West Kelowna woman's final journey taken on her own terms | iNFOnews | Thompson-Okanagan's News Source

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West Kelowna woman's final journey taken on her own terms

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September 28, 2019 - 12:00 PM

KELOWNA - Linda Preece chose to end her life on Feb. 28, 2018.

It was the day the West Kelowna woman turned 68-years-old, and she viewed it as an appropriate turning point in a journey of laughter, love and, at the end, an illness that was poised to bring her unspeakable suffering, her daughter Louise Gauthier said.

“Years ago, when she heard the story of Sue Rodriguez, who she thought was a remarkable lady, she said, if the same happened to her she would go that route,” Gauthier said.

“Only years later did she find out she would have the same disease and realize what her path would be.”

Preece was diagnosed with ALS in April of 2017, more than 20 years after Rodriguez, who had the same disease, fought for the right to die in Canada. It was less than a year from when the federal government finally made it legal. 

“Within three weeks (of being diagnosed) she wanted to use Medically Assisted Dying in her final journey,” Gauthier said.

“She was a care-aid and had two ALS patients and knew how their final moments were and she didn’t want that. She was a real pioneer with MAID and guided us through what it would look like.”

While they’re comfortable with the choice she made now, Gauthier and her father weren’t immediately at one with the idea.

“There’s shock at first because you are processing someone’s death before they’re gone,” she said.

“You are grieving their life and the shock of what you are going through. But as the days passed, my dad and I, we wanted to know more about it… We learned her passing would be peaceful and she wouldn’t suffer. In hindsight, we appreciate what she did.”

There are medical and paperwork issues to be on top of once a choice of that kind is made. Preece had to consult her GP when she made the decision and was assessed by Interior Health to see if she would qualify.

She knew she would. Those who do get accepted into the MAID program tend to have either cancer or ALS.

Between Jan. 1, 2016 and June 30 of this year, there were 427 medically assisted deaths within Interior Health, representing 1.5 per cent of all deaths in the region, according to statistics gathered by the B.C. Ministry of Health.

Over the same timeframe provincially, there were 2,410 medically assisted deaths, which amounts to 1.8 per cent of total provincial deaths.

“For the most part our average age is still in around 75 years old, while the oldest person was in their 90s and the youngest was 35 years old,” Dr. Douglas Smith, Interior Health executive medical director for long-term care, palliative and end of life care and medical assistance in dying said. 

“They were all persons who were suffering from difficult illnesses and the most common diagnosis is cancer.”

While there are commonalities with the route to MAID, the path out of life is as individual as the person and Preece was a unique woman.

“She was 4-foot-8 and a professional clown, she did birthday parties and volunteered at the hospital — she liked to make people smile,” Gauthier said.

As the end edged closer, Preece decided she wanted a body and soul box.

It was a cardboard box and it was delivered to her home three weeks before “she went on her journey.”

“She wanted friends and family to draw on the box and leave her a message that would take her to her next destination,” she said.

“There were butterflies, my uncle painted a stellar jay, my dad called it her magical mystery tour and he drew a bus and a rainbow… there were comments about how my mom had touched people’s lives. It wasn’t depressing, it wasn’t an end. It was her next journey.”

Then, two days before her birthday, she stood up and said it was time to stuff her box. She had her friends collect gift wrap for a year and the box was stuffed with all the colours of the rainbow.

A friend had sewn a pillow for her to lay on for her final journey, and she did as she drew her last breath.

“She didn’t have to struggle. So this was beautiful,” Gauthier said. 

“There was dignity and power in her death —  for her it was very empowering."

While there are many positives to the MAID program, Gauthier thinks it still needs to evolve.

She pointed to Audrey’s Journey as just one way the MAID system fails people in need.

Patients ending their lives are required to give what is known as “late-stage consent,” meaning they must be lucid enough to agree to their own death immediately before a doctor or nurse practitioner administers the cocktail of life-ending drugs. If patients cannot give late-stage consent, they cannot, under the law, receive an assisted death.

Intended as a safeguard, the rule has had unintended consequences. Audrey Parker said it seemed to force early death on her before it really felt like her time is up because she knew she wouldn’t be able to choose later, as the disease progressed.

“It’s a shame,” said Gauthier.

Those final months she had with her mother were priceless. And, while she still grieves like anyone else who loses a loved one there's something else, too.

"She helped us to continue living," said Gauthier. 

"So from having that MAID, gave my family, my dad and I, an opportunity to say goodbyes, hold her tight and love her when we wouldn’t have otherwise. I am grateful to MAID. My mom wasn’t a mess, it could have been horrific, but they gave her the dignity to die and have quality."

To contact a reporter for this story, email Kathy Michaels or call 250-718-0428 or email the editor. You can also submit photos, videos or news tips to the newsroom and be entered to win a monthly prize draw.

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