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

Strong support for Pitt Meadows transportation projects

Overpass/underpass projects get majority support

Police aim to prevent retaliation after Hells Angel found dead in Maple Ridge

IHIT confirms Chad Wilson, 43, was the victim of a ‘targeted’ homicide

Ridge Meadows Hospital parking is still pay, but streets free

Surrey has removed meters on streets, asking Fraser Health for free parking at the hospital

Letter: ‘Wait times solution not what you think’

Canada’s health care policies haven’t changed since 1984.

OUTLOOK: Downtown Maple Ridge towers on tap

Changing Maple Ridge’s skyline.

UPDATE: IHIT confirms identity of Hells Angels homicide victim

Chad John Wilson was one of four men arrested in Spain in 2013 on allegations of smuggling cocaine.

Canucks’ 50/50 jackpot expected to surpass $1 million

The guaranteed prize for one lucky winner will be $500,000 minimum when Vancouver hosts LA Nov 27

The latest advent calendar trend: Holiday cannabis

A Canadian company is giving people from coast to coast a new way to celebrate the Christmas countdown.

B.C. woman allegedly threatens to rip out intestines of American man

A Kamloops-area woman is accused of harassing and threatening to disembowel an American man

B.C. model looks a lot like expanded taxi industry, ride-hailing group says

Ridesharing Now for BC says it had hoped the bill would be more customer-driven like in other cities

Otter makes a snack out of koi fish in Vancouver Chinese garden

Staff say the otter has eaten at least five fish

Art Studio Tour call for artists

Deadline for applications is Dec. 1

731,000 Canadians going into debt to buy prescription drugs: UBC

Millennials and those without private coverage were more likely to borrow money

Pot users, investors need to be vigilant at Canada-U.S. border

U.S. authorities say anyone who admits to having used pot before it became legal could be barred

Most Read