November 18th, 2018

Assisted-dying activist remembered at Halifax ‘celebration of life’

By The Canadian Press on November 9, 2018.

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. Audrey Parker, a terminally ill Halifax woman, had a doctor end her life on Nov. 1, but before she said under amended legislation she might have lived for weeks longer.THE CANADIAN PRESS/Andrew Vaughan

HALIFAX – Hundreds of people gathered Friday afternoon to remember a terminally ill Halifax woman whose fight to loosen assisted dying laws captured national attention.

A “celebration of life” was being held for Audrey Parker at Pier 21 on the city’s waterfront, with more than 300 people in attendance.

Parker ended her life with a doctor’s assistance on Nov. 1, but said under amended legislation she might have lived for weeks longer.

Diagnosed with Stage 4 breast cancer in 2016, the 57-year-old woman had been approved for an assisted death.

She used her heartbreaking case to plead with lawmakers, stressing the law had to be changed because it demands people approved for a medically assisted death must be conscious and mentally sound at the moment they grant their final consent for a lethal injection.

Federal cabinet ministers have said they feel strong sympathy towards Parker and her family, but they remain confident in the federal legislation.

Justice Minister Jody Wilson-Raybould has said Ottawa feels the two-year-old legislation strikes the appropriate balance between the protection of people’s autonomy and safeguards for vulnerable people.

The issue will be among those considered in a report being drafted by a panel of experts, which is due by the end of the year but is not expected to make recommendations.

Parker was given a lethal injection and died peacefully in her Halifax apartment, surrounded by close friends and family.

Hilary Young, an associate professor of law at the University of New Brunswick, said one area where Parker’s death may remain significant is in the discussion of whether lawmakers will have to make distinctions between diseases in terms of when advance directives are permitted.

She said she personally agrees with Parker’s argument that when doctors have assessed and approved a medically assisted death like hers, it could be left to her written instructions or a substitute decision maker as to when it occurs.

However, she said that may be less applicable to people with dementia, or in some other instances.

“I think Audrey Parker’s case has brought to light the distinction between different kinds of advance directives. Most of the troubling issues relate to situations like dementia or situations where it’s made far in advance,” she said in a telephone interview.

She said when a patient has a grievous and irremediable condition and is suffering in a way that’s intolerable to her, and a death is reasonably foreseeable, there are strong arguments for advance requests in cases like Parker’s.

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