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

The Western Star - - OBITUARIES/CANADA - BY MICHAEL TUTTON

Hun­dreds of peo­ple gath­ered Fri­day af­ter­noon to re­mem­ber a ter­mi­nally ill Hal­i­fax woman whose fight to loosen as­sisted dy­ing laws cap­tured na­tional at­ten­tion as she dis­pensed wis­dom about life from the “bed of truth” where she spent her last days.

A “cel­e­bra­tion of life” was held for Au­drey Parker at Pier 21 on the city’s water­front, with more than 300 peo­ple in at­ten­dance to pay their re­spects to the charis­matic makeup artist.

The gath­er­ing at the hall over­look­ing the har­bour in­cluded fam­ily mem­bers, friends and peo­ple from the gen­eral pub­lic who’d been touched by her strug­gle.

Her cir­cle of close fe­male friends in at­ten­dance ranged from the Nova Sco­tia pre­mier’s prin­ci­pal sec­re­tary, the pres­i­dent of Credit Union At­lantic and na­tion­ally known broad­cast­ers.

Many had sat around what Parker re­ferred to as her “bed of truth,” where she dis­pensed ad­vice dur­ing her fi­nal months, in­struct­ing vis­i­tors on ev­ery­thing from how to use cut­lery through es­sen­tials on how to choose a suit­able mate.

Her step-daugh­ter Lu­cie MacMaster said times spent with her were pre­cious, re­call­ing how her chil­dren would of­ten hop into bed to play cards with Parker dur­ing her ill­ness.

“I re­ally wish we had her with us this Christ­mas, but there we go,” said MacMaster.

Kim King, 51, a close friend of Parker’s who was with her as she was dy­ing, was one of the hon­orary pall­bear­ers who car­ried a can­dle up to the front of the Pier 21 hall where the cer­e­mony was held.

“Peo­ple are in­spired by her thoughts about liv­ing your best life to the end,” she said in an in­ter­view.

Ev­ery de­tail of the gath­er­ing was planned by Parker, said mas­ter of cer­e­monies Nancy Re­gan, re­call­ing how they talked about it over cham­pagne and choco­late-dipped straw­ber­ries at a meet­ing at Pier 21.

“I know she has a huge smile on her face right now about the gor­geous women ... who showed up to­day,” said Re­gan. “Ev­ery­thing about Au­drey was swirling per­fec­tion.”

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 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 to­ward Parker and her fam­ily, but they re­main con­fi­dent in the fed­eral leg­is­la­tion.

Jus­tice Min­is­ter Jody Wil­sonRay­bould 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.

Norma Lee Ma­cLeod, a re­tired broad­caster, said en­coun­ters with the dy­namic Parker were of­ten un­for­get­table — as she tended to sweep force­fully into a room and had the knack of mak­ing peo­ple feel good about them­selves.

“She could trans­form you from a puffy mess ... We called it be­ing Au­dreyed,” she said.

Hun­dreds stood up when asked by Ma­cLeod if they’d re­ceived ad­vice on style, wardrobe or life from Parker.

“Look at this room and look at how many peo­ple she has lit­er­ally touched. We’ve been Au­dreyed and we’re the bet­ter for it,” she said.

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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