Elderly woman chooses assisted suicide rather than endure another COVID lockdown

A 90-year-old Canadian woman living in an eldercare facility who was not ill or sick with COVID-19, took her own life last month rather than risk living isolated by another pandemic lockdown.

The resident, Nancy Russell, chose a medically-assisted death, which is legal in Canada, with friends and family gathered around her bed, according to CTV News.

“It was the exact opposite of the lonely months of lockdown Russell had suffered through in the retirement home where Russell had lived for several years — that was the whole point,” the outlet reported last week.

As in the U.S., COVID cases are also rising across Canada, which is leading to new lockdowns and other social-gathering bans or restrictions, the latter of which are taking a toll on older adults who are sequestered away in eldercare facilities.

CTV noted:

Residents eat meals in their rooms, have activities and social gatherings cancelled, family visits curtailed or eliminated. Sometimes they are in isolation in their small rooms for days. These measures, aimed at saving lives, can sometimes be detrimental enough to the overall health of residents that they find themselves looking into other options.

Russell was described by her family as being very alert and social, but that she chose MAiD (Medical Assistance in Dying by euthanasia) after declining very significantly during a previous lockdown, and she simply did not want to continue being isolated throughout the winter.

“Being mobile was everything to my mom,” her daughter, Tory, told the news outlet.

“My mother was extremely curious, and she was very interested in every person she met and every idea that she came across so she was constantly reading, going to different shows and talks,” Tory continued. “[She] was frequently talking about people she met and their life stories, very curious, open-minded. So for 90, she was exceptional.”

However, as the virus began spreading across the U.S. and Canada in March, isolation restrictions put in place meant she could no longer take jail walks, visit the library and engage in other social activities at her Toronto eldercare home. Tory said that plastic dividers were set up in the facility’s dining room and they were only allowed supervised visits in the garden.

“She, almost overnight, went from a very active lifestyle to a very limited life, and they had, very early on, a complete two-week confinement just to her room,” Tory said.

During that period, her mother was unable to exercise via her walks and was not allowed to do her own shopping. But Russell did try to remain active by repeatedly standing up and sitting down over and over again in her room, Tory said.

“In that two weeks, all of us were phoning and she learned Zoom and got up to speed, but she felt extremely restricted, naturally, as did everybody,” the daughter said.

Tory also said that her mother did not blame the eldercare facility and that she “fully understood why that rule had to be in place.”

Canadian health officials noted in May that the country’s nursing homes and elder facilities were the hardest hit early in the pandemic, with some 80 percent of COVID deaths occurring there.

And today, health officials say that more than 70 percent of Canadians who have died from the disease were over the age of 80.

“[My mother] understood the fragility of the people in the building and the importance of protecting them, so it was just a very difficult time,” said Tory, noting that the two-week isolation period really took its toll on Russell.

“She was just drooping,” Tory said. “It was contact with people that was like food to her, it was like, oxygen. She would be just tired all the time because she was under-stimulated.”

The daughter noted that her mother has always supported MAiD and had already considered it before the pandemic.

But the lockdown only accelerated things.

“I do want to underscore the fact that she wanted medical assistance in dying at some point,” Tory told CTV News. “And she had told her family doctor that, but the application was hastened by the impact of the lockdown measures.”

The outlet added: “Researchers have noted rising rates of loneliness and despondence among residents in senior homes during COVID-19 lockdowns, something they call confinement syndrome.”

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Jon Dougherty

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