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Health advocate hopes U.S. woman gets medical help after helping mother die

Linda Jean McNall is pictured in family photo. THE CANADIAN PRESS/HO
January 06, 2014 - 11:00 PM

STONY PLAIN, Alta. - A U.S. mental-health advocate hopes a woman from Arizona who admits she helped her mother commit suicide in Canada will continue to get care if she's deported.

Linda Jean McNall, 53, is to be sentenced today on a rare charge of aiding suicide. If the judge agrees to a recommendation that she receive time served for the eight months she has already spent in custody, she could quickly be sent back to the United States.

Court has heard that a doctor wants McNall transferred to a U.S. hospital to continue treatment for depression. McNall tried to kill herself along with her mother last May and has been held since then at an Edmonton psychiatric hospital.

Clarke Romans with the National Alliance on Mental Illness said it's an unusual case and he hopes McNall gets the help she needs.

"If she's not that well when she leaves and she's got that (suicidal) tendency, her level of ambition and hope is pretty low," Romans said from his office in Tucson, Ariz.

"It sounds to me, if you leave her alone somewhere for a month, she'll take her own life."

McNall's lawyer has said the woman is homeless, has no money or medical insurance and finding an American health facility willing to take her has been difficult. A previous sentencing hearing was put over when a facility's offer of a bed fell through.

There aren't enough hospital beds and housing for mental-health patients in the United States, said Romans. And navigating the fragmented health system is nearly impossible for people who aren't thinking clearly.

McNall doesn't have a home address and hasn't been in the U.S. for more than six months, meaning she's not really a resident in any state, Romans added.

"My projection is she would have a very tough time surviving in this country unless ... some kind-hearted person or group takes her under their wing."

McNall pleaded guilty to the crime last month. Court heard details about a suicide pact she made with her 79-year-old mother Shirley Vann. The pair both had health problems and had cared for and lived with each other for decades.

McNall worked as a nurse and Vann was once a successful real estate agent.

Last spring, after Vann's health worsened, they sold their belongings, left behind mounting medical bills and drove from Sierra Vista, Ariz., to Canada's Rocky Mountains.

They pitched a tent near Hinton, 300 kilometres west of Edmonton, injected themselves and their two pet dogs with insulin, swallowed some sleeping pills and opened a propane tank.

Vann and the animals died. But McNall survived, despite several more suicide attempts over the next couple of days.

Lisa White, a spokeswoman with the Canada Border Services Agency, said if McNall is sentenced to time served, she would immediately be transferred into the custody of border officials and issued a removal order.

Within 48 hours, she would have a hearing before the Immigration and Refugee Board of Canada and could appeal her removal order.

White couldn't say whether the board considers a person's mental-health needs. "Everything is case by case."

— By Chris Purdy in Edmonton

News from © The Canadian Press, 2014
The Canadian Press

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