A QUESTION OF CONSENT: VIOLETTE AND NORMAND LEBLANC V THE MIRANDA HOSPITAL OF HOPE
Statement of Agreed Facts
Violette Leblanc, renowned writer and poet, was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease May 1, 2018 by Dr. Karl Caritad, Director of the Alzheimer’s Clinic at the Miranda Hospital of Hope. Dr. Caritad’s notes confirm that Mrs. Leblanc’s Alzheimer’s was severely advanced: she had lost the ability to speak, did not seem to know her husband of forty years, and had minimal control of her bodily functions. Her husband Normand Leblanc explained to Dr. Caritad that he had been caring for his wife in their home for more than two years. Neither he nor his wife, he explained, had sought medical care or a medical diagnosis during that period. Neither husband nor wife, he said, had wanted to admit that there was something terribly wrong. Now the severity of her condition could no longer be ignored or rationalized away.
The following week, Mr. Leblanc brought his wife back to the Alzheimer’s Clinic. He asked Dr. Caritad to help Mrs. Leblanc end her life. Dr. Caritad explained that there was a formal process by which a request for medical aid in dying had to be made to the Hospital. He said that Mrs. Leblanc would not in any case be eligible for medical aid in dying since she was incapable of providing consent. He did offer some words of comfort. Given how fast-moving the disease had been in Mrs. Leblanc’s case, he said, she would likely not have long to suffer; in his view, she was at the end of life.
Mr. Leblanc made a formal request to the hospital on behalf of his wife. His request was refused. Although Mrs. Leblanc met all other conditions for medical aid in dying, she was incapable, in their view, of giving consent to the procedure that would end her life.
Mr. Leblanc, on behalf of his wife, took their case to the Superior Court of Québec. He asked the Court to order the Hospital to administer medical aid in dying to his wife. He adduced as evidence of his wife’s consent to medical aid in dying much of her poetry and fiction. In these celebrated works, Violette Leblanc had brought forward the tragedy of the loss of the ability to communicate or even to think and had spoken powerfully about a preference for death over the loss of personhood. “Better to die,” she wrote in her story “Pericles at Mytilene,” “than to slide down and down into the darkness of the mindless, friendless body.” In her prizewinning poem, “Ariel’s Lament,” we hear the voice of the spirit trapped without end in a pine tree. The poem concludes, as every Canadian will remember, with the torn words of the spirit asking for an end to the living death of “enwoodment” and release into death--the dissolution of self into air and the elements of nature. On account of these works and others including her Booker Prize-winning novel, Hamlet in Purgatory, she won universal praise, ironically enough, as the literary voice of those millions suffering in silence from Alzheimer’s.
Counsel for the Miranda Hospital of Hope acknowledged the beauty and force of Mrs. Leblanc’s writing but argued that its character as imaginative literature rendered it unreliable as a measure of the author’s intentions, especially for herself. Counsel pointed out, as one example among many, how many extraordinary actions, including how many suicides, are represented in Shakespeare’s plays--all of them written by a man who lived, by all accounts, a life of writing rather than of action and who died in his bed at his home in the quiet town of Stratford-upon-Avon. There was no reason to think, counsel argued, that the worlds that literary writers create in their works are the worlds that the writers would choose to live in.
The Justices of the Superior Court of Québec, while expressing their admiration for and profound sympathy with Violette Leblanc and for her husband, nevertheless ruled unanimously that she was not eligible for medical aid in dying. Although she met all other conditions, she was not capable of providing consent for the procedure that would end her life. The ruling concluded, “It would be a violation of Québec law and also of the rights of Violette Leblanc to consign her to death in the absence of certain knowledge that death is indeed what she desires.”
On appeal to the Court of Shakespeare, Mr. Leblanc, on behalf of his wife, seeks to have the ruling in favour of the Miranda Hospital of Hope overturned and asks the Court to order the Hospital to administer medical aid in dying to Violette Leblanc. The arguments relied upon in the appellants’ statement of claim are:
- Consent includes a person’s psychological state of acquiescence, affirmation, or general willingness, and is therefore an expression of personhood.
- Consent may be shared equally by all members of a consensually thinking and feeling group.
- As an expression of individual personhood and as the ground of consensus among a group, storytelling is an acceptable proof of consent.
The respondents, representing the Miranda Hospital of Hope, argue:
- Consent must be free, enlightened, and given by an individual, natural person.
- Consent may be vitiated by external forces, such as deception, duress, drugs, or incapacitating disease.
- Evidence of consent must take the form of a clear oral or written statement made directly in relation to the circumstances for which it is required.
The Court accepts jurisdiction and grants leave to appeal.
Set down for hearing April 5, 2019.
Rules of Court
The Court of Shakespeare adheres, mutatis mutandis, to the procedure of a final appellate court. Written facta will be 12-15 pages in length, exchanged no later than Monday, March 25, 2019.
Oral argument will be presented to the Full Court for judgment, Friday, April 5, 2019. Each side will have up to 30 minutes to present their case and each counsel must speak for at least 10 minutes. Five minutes rebuttal time may be reserved.
The Court’s sole Institutes, Codex, and Digest, is comprised by the works of William Shakespeare.
In accepting jurisdiction to hear the current case, the Court deems the following to be of greatest importance and relevance for the case before it: King Lear, A Midsummer Night’s Dream, Measure for Measure, and The Tempest. The Court will consider arguments based on other of Shakespeare works only where a compelling argument can be made for their special pertinence. The Court also notes the existence of precedent from within this jurisdiction bearing on the question of the legal and constitutional interpretation of the laws of Shakespeare.
Literature on the nature and theories of legal interpretation, on the origin and reception of law, and on the particular interpretations of Shakespearean texts or the canon as whole are relevant in determining how the Court is to understand and apply the laws of Shakespeare. They may be of assistance to the Court but they cannot supercede its primary textual duty. Legal material from other jurisdictions may help to inform your understanding of the issues but are neither binding nor influential in this jurisdiction.
Registrar of the Court of Shakespeare
7 January 2019