Holy Cats, he did it!
Terminally ill man commits suicide, sparks debate
OTTAWA — A sickly Marcel Tremblay consumed two beers, two shrimp and a crab cake at what he called “a living wake” on Friday, then went home and killed himself, sparking a countrywide debate on the right-to-die issue.
The frail, 78-year-old man appeared remarkably nonchalant and upbeat as he prepared to die, saying he was fed up with suffering from a fatal lung disease and hoped that Canadians would debate the issue of assisted suicide.
“I’m 110 per cent positive of what I want to do and I’m justified in my thinking of why I want to do it,” said Tremblay, his raspy voice sounding firm and confident after a goodbye party with family and friends.
“I want them to debate it, I want them to talk about it.”
Tremblay said he would take his own life by pulling a helium-filled bag over his head. He said his family and friends supported his decision.
“That decision, for me, is the right decision,” he said.
“I feel I’d like to die and that’s what I’m going to do.
“To live the way I’m living is not living. It’s existing, and there’s no reason to continue it day in and day out for any longer than I’ve already done.”
Tremblay’s impromptu news conference outside his bungalow was not without its moments of black humour.
He apologized to reporters gathered outside his home for causing them to stake out the residence in sub-zero temperatures, prompting a family member to crack:
“You should have done it in July.” Tremblay chuckled.
He was also unperturbed by the fact that someone had tinkered with the lock on his front door in an apparent effort to stop him from killing himself.
About 90 minutes later, emergency vehicles started arriving at the house, including three police cars police and two ambulances.
Staff.-Sgt. Monique Ackland emerged a half-hour later.
“The police have done what they could under the Mental Health Act,” she said. “Mr. Tremblay was deemed to be mentally stable.
“There was nothing further that police could do unless a physician came forward to say that Mr. Tremblay was mentally ill. That did not happen.
“Tonight, he proceeded with his plan and at 23h51 he was pronounced dead by the doctor.”
A woman and her husband came by minutes after Tremblay was declared dead and said that they had just come from a local Roman Catholic Church where the priest had held a prayer vigil for the man.
She said the priest had earlier refused to intervene.
Earlier in the day, Tremblay, a former rooming house owner, said he went public with his plans to kill himself because he wanted people to debate the right to die with dignity.
The stooped, bearded man sat before a phalanx of cameras at his lawyer’s office to say that he was ready to die and didn’t care who knew it.
He was lucky, he said, because he was still strong enough to tug the bag over his head – his method of choice – and “pull the plug.”
Those who don’t have that strength are left without a choice, he said, because the law bans assisted suicide.
Tremblay said he no longer found any joy or happiness in life. Even his trips to Syracuse, N.Y., to play poker, one of his favourite pastimes, were impossible.
God and religion hold neither fears nor promise to him, he added.
“We’re getting older and they’re keeping us alive, dammit,” he growled in a low, but firm voice.
Tremblay felt that the law should be changed to allow assisted suicide, said his lawyer, Lawrence Greenspon.
“He is in a position where he can do something,” Greenspon said.
“The vast majority of people who suffer terminal illnesses are not in a position where they are physically able to do what he intends to do and that’s a very big part of the reason why he’s decided to be very public about his intentions.”
Tremblay said even groups that support death with dignity don’t want to talk about suicide.
“They all say: ‘Don’t call the police, don’t tell anybody, go in the corner and do it.”‘
“We’re never going to get that law changed if everybody does that. I could have done that like everybody else is doing. This is going on all the time but people just don’t want to talk about it.”
Tremblay said he had a litany of health problems, including back trouble, stomach problems and an incurable and eventually fatal lung condition.
Greenspon, looking decidedly uncomfortable and admitting to moral and ethical qualms about Tremblay’s decision, nevertheless said what he planned was perfectly legal. Ottawa police had monitored the case for two weeks.
Justice Minister Irwin Cotler called it a “very tragic situation.”
“This is a very, very difficult and painful question about which Canadians have different views. There is no real emergent consensus,” he said.
“I cannot as the minister of justice and the attorney general instruct authorities as to what they do in these matters. These are matters that fall within the domain of the provincial administration of justice.”
Tremblay said he’d discussed his decision with two psychiatrists before police heard of his plan and took him to the Ottawa Hospital, apparently for another psychiatric evaluation.
He said he spent five hours sitting at the hospital with three policemen watching him, only to have a doctor come in, ask three questions and tell him he was free to go.
At that point, Greenspon said, the police washed their hands of the case.
Since Tremblay wouldn’t get any help killing himself, there would be no crime, he said.
An unidentified, independent witness would be on hand to confirm no help was given.