As part of a new campaign honouring Halifax’s Audrey Parker, Dying With Dignity Canada (DWDC) is calling on federal lawmakers to make an urgently needed fix to Canada’s assisted dying rules.
Parker died with medical assistance on November 1, more than two years after she had been diagnosed with an incurable breast cancer. Though she was relieved to have the option of dying in peace with the help of a clinician, a flaw in Canada’s assisted dying law led her to end her life earlier than she would have wanted. In the final weeks of her life, Parker called on federal lawmakers to amend the country’s assisted dying rules, so that no other Canadians are faced with the painful choice she had to make.
Now, DWDC is carrying on Parker’s campaign for the rights of people who have been Assessed and Approved for medical assistance in dying (MAID). On Wednesday, the organization announced the public launch of a petition calling for changes to Canada’s assisted dying law: in particular, to the provision that requires people to confirm their wish for assisted dying immediately before the procedure is provided.
“Four years ago today, the Supreme Court ruled that Canadians have a right to fair choice in the face of relentless, intolerable suffering,” said DWDC CEO Shanaaz Gokool. “However, stories like Audrey’s reveal the cruel choices faced by people in the Assessed and Approved category.”
The late-stage consent rule, Gokool said, leads some people to end their lives days or weeks before they’re truly ready, out of fear they will lose capacity before MAID can be provided. Others refuse proper pain care at end of life to ensure they’re alert enough to confirm their request for MAID.
“No one should ever have to choose between spending a few more days or weeks with their loved ones and their right to a peaceful, assisted death,” Gokool said. “Without the ability to waive the late-stage consent requirement, vulnerable Canadians face a clear, grave threat to their rights. We call on the government to pass Audrey’s Amendment and correct this injustice without delay.”
To help raise awareness about the campaign, DWDC has released a video message that Parker recorded just three days before she died. In the three-minute clip, she urges Canadians to push for an amendment to the federal assisted dying law that protects the rights of people in the Assessed and Approved category.
“I am asking you to speak out for the rights of suffering Canadians who, like me, have been assessed and approved for medical assistance in dying,” Parker says. “I’m grateful to live in Canada, a country where I can choose my death. But the law has forced me to play a cruel game of chicken. I would like nothing more than to make it to Christmas, but if I become incompetent along the way, I will lose out on my choice of a beautiful, peaceful and, best of all, pain-free death.”
This video was Audrey’s final call to action to federal lawmakers, said friend Kimberley King. “Audrey’s last wish was to be a spark for change,” she said. “On top of her overwhelming physical pain, Audrey had to endure immense emotional uncertainty over her ability to have a peaceful end of life on her own terms. People who are near death get this — there is immense comfort in having as much control as possible over your final, precious days. Taking away that power, taking away that dignity, is just wrong. We need to change the rules.”
Parker’s message should come as a wake-up call for federal lawmakers defending the current assisted dying rules, said Gokool. “Audrey’s last wish was for suffering Canadians to be able to live as long as they can, until they can’t anymore,” she said. “Unless Parliamentarians take her words to heart, more people’s lives will be cut short and their rights denied because of this harmful, unnecessary rule. As Canadians, we can — and must — do better.”
(Header photo credit: Ryan Taplin/The Chronicle Herald)