Audrey Parker, diagnosed with stage-four breast cancer which had metastasized to her bones and has a tumour on her brain, talks about life and death at her home in Halifax on Tuesday, Oct. 23, 2018. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Andrew Vaughan

Woman plans to die on Thursday, says Ottawa is forcing early death

Audrey Parker of Halifax has approached it as a political act

Audrey Parker has decided to end her life on Thursday.

She has approached it as a political act — an important public statement about Canada’s relatively new assisted dying law.

The 57-year-old Halifax woman says she is thankful the law will allow her to end the excruciating pain caused by cancerous tumours in her bones, but she says the legislation has left her in a terrible bind.

In recent weeks, the platinum-haired former ballroom dance instructor has spoken out — on social media, in newspapers, on TV — about how the two-year-old law is forcing her to choose to die sooner than she wants.

“You don’t want to die earlier than you have to,” she said in a recent interview in her Halifax apartment, where she has waged a very public campaign about a delicate subject that most would shy away from.

“There’s no reason I should have to die on Nov. 1 … I want to live as many days as I can.”

The problem, Parker says, is that people seeking medical assistance in dying must meet a set of criteria that she says appear to make no sense.

READ MORE: Vancouver Island leads nation in medically assisted deaths

Applicants must be in an advanced state of decline and experiencing unbearable physical or mental suffering caused by a grievous, irreversible medical condition, which means their natural death “has become reasonably foreseeable.”

Parker, diagnosed with Stage 4 breast cancer in early 2016, meets all of those conditions.

“All the tumours in my skeleton are killing me,” she says in a blunt, matter-of-fact tone that makes it clear she has accepted her fate. ”My brain is constantly telling me: ‘Cut those legs off. Cut those arms off … Get away from that pain.’ It’s so heinous.”

She has been assessed and approved for a medically assisted death.

But there’s a catch.

Under the law, she must be mentally competent immediately before she gives consent for her assisted death.

RELATED: B.C. woman seeks changes in assisted dying law

If her painkillers or cancer render her unconscious or mentally incompetent before that crucial moment, the procedure must not be carried out. A medically assisted death under those circumstances would be illegal.

“It’s unfortunate that I have to pick a date … but I’m not going to wait around and lose that window,” says Parker, whose varied career has also included working as a fundraiser, buyer in the fashion industry and as a makeup artist and television floor director.

“I don’t want to let my mother see me suffering. I don’t want my friends to see me suffering.”

Despite the heavy subject matter, Parker remains animated and upbeat while discussing her weighty predicament.

However, it’s clear she has been through an agonizing ordeal.

She mentions having to take large doses of the painkiller Dilaudid to manage her pain. Her hair was recently cut short to help her deal with a rising body temperature.

Still, she speaks with passion and clear-eyed authority about her cause, refusing to give in to maudlin sentiments.

“I’m changing this law,” she says with a smile. “I’m so close to changing it.”

The existing law doesn’t permit the use of what are known as advance requests — written instructions for a medically assisted death that must be implemented whether or not the person is able to consent.

The law was written to ensure that vulnerable people who are unable to speak for themselves are not put in a position where someone else decides whether they live or die. When the law was being drafted, some outspoken advocates for people with disabilities made it clear that protections had to be put in place.

Other critics have suggested it could be difficult to determine a person’s level of suffering if they can no longer describe their pain. And there may be cases where a person with dementia or some other type of mental illness becomes mentally incompetent but isn’t suffering.

Parker said the change she is seeking should only apply to her category: mentally sound, adult applicants who have already made their life-ending wishes known at the conclusion of a rigorous assessment process.

“The (federal government) hasn’t set up (the law) to make it useful, and they’re lumping everyone together,” Parker said.

Ottawa should amend the law to give people like her the option of drafting an advance request that would remain in force for 12 months before being renewed, she said.

In June, Health Canada confirmed that a total of 3,714 Canadians had ended their lives with the help of doctor or nurse practitioner since medically assisted dying became legal — in Quebec in December 2015 and nationwide in July 2016.

Parker said she plans to gather with a small group of friends on Wednesday to say goodbye.

“Everyone is starting to have a hard time,” she said. “I’m going to be here one day and not the next.”

As for her final wishes, Parker plans to start Thursday with a hearty breakfast: lobster eggs benedict.

And when it comes time for a medically assisted lethal injection, Parker says she will be surrounded by her three best friends, her mother, a roommate and her niece. Also in the room will be singer-songwriter Laura Smith, who will be singing as Parker gazes upon some of her favourite artworks.

“I’m sure there will be some tears,” she said. “But I’m really at peace with it. I feel good about it … I’m not afraid to die.”

The Canadian Press

Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter.

Just Posted

Chilliwack students and staff perform with Steven Point

Chilliwack secondary school students and staff perform song written by former Lieutenant Governor

Open a book and join the Summer Reading Club in Chilliwack

It’s ‘a great opportunity to encourage everyone to read throughout the summer,’ says librarian

Bike lane debris poses safety hazard for cyclist

Resident asks City of Chilliwack to have bike lane cleared and gets speedy response

Chilliwack maternity ward closure narrowed to two weeks

Fraser Health says they’ve found a solution to an expected 13-week shortage of obstetricians

Chilliwack reaction to TMX approval coming in mixed

Feedback has been ranging from outright acceptance to outrage

VIDEO: Weekly roundup of what’s making the news in Chilliwack

Check out what to expect in the June 21 print edition

’When thunder roars, go indoors’: How to keep safe before lightning strikes

Each year, an estimated 10 deaths and as many as 164 injuries are lightning-related

B.C. rolls out online registration to speed up evacuee processing

Central Okanagan district tests province’s streamlined emergency management digital self-registration

VIDEO: After 73 years, siblings separated by adoption reunite in B.C

Donna Smith of Abbotsford and Clayton Myers of Williams Lake are glad they met each other

New Westminster police seek video of fight between two teens

Police responded to a fight at Pier Park in the early hours of June 14

B.C.-born Carey Price brings young fan to tears at NHL Awards banquet

Anderson Whitehead first met his hockey idol after his mother died of cancer

Licence issue delays boozing while cruising on BC Ferries

Planned June launch for alcohol sales delayed

B.C. school mourns after 13-year-old killed by fallen tree on field trip

Teenager died after being struck and pinned by tree while on a field trip near Sooke

Most Read