Our tribute to British Columbia's Noreen Campbell

Noreen Campbell was a great many things: indomitable in spirit, deeply concerned about the plights of others, and wholeheartedly committed to using her voice and experience to advocate for better end-of-life choices for all Canadians.

She was, quite simply, one of a rare breed.

On January 12, Noreen, a long-time nurse who was certified to practice right up until the end of her life, accessed her right to an assisted death, dying peacefully in her sunroom with the help of a physician. She died in the company of her loving family and close friends.

Noreen, a former member of Dying With Dignity Canada’s Disability Advisory Council, was committed to fighting for Canadians’ end-of-life rights. Even though her chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) meant she was eligible for assisted dying in Canada, she still sought to improve access for Canadians whose rights had been curtailed under Bill C-14.

In her final month of life, Noreen did everything she could to share her story far and wide. Adamant about sharing her perspectives on medical assistance in dying (MAID) with the entire country, she reached out to DWDC to ask whether we could help share her story. With the help of Victoria chapter leaders Ellen Agger and Jeffrey Brooks, we arranged for Noreen to be interviewed by the Victoria Times Colonist, the Globe and Mail, and by her “hero,” Dr. Brian Goldman of CBC Radio’s White Coat, Black Art. Segments from Noreen's discussion with Dr. Goldman aired on The Current five days after her death.

Before she died, Noreen worked closely with DWDC Victoria chapter’s Jeffrey Brooks to produce a series of testimonial videos, offering an intimate glimpse into her assisted dying journey. Starting the week of February 13, DWDC will begin releasing these videos. (These videos will be separate from the one posted below, which she recorded for Dying With Dignity Canada in the fall.)

The entire team at Dying With Dignity Canada is tremendously grateful to Noreen for the rare insight she gave Canadians about MAID and how they can take control of their dying process. Through her powerful voice and work with DWDC, Noreen’s contributions will continue to inspire Canadians for years to come.

Jeffrey Brooks of the DWDC Victoria chapter was so inspired by Noreen’s example that he penned a letter about it shortly before she died. We believe his words perfectly encapsulate the gift Noreen has given all of us through the sharing of her story.

(Header photo: Jeffrey Brooks)

"Choosing a peaceful death" by Jeffrey Brooks

I woke up to an email this morning. “Hope you have had a good start for the New Year. My date will be this week — I am feeling very calm.”

I know she is feeling very calm. Her medical assistance in dying (MAID) physician is back from vacation. So she has now set a date to die this week. She is at peace. It is time, her time.

Yet it is so surreal. How do we feel knowing our friend will, with certainty, leave us this week? How can we feel? Happy that she will be getting the peaceful death she seeks? Sad that we will lose her friendship?

We spent over three hours with her Sunday. We talked and then went to a restaurant — her choice — for lunch. Everyone had a good time with much laughter and good friendship evident all around. There were no elephants in the room.

Over the past three months, we talked about how it feels to have decided that she will end her life at a time of her choosing. We talked about C-14, Canada’s law on MAID, and how it will change so many things. But C-14 is flawed. It does not meet the requirements of the Supreme Court decision in Carter v. Canada.

She sees MAID as suicide prevention. She knows too many cases of horrific suicides and attempts because people were suffering and felt they had no option. Suicide is terrible for the person and terrible for their family. So the restrictive C-14 will result in more suicides, as too many patients do not qualify for MAID under this law.

In her case, she says “being approved for MAID means I had four more months of life. We planned to go to Switzerland in October.” She chose October last spring as her Plan B if she was not approved for MAID. She would have chosen to die prematurely while she could still travel. She even went on a trip to Edmonton in part to see family, but mainly to see if she could still travel on all the symptom management medication she’s been on for the past four years. The travel was not good.

Being approved for MAID means she will die a peaceful death — a wonderful option when compared to her worst fear, which is the horrible, slow, painful death that would be in store for her if she died of her illness.

She feels access to MAID is a game changer. She feels the role of hospices will and must change. They will no longer be places you go to wait for death. All patients who go to hospice will have a choice. It is their right. She suspects more than 50 per cent will want MAID after a few days.

She feels strongly that no one should wonder about the religion of their MD or whether the hospital they are in will honour their request for MAID. These are paid by the government and must. It is that simple. The government fixed this in Quebec.

We talked about her feeling that nurses should be free to talk with patients about MAID being one end-of-life option. But their Colleges pretty much forbid talking openly without permission.

In a perfect world, she would be well and not dying this week. She would not suffer from a terrible disease that qualifies her for MAID.

But we don’t live in a perfect world and she will die. She chooses to die this week, at home, with her family at her side and her horse looking on.

Choices. It is all about making choices with what you have.