hasbrouck and Christian Debray discuss:

  • No free choice to die: Cecilia Bernadette Chmura
  • Doctors acquitted in euthanasia of Belgian woman
  • Link to video of January 30 forum

Please note that this text is only a script and that our webcast contains additional commentary.

NO FREE CHOICE TO DIE: CECILIA BERNADETTE CHMURA

  • The story surrounding the 2018 suicide of Cecelia Bernadette Chmura, offered by her husband and amplified by the news media, is that she was “failed” by the medical assistance in dying (MAiD) program. Ms. Chmura was deemed ineligible for euthanasia, because her natural death was not “reasonably foreseeable.”
  • Articles described Ms. Chmura’s long history with fibromyalgia (up to 20 years, depending on the report) and said her condition had worsened over the five years before her death.  According to news accounts, she had been taking morphine and medical marijuana for the pain, but she didn’t like the “loopy” feeling they caused, nor did the drugs completely relieve her pain. This raises several questions:
    • Did she receive appropriate palliative care?  There was no mention of advanced pain management techniques, like acupuncture, mechanical or chemical nerve blockers, antidepressants and other atypical pain relievers, or even stronger opiates.
    • Was she receiving treatment for the psychological symptoms that often go along with fibromyalgia, such as depression, anxiety and cognitive impairment?
    • Was she receiving support to live well with chronic pain?
    • Did she refuse to take pain medications because of the side effects?
  • Reports said Ms. Chmura applied for MAiD in the summer of 2017, and was devastated to learn that she was not eligible.  The articles all focused on the “failure” of the MAiD program to include her, rather than on the failure of palliative care to relieve her pain, or even whether death is a suitable substitute for pain relief.
  • The media reported that Ms. Chmura took an overdose of medications; mixing ground-up pills with pudding, and washing it down with hard liquor. Her husband, David Dunn, was questioned by police, but no charges were laid.
  • It’s impossible to know how much of the story was shaped by Mr. Dunn, and how much came from the reporters.  Sources quoted in the articles included Mr. Dunn, a defence attorney, and the spokesperson for Dying with Dignity. The description of Mr. Dunn holding his wife in his arms as she died, and of her belief in reincarnation, are certainly not consistent with guidelines for reporting on suicides.
  • As we’ve mentioned in previous webcasts, media coverage of assisted suicide and euthanasia (AS/E) tends to be strongly biased in favour of the practice, portraying it as a progressive, autonomous choice.  Opposition to AS/E is usually described as religiously-motivated, with an occasional nod to disabled people as “vulnerable persons” with no mention of the discriminatory belief that drives AS/E; that it’s better to be dead than disabled.
  • In this case, the media bias has (once again) caused important information about the events to be lost: what kind of palliative care was Ms. Chmura receiving?  Why was her pain “excruciating” and her quality of life “horrible?” Did she receive any suicide prevention intervention? What factors went into her calculation of the trade-offs between unpleasant drug side-effects, adequate pain relief and death? By what process, did death come to appear to be a better option than all of the other choices available to a person still living? Who really failed Cecilia Chmura?
  • Without the supports she needed to manage her pain, could the choice to die be free?

DOCTORS ACQUITTED IN EUTHANASIA OF BELGIAN WOMAN

  • Three doctors charged in the euthanasia death of Tine Nys in 2010 were acquitted in the early hours of January 31 after a jury deliberated for eight hours. The doctors were accused of unlawfully poisoning the 38-year-old Autistic woman in April 2010 because there was doubt as to whether she met the eligibility criteria for euthanasia.
  • Dr. Godelieve Thienpont, a psychiatrist, Dr. Joris Van Hove, who administered the euthanasia, and Dr. Frank de Greef, her treating physician, all signed off on the forms approving the euthanasia, attesting that she met all eligibility criteria.
  • Ms. Nys’ family believed that she did not have an incurable mental disorder.  She had untreated psychiatric disabilities, a history of drug abuse and suicide attempts, and had recently been diagnosed with autism, for which she had not yet received any support.
  • When the verdict was read, cheers and applause broke out in the courtroom, which the president of the court called “inappropriate.”

VIDEO OF JANUARY 30 FORUM 

  • To view the video of the End-of-life, Equality and Disability forum that was held on January 30 in Ottawa, click on this link and enter your name and email address in the form.