On June 21, the Euthanasia Prevention Coalition received a request from a supporter in Nova Scotia, asking us to read the obituary in the Halifax Chronicle Herald newspaper for an Elizabeth MacDonald. The obituary stated that MacDonald, who had multiple sclerosis, died on June 8 in Switzerland at the Dignitas assisted suicide clinic.

The obituary specifically thanked Ludwig Minelli and the members of Dignitas in Zurich (Bernard and “Gaby”) in particular. The obituary further stated donations could be sent to (among others) the Right to Die Society of Canada. The EPC responded by expressing its concerns to the Nova Scotia RCMP and asking the questions: “Did someone aid, abet or counsel MacDonald to commit suicide in Zurich? Did someone travel with MacDonald in order to enable her to fulfill this act? Did the Right to Die Society of Canada provide information to, or did it counsel, MacDonald? Has the Criminal Code of Canada been broken by this act?”

Section 241 of the Criminal Code of Canada states: Every one who (a) counsels a person to commit suicide, or (b) aids or abets a person to commit suicide, whether suicide ensues or not, is guilty of an indictable offence and liable to imprisonment for a term not exceeding 14 years.

As someone with MS, Mark Pickup, the founder of Human Life Matters, responded to the situation by saying he was concerned about the abandonment of people with MS and other disabilities. Pickup said: “The fact that MacDonald was accompanied to a suicide clinic represents the ultimate abandonment.” He added: “We have a responsibility to the common good of society, not just to ourselves. We must consider the wider implications to all people with MS, people with disabilities and other people who are vulnerable.”

The next day, we at the EPC were contacted by the Halifax Chronicle Herald and the Halifax Daily News concerning our inquiry related to the assisted suicide death of MacDonald. We were also contacted by the RCMP, which informed us that they were opening an investigation into the possible counseling, aiding or abetting of MacDonald in her death.

The issue gained national prominence after the RCMP issued a press release indicating they were investigating MacDonald’s death.

The media began to contact the EPC for comments. The EPC decided to work from a national perspective, by having Dr. Will Johnson and Dr. Margaret Cottle in Vancouver, the EPC’s legal counsel Hugh Scher in Toronto, Mark Pickup in Alberta and myself in London handle the media. The media seemed to be looking for radical comments in order to discredit the EPC and were disappointed when only rational comments were given. The EPC then held a conference call to discuss strategy. It became concerned that the media were attempting to create an issue that didn’t exist.

The media in Nova Scotia turned the issue into that of an Ontario group out to attack a grieving man from Nova Scotia. This tactic was successful and resulted in the EPC receiving a number of e-mails and phone calls attacking its position.

Even some supporters of the EPC were concerned that we had fallen into the media’s campaign against us by actually believing that the EPC had focused its campaign on MacDonald’s husband. In fact, the EPC had never insinuated anyone in particular had broken the law. We simply asked the question: was Elizabeth MacDonald counselled, aided or abetted to commit suicide?

Hugh Scher continuously stated to the media: “We’re not alleging any criminal conduct in this case. We’re simply indicating that there’s an issue of concern here and it warrants an investigation.” The police investigated the issue by interviewing family members and others who were possibly connected to the event. The media indicated the police were fair and professional in their investigation.

On June 29, the EPC was contacted by the RCMP, who informed it that they had investigated and found no evidence to lay charges. The EPC was satisfied with this result. The EPC will remain vigilant and will continue to work to maintain the current laws. We are convinced people are less likely to travel to Switzerland for “suicide tourism” if it results in a police investigation to ensure Canadian laws are being followed. The EPC created national interest in our work and we are investigating new ways to discuss and respond to similar issues in the future.

A version of this article originally appeared in the July issue of the Euthanasia Prevention Coalition news letter.