Volunteer spotlight: Liz Turnbull 

Personal Stories | May 5, 2023 | Liz Turnbull

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A photo of Liz Turnbull with a great big smile

Dying With Dignity Canada’s longevity and success is due in large part to the many volunteers who work on the local and at the regional level. We have Chapters across the country powered by people passionate about end-of-life choice. 

Throughout the year, we will be highlighting the stories and contributions of DWDC’s volunteers, and what motivates them to give of their time to our organization. This is Liz’s story.

I volunteer with the Edmonton Chapter of Dying With Dignity Canada because of my recent and historical experiences of loved ones dying, and my career-long health care views. I recently participated in the development of an Advance Care Planning presentation to be delivered to various groups in Edmonton and the surrounding area. Instead of the term Advance Care Planning, I prefer to call it end-of-life planning. Care implies that someone else is doing the controlling/planning, but I believe that my (or your) end-of-life planning belongs to me (you); care is only part of it. 

Let me tell you about my precious, shared experience of MAID as an end-of-life choice. My husband was diagnosed several years ago with an incurable, aggressive, lung-related cancer. This was devastating to both of us. We were able to have many discussions about what he wanted, and one outstanding thing he said to me is, “I don’t want to die like my Dad, struggling for breath in a hospital bed with a host of people standing around me.” His father died of the same asbestos-related cancer at exactly the same age. With the support, knowledge, and compassion of his attending health care team – family physician, oncologist and team, MAID, home-care nurses – he was able to die at our rural home on the date of his choosing, with chosen people there to love him and hold his hands. He died calmly, and at the end with a gentle smile on his face. I think it’s important to mention that even in those final moments, he was assured that he could change his mind. I couldn’t be more thankful for the compassionate and open-minded attitudes and support from all the providers around us. 

But what if, hypothetically, his cancer had progressed to his brain, and he couldn’t be declared legally competent at that point or to choose to end his life in the manner he had chosen? Would that make his suffering less? Would that consign him to what the legal/medical system defines as choice? Our health care and legal systems should be about compassion and autonomy and self-efficacy. From all my experience, I believe that we should be able to expressly declare (preferably in writing) our wishes about how we choose our lives to end, including the option of medically assisted death, when our suffering outweighs ongoing quality of life. This right in legislation would be termed an advance request for MAID, meaning that while I have capacity, I can declare what I want to receive, or not receive, should I not be competent/able at a future time, and it should stand legally as my choice. 

I am retired from a 46-year nursing career in health care. Death comes to all of us, but unfortunately, too many of us are fearful or in denial of death. I do believe that the current discussion around MAID legislation may benefit all of us in that it potentially stimulates discussion with those close to us about what our end-of-life realities may be. It’s so much better to have those hard conversations ahead of time. 

Learn more about Advance Care Planning and how to advocate for advance requests for MAID.

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