'I wanted to make it to Christmas': Woman calls for assisted dying law changes

A Nova Scotia woman with late-stage cancer who died on Thursday said she hoped her death would lead to change in the country's assisted dying law as Canada's health minister acknowledged the fledgling legislation needs work.

'I'm willing to leave early if it will result in this change for those who come after me,' Parker wrote

In her final Facebook post, Audrey Parker wrote that she would have liked to live to see Christmas and New Year's, her favourite time of year. (Kayla Hounsell/CBC)

A Nova Scotia woman who said she was being forced into an early death because of Canada's fledgling assisted dying law issued a final plea Thursday urging Canadians to write their MPs and push for legislative change.

Audrey Parker, a stage 4 breast cancer patient, said the law's condition that patients must be mentally competent and able to consent immediately before the procedure is unfair and extreme.

"I'm willing to leave early if it will result in this change for those who come after me," Parker, 57, said in a final note to her friends and the community that she posted to Facebook on Thursday before her medically assisted death.

"I wanted to make it to Christmas and New Year's Eve ... my favourite time of the year but I lost that opportunity because of a poorly thought out federal law. I just can't gamble with my end of life and the pain I endure," she wrote.

"Had late stage consent been abolished, I simply would have taken my life one day at a time."

Parker's friend, Kim King, confirmed Thursday afternoon that Parker died peacefully at her Halifax home, surrounded by family and friends.  

Law needs work: health minister

King called Canada's assisted dying law "flawed" in an interview earlier this week with CBC Radio's Mainstreet

"What that does is it's causing Audrey to have to leave this earth a little bit earlier than she would have liked because she can't lose that window where she may lose her mental capacity."

Canada's health minister said if she could change the federal legislation for Parker she would, but Ginette Petitpas Taylor said she wouldn't be proposing any changes to the law right now.

"My heart goes out to her," Petitpas Taylor said Wednesday in Ottawa, adding there are areas of the law that "we need to work on."  

"As health minister, I can tell you if I could change that law for her specifically for her I would. But as the minister, as a parliamentarian, we have to have a law in place for all Canadians."

Dying with Dignity Canada, a non-profit organization based in Toronto, will be starting a campaign in the coming weeks with the aim of seeing that the rights of people who've been assessed and approved for assisted dying are respected.

Audrey Parker, 57, passed away on Nov. 1 at her home in Halifax after advocating for changes to Canada's assisted dying laws. (CBC News)

Parker's breast cancer had spread throughout her bones and to her brain, and she was worried the disease would cause her to lose cognitive capacity. She was in pain and chose to die Thursday, not wanting to risk having doctors possibly deny her a medically assisted death.

"I think once I've signed the papers and have agreed, it should stand. But I still have to worry that if I lose my marbles, that they won't do it. And then I'm going to die poorly," said Parker in an interview last month.

Expert report on law expected next month

Parker was concerned about the people she is leaving behind, said her friend Kim King, but her resolve to die remained firm.

"She's thinking of others right until the end," King told Mainstreet, adding that Parker has reshaped her friends' and family's understanding of death.

"We have gotten back tenfold just an incredible experience from her," said King. "We've really learned just to savour every moment"

In order to be eligible for a medically assisted death under the two-year-old legislation, a person must have a serious illness, be in an advanced state of decline, be experiencing unbearable suffering and be at a point where a natural death has become reasonably foreseeable.

They also must consent at the time of the request and again before the procedure.

Petitpas Taylor said a team of experts have been reviewing the issue Parker raised and will deliver a report by December.

The report won't make recommendations, but Health Canada said it will contribute to a future parliamentary review of the legislation.

'A beautiful death'

Before she died, Parker raised funds to build Halifax's first 10-bed hospice which is set to open in 2019. She helped choose the decor for each room, said King, and asked for people to honour her legacy by donating to Hospice Halifax.

"Life is a beautiful journey. You know, the end of our life is just as important as the beginning of our life. That's what I believe," Parker said in an interview with CBC News last month.

"So by talking about it with friends and family, getting them onboard, having them accept it as I have accepted it has really changed their view ... It's time for me to go and I want to go peacefully and beautifully."

With files from Kayla Hounsell and Mainstreet

Corrections

  • This is a corrected story. A previous version contained inaccurate information that Dying with Dignity Canada would submit a bill next week, dubbed Audrey's Law, seeking an amendment to remove the need for late-stage consent for medically assisted dying patients who have already consented and been approved. In fact, the organization will launch a campaign in the coming weeks with the aim of seeing that the rights of people who've been assessed and approved for assisted dying are respected.
    Nov 01, 2018 6:53 PM AT

About the Author

Mairin Prentiss

Reporter

Mairin Prentiss is a reporter in Nova Scotia. Get in touch at mairin.prentiss@cbc.ca