B.C. nurse sought wider access to legally assisted death

Noreen Campbell, one of the first Canadians to apply for a medically assisted death, died Thursday in her North Saanich, B.C. home.

'I am seeking a peaceful, controlled death so I will not suffocate'

Noreen Campbell (with husband Cliff) underwent successful surgery for oral cancer but then learned she had advanced and terminal Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD). (CBC)

A day after the Canadian government legalized medically assisted dying last year, Noreen Campbell submitted her application for approval.

Campbell received that assistance on Thursday when she died in her home in North Saanich, B.C.

In a May 2016 interview on The National, the retired registered nurse, described how she survived oral cancer but then learned she had chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), a terminal respiratory disease.

Campbell said the disease eventually results in death by suffocation.

"I am not seeking suicide," Campbell said. "I am seeking a peaceful, controlled death so I will not suffocate."

Noreen Campbell (at right with horse) died with medical assistance Jan. 12 at her North Saanich home. (Cambell family)

Campbell first became involved with advocacy group Dying With Dignity because she wanted to go to Switzerland where medically assisted death is legal.

Her plans changed when the Supreme Court of Canada struck down the Criminal Code prohibition on assisted suicide in February 2015.

Campbell was excited by the court ruling, but was later disappointed when the new law enacted by the federal government last year did not fully reflect the top court's ruling.

Aid limited to 'foreseeable death'

Bill C-14 limited access to assisted dying to people like Campbell who are facing a "foreseeable death".

She decided to speak publicly about the importance of extending the same right to others who are not facing imminent death but have "grievous, irremediable disease or disabilities."

"It means for my patients, people with Huntington's, people with ALS, people with dementia, that they can look at a diagnosis and they have some hope," she said.

"If you get a diagnosis like this you'd be scared," she said.

Retired nurse Noreen Campbell explains why the assisted dying bill is important for her and why she is disappointed with the Liberal government's proposed assisted dying legislation. 2:54

Ellen Agger, co-chair of the Victoria chapter of Dying With Dignity Canada, said Campbell died in the sunroom of her North Saanich, B.C. home Thursday while surrounded by family members.

Despite the serious nature of Campbell's message, Agger said Campbell had "quite a sense of humour."

She was also a member of Dying With Dignity Canada's Disability Advisory Council.

 Agger said Campbell was a rare and powerful voice of personal experience on the assisted-dying issue.

"This is someone about whom we're all talking, who wants to have her own voice and has a lot to say," Agger said.