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

No changes planned to assisted-death law, Ottawa says after dying woman’s plea

A non-profit group that advocates for the rights of dying Canadians says a Nova Scotia woman has “changed the national conversation” about medically assisted deaths in Canada

Ottawa remains confident in its assisted dying legislation, and doesn’t plan changes despite a Halifax woman’s deathbed plea, federal Justice Minister Jody Wilson-Raybould said Friday.

She said the government feels strongly the two-year-old legislation strikes the appropriate balance between the protection of people’s autonomy and safeguards for vulnerable people.

“We’re not considering changing something in the legislation,” Wilson-Raybould told reporters.

“We’re confident in the legislation that we brought forward, that it finds the right balance in terms of being able to access medical assistance in dying, protecting the autonomy of individuals to make the appropriate decisions for themselves as well as protecting vulnerable individuals.”

Audrey Parker, a terminally ill Halifax woman, ended her life Thursday with medical assistance, after issuing an impassioned deathbed plea urging lawmakers to change the legislation.

Diagnosed with Stage 4 breast cancer in 2016, the 57-year-old woman had been approved for an assisted death but said the restrictive nature of the law forced her to end her life sooner than she would have liked.

Related: Advocate dies ‘peacefully’ after plea for changes to Canada’s assisted-death law

Related: Federal health minister responds to dying woman’s pleas to change law

Parker stressed the law had to be changed because anyone approved for a medically assisted death must be conscious and mentally sound at the moment they grant their final consent for a lethal injection.

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.

“We’re looking forward to receiving those reports back on mature minors, on advance directives, and on mental illness alone as an indicator for medical assistance in dying, and we’ll review those reports when we get them,” said Wilson-Raybould.

She said her heart went out to Parker and her family.

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

“I wanted to make it to Christmas and New Year’s Eve, my favourite time of the year, but I lost that opportunity because of a poorly thought-out federal law,” Parker wrote in a Facebook post hours before her death.

She asked people to send emails or texts to their member of Parliament to encourage them to amend the law to help people in her category, which she described as “assessed and approved.”

Meanwhile, Dying With Dignity Canada spokesman Cory Ruf questioned why the government was being so definitive in its stance only a day after Parker’s death.

“It appears callous for the government to so quickly dismiss the lessons of her story,” Ruf said in an interview.

“It’s interesting that the justice minister used the word vulnerable. People who qualify for assisted dying, who’ve been assessed and approved for assisted dying, are vulnerable.”

Ruf said his organization questions the government’s suggestion that the rule that forces people to confirm their wishes before being assisted in death protects the vulnerable.

“In fact Audrey’s story shows us that it does the opposite,” he said.

Ruf said his organization is determined to continue a fight that doesn’t end with Parker’s death.

“More stories like Audrey’s are going to come their (the government’s) way,” he said. “Her story, the decision she faced at end of life is not unique and government knows that.”

The Canadian Press

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