Did Canadian Man With ALS Choose Assisted Suicide After Being Denied Adequate Care?

Pro-life websites reported — with a degree of accuracy — on the difficult case of Sean Tagert.

  • Published 11 September 2019

Claim

Sean Tagert's decision to obtain a physician-assisted suicide was caused, in part or in whole, by a regional health authority's failure to provide what he regarded as necessary care.

Rating

What's True

Facebook posts written by Tagert clearly show that his decision to pursue a medically-assisted suicide was substantively linked to his frustration and desperation at what he perceived as Vancouver Coastal Health's failure or refusal to fully fund his home care or sufficiently accommodate his complex clinical and personal needs.

What's Undetermined

Evidence is not yet available that would allow us to verify that Tagert's perceptions of Vancouver Coastal Health's actions and decisions about his care were fully accurate.

Origin

If you need help, call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline: 1-800-273-8255. Or contact Crisis Text Line by texting HOME to 741741.

In September 2019, we received multiple inquiries about the accuracy of news reports that claimed that a Canadian man with a terminal illness had opted to undergo an assisted suicide after fighting, and ultimately failing, to obtain the care he needed. 

On Aug. 21, the pro-life website LifeNews.com published an article with the headline “Disabled 41-Year-Old Man is Euthanized After Funding for Home Health Care Runs Out,” which reported that:

“Canadian Sean Tagert, aged 41, was killed by assisted suicide after health officials decided to cut the funding for his in-home care hours. Mr Tagert suffered from Motor Neurone Disease (MND) which is known in Canada as Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis (ALS). His illness reduced his ability to move his body, eat or speak, however his mental awareness remained unaffected.

“Doctors recommended 24-hour in-home care to support Mr Tagert. However, Vancouver Coastal Health, initially only offered Mr Tagert 15.5 hours of care a day, which was then raised to 20 hours a day, meaning that Mr Tagert was forced to pay $263.50 a day for the remaining care that he needed to survive.”

Earlier, Catholic News Agency reported that:

“The family of a Canadian man who suffered from amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS) is urging the country’s government to change the way it treats patients with the disease after he received a ‘medically-assisted death’ following years of struggle to find adequate care …

“…Tagert’s doctors recommended 24-hour in-home care, which is typical for a person who uses a ventilator full time. Vancouver Coastal Health, Tagert’s regional health authority, only initially offered 15.5 hours of care a day. Eventually, after much effort, they increased their offer to 20 hours a day — which still meant that Tagert had to pay $263.50 each day for the remaining four hours of required care. Tagert and his family continued to fight for coverage of a full day’s care, to no avail.”

Both articles clearly drew a causal link between Tagert’s difficulty in obtaining a level of care that he regarded as adequate, and his ultimate decision to avail himself of a physician-assisted suicide, which was legalized in Canada in 2016.

A significant element of truth is in those claims. In Facebook posts, Tagert clearly linked his decision to undergo an assisted suicide with his own fatigue, frustration and desperation after what he documented and presented as many months of bureaucratic wrangling and correspondence with Vancouver Coastal Health (VCH), the regional public health authority for the Greater Vancouver area.

Background

According to Tagert’s Facebook posts, as well as multiple contemporary news reports, he had sought funding for 24-hour home care, which he viewed as essential due to his many complex health needs, but VCH had offered him funding for only 20 hours of care per day.

In 2019, Tagert appears to have shifted his focus toward obtaining adequate round-the-clock care in a hospital setting, but reported that VCH officials had been unwilling or unable to agree to his requirements, in particular his need to be hospitalized at a location close to where his 11-year-old son lived, or alternatively, for his son to be allowed to sleep over at the hospital. 

On March 19, Tagert signaled his intent to pursue a physician-assisted suicide, in light of the difficulties he was experiencing in obtaining what he regarded as adequate care and quality of life, and the financial perils of attempting to cover the shortfall in his care himself. He wrote:

“My plan all along has been to endure til a cure, but without the support that Canada promises, it seems to be an untenable position. Two therapies that could make me better are being completely ignored by the health authorities. So left with the options of either waiting for a day that I have no staff available and choking to death, or being institutionalized at George Pearson [a VCH-run long-term care facility], the ‘Jail for quads,’ and dying a slow tortuous death, I’m going to pursue medically assisted death. It will wreck my son, but better then him walking in on a blue contorted corpse one day. The only thing I have left to give is a meaningful death …”

He persisted for a time in attempting to obtain what he regarded as necessary care in another VCH-run, long-term care facility, Evergreen House, but his efforts appear to have been unsuccessful.

On July 25, Tagert announced on Facebook that he had six days earlier submitted an application to undergo a physician-assisted suicide. He wrote:

“Hey everyone. I’ve been quiet lately because I’m just done, worn-out. So last Friday I officially submitted my Medically assisted death paperwork, with lawyers and doctors, everything in proper order. It’s been over a month since I submitted my appeal to the Vancouver Coastal Health patient care quality department. They didn’t even respond …”

On Aug. 6, Tagert died by assisted suicide at his home in Powell River, British Columbia, at the age of 40. 

Analysis

Tagert would ultimately have died prematurely from his illness, and according to a Facebook post announcing his passing, his health was “rapidly deteriorating” at the time he opted for an assisted suicide. However, in his Facebook posts, for weeks and months leading up to his death, Tagert displayed a determination to obtain a level of care that would afford him as much quality of life as possible during his final weeks, and allow him to spend time with his family members. 

Based on his March 19 and July 25 Facebook posts, Tagert’s decision to choose a medically assisted suicide appears to have been hastened or caused, either wholly or in part, by — in his perception — VCH’s failure to either provide him funding for 24-hour home care, or hospital care that met his complex clinical and personal needs. 

The fact that Tagert clearly perceived his circumstances, and the actions of VCH, in this way, is enough to lend significant credence to the claims made by LifeNews.com and Catholic News Agency. However, we have not yet been able to independently verify the accuracy of Tagert’s claims about VCH’s actions. 

Tagert regularly documented, on Facebook, his account of his interactions with VCH and the authority’s purported refusal or failure to fully cover the cost of 24-hour home care, as well its purported refusal or failure to guarantee Tagert the conditions and requirements he felt would be necessary in a long-term care facility.

In one instance, he posted a document that contained what he said were excerpts of email correspondence between him and VCH administrators on the subject of Tagert’s requests and requirements should he choose to take a place at Evergreen House, a VCH-run, long-term care facility in North Vancouver. According to that document, administrators acceded to some of Tagert’s requests, but not others. 

The document is relatively strong evidence but can’t be treated as definitive because it is made up of what appear to be excerpts of emails (rather than screenshots of the original emails themselves); does not include time or date stamps; is heavily annotated by Tagert himself; and does not clearly distinguish direct quotations from Tagert’s paraphrasing of correspondence sent by the VCH officials. 

Similarly, Tagert’s claim that VCH initially offered to fund only 15.5 hours of home care before increasing that coverage to 20 hours per day (still short of the 24-hour care Tagert requested) was documented in news reports dating back to September 2018. However, none of VCH’s public statements, included in those news reports, explicitly confirmed the nature and extent of what the authority had offered Tagert, and what it had refused to provide him. 

Conclusion

Tagert’s perception of VCH’s actions and decisions, along with his own rapidly worsening health, clearly caused or contributed to, or potentially hastened, his decision to pursue a physician-assisted suicide. However, until or unless we obtain corroboration from VCH, or definitive documentary evidence, we can’t say with certainty that Tagert’s perceptions and public pronouncements were fully accurate. If such evidence becomes available to us, we will update this fact check accordingly.

Snopes made repeated efforts to contact VCH for comment, sending several spokespersons a list of detailed questions about VCH’s actions and decisions in relation to the care offered and provided to Tagert, and asking the authority to either confirm or deny multiple, specific factual allegations he made before he died, as well as offering VCH the opportunity to respond, more broadly, to news reports about this episode. Despite these efforts, we did not receive a response from VCH. 

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