British Columbia

Doctor-assisted death legislation criticized for forbidding advanced directives

Laura Phelps describes the end of her mother and father’s lives as torture. She’s says Canada's new doctor-assisted dying legislation does not go far enough, especially when it comes to advanced directives, and that legislation would not have helped her parents.

Dying with Dignity Canada's Laura Phelps's mother and father died after stroke complications

Laura Phelps (left) and her mother, Dorothy Phelps. Dorothy Phelps died from starvation and dehydration after a stroke in 2015, having made clear her wishes to not be put on a feeding tube. (Laura Phelps)

Laura Phelps describes the end of her mother and father's lives as torture.

Phelps, who now works with Dying with Dignity Canada, says she's disappointed the new doctor-assisted dying legislation from the federal government does not go far enough.

She says under the new legislation, her parents still would not have been eligible for doctor-assisted death because advanced directives — where someone requests it while still of sound mind — are not allowed.

Both of her loved ones chose to end their own lives the only legal way: through starvation and dehydration.

"This is the problem that faces people with dementia: I don't think [my mother] would have wanted to end her life too soon, but then she wouldn't have been allowed to make an advanced directive," she told All Points West guest host Megan Thomas.

"So she couldn't have said, at the point when I'm in diapers, when I'm confined to a bed, then I'd like to pass."

"And my dad, I don't think he would have been considered cognitively competent enough, so he would have to starve and dehydrate himself. Which is horrifying."

'Piling torture onto torture'

Phelps' father had a debilitating stroke which left him bed-ridden. And complications meant doctors were going to amputate both of his arms and both of his legs.

He chose to starve and dehydrate himself instead.

"Which really seemed to me to be like piling torture onto torture," she said.

In 2013, her mother also had a stroke, and doctors said she was at risk of having more due to vascular dementia.

Laura Phelps (left) with her father, Ronald Phelps. Facing the amputation off all his limbs because of complications from a stroke, Ronald Phelps chose to die instead. (Laura Phelps)

She made a living will asking not to be put on a feeding tube in the event she was facing physical or cognitive decline.

She had her next stroke around Christmas of 2015. And so her family withheld food and water until she died.

"I kind of think there's a mistaken notion that … you just pull the plug and that's it. But it really is like watching someone turn into a corpse before your eyes and then live for a while," Phelps said.

Phelps dismissed concerns about someone, perhaps in a moment of despair, committing to doctor-assisted death prematurely.

"Those concerns are being blown a little out of proportion, so Canadians' rights are being restricted," she said. "There's going to be a lot of unnecessary suffering."

Phelps said she had little confidence that coming debate over the legislation would change much about it.

With files from CBC Radio One's All Points West

To hear the full story, click the audio labelled: Doctor-assisted death legislation wouldn't have helped my parents, says Langford activist


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