2020-10-14

Local man at centre of legal challenge concerning medically-assisted death passes away

by Keith Corcoran

Jack Eugene Sorenson, whose end-of-life wishes were amplified in a legal debate over medically-assisted death when they were made public in the media, passed away in Lunenburg earlier this month.

The beloved retired music aficionado, who grew up in a small mining town in Idaho but later called Bridgewater home, died at the Fishermen's Memorial Hospital at the age of 83, according to a published obituary.

He taught his craft in post-secondary schools in the U.S. s as well as in Nova Scotia, noted the obituary. He also was a music producer for this county's public broadcaster.

Sorenson was known locally for operating two restaurants in Mahone Bay before calling it a career in the early 2000s.

"Jack's many students and employees remember him with fondness for his kindness in encouraging them in their skills whether in music or in cooking," the obituary reads.

But Sorenson's health and medical history, along with the controversial and personal issue of medically-assisted death in Canada, went into the national spotlight in recent weeks.

Sorenson applied for Medical Assistance in Dying (MAID), something legal in Canada for the past four years under certain factors, and, given his advanced chronic obstructive pulmonary disease which took a toll on his lungs, was granted.

The request was approved twice this summer but his spouse of 48 years, Katherine, was adamantly opposed to her husband's application and turned to the courts to stop him from ending his life. Katherine, 82, believed he didn't meet the MAID eligibility requirements and took the case to Nova Scotia Supreme Court.

The latest legal battle ended with a Nova Scotia Court of Appeal ruling that sided with Sorenson, who died October 3. CBC News indicated Katherine intended to take the matter to the Supreme Court of Canada.

"Undoubtedly, she loves him deeply and wants what she feels is in his best interests. The thought of losing him must be very painful for her," Justice Cindy Bourgeois commented in the recent court decision. "However, these feelings do not give her standing to challenge the determination he meets the eligibility criteria for MAID."

"Mr. Sorenson has a right to pursue MAID," Bourgeois explained further in her decision. "He has been found eligible to receive it. Withholding MAID would be contrary to Mr. Sorenson's fundamental right to personal autonomy and medical self-determination. He has been found to be suffering due to a grievous and irremediable medical condition. Preventing him from accessing MAID constitutes significant harm.," Bourgeois noted.

Ottawa recently reintroduced a bill that would amend MAID to make it simpler for an applicant to consent before an illness progresses.

A public graveside service for Sorenson was slated for October 17 in Blockhouse. In lieu-of-flowers, donations were requested to the Euthanasia Prevention Coalition, according to the published obituary which Katherine indicated to CBC News she authored.

"I don't think he would like it," she told the CBC about the request contained on the obit.

"But I don't know where he is right now, so I haven't got any idea what his frame of mind would be."

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