Woman who pushed for change to assisted-death law dies

A cancer patient who said Canada’s law on medically assisted death didn’t allow her to end her life on her own terms has died.

Audrey Parker’s medically assisted death took place Thursday as scheduled, with the 57-year-old woman surrounded by friends and relatives.

Parker, diagnosed with Stage 4 breast cancer in 2016, fought until her final hours for changes to Canada’s laws requiring anyone choosing a medically assisted death to be conscious and mentally sound immediately before a lethal injection.

This meant Parker would be denied an approved medically-assisted death if her condition suddenly worsened and she couldn’t offer final consent.

“All Audrey really wanted was to live for one more Christmas with her family and friends,” Shanaaz Gokool, CEO of Dying with Dignity Canada, told CTV News Channel before Parker’s death. “She said to me yesterday that she wanted Canadians to know that today at two o’clock Atlantic time, with her dying breath that this is wrong that she was forced to die too early.”

Parker pushed for the federal government to revise the law so that advance consent is sufficient.

“She really made it her mission this fall to make sure that all Canadians know the difficult choice -- the cruel choice -- that she has to make,” said Gokool.

In a heartbreaking Facebook post that serves as her “last note,” Parker thanked her friends and family and made a last-ditch effort to call for changes to assisted dying legislation.

“As I near my death today, it is even more evident than ever before, that late stage consent has got to be amended and removed from MAID in Canada for my category,” she wrote.

“Dying is a messy business. I can’t predict when cancer will move into my brain matter or when something else big happens to make me more unwell. I and only I can make that decision for myself. It’s about living out every extra day that I can.”

Jocelyn Downie, a law professor specializing in health care and ethics at Dalhousie University, believes allowing these advance notices would be a proper change to the legislation.

“I think that it would be more humane and more respectful of patient autonomy if we had a law that allowed advance requests,” she said.

“It gives people the confidence that they will have kind of death that they want to have. They don’t live in fear of losing their capacity and losing access to MAID.”

There have been more than 3,700 medically assisted deaths in Canada since the procedure became legal across the country in 2016 for anyone with a serious, irreversible illness, disease or disability and at a point where a natural death is reasonably foreseeable.

A federal review of the assisted dying law is scheduled to be completed in December.

Health Minister Ginette Petitpas Taylor told reporters she’s heard Parker’s story and wishes she could do something, but can’t as the government is in the middle of gathering recommendations for the law.

With files from The Canadian Press