NEWS

Linda McNall to be sentenced on assisting mother's suicide

01/07/2014 06:00 EST | Updated 03/09/2014 05:59 EDT
In a first for Alberta courts, an American woman will be sentenced today for helping her seriously ill mother die while carrying out a suicide pact last May.

Linda McNall, 53, and Shirley Vann, 79, drove from their home in Arizona to Rock Lake, Alta. to take their lives in “the most beautiful place on earth.”

- Linda McNall pleads guilty to assisting mother's suicide 

Both women planned to die that day in May, but things didn’t go as planned. McNall survived and was arrested after showing up at a hospital in nearby Hinton.

Last month, she pleaded guilty to the rarely laid charge of assisting a suicide.

Since both the Crown and defence are recommending McNall serve no further time in custody, it’s expected that the judge will send her back to the United States.

Canada Border Services guards are ready to escort her to a plane to Phoenix, Ariz. However, it’s unclear what awaits her when she lands.

“It’s very scary: the unknown. You know, I’ve never been homeless before,” McNall said in an exclusive interview with CBC News. “It’s really, it’s really just -- it’s scary.

Defence lawyer Laura Stevens worries that McNall — who has twice since her arrest tried to kill herself at an Edmonton psychiatric facility — may end up in a homeless shelter instead of a hospital.

“I can't imagine a more bleak result than her being in a homeless shelter without medical care and without psychiatric care, without medication or insurance.

“She desperately needs to be hospitalized.”

Mother had colon cancer

In her interview with CBC News, McNall recalled the day she and her mother went to Rock Lake to end their lives.

“We ended up in Canada because we thought it the most beautiful place on earth,” she said.

“We went out there on a Wednesday afternoon, both of us happy, neither one of us with second thoughts.”

McNall and her mother were best friends. She was divorced after a brief marriage. McNall has two brothers — she is estranged from one, the other vanished decades ago. 

The two of them moved from place to place — Florida, Nevada, Idaho and eventually ending up in Arizona. 

McNall contracted Hepatitis C in the 1990s through a workplace injury. Severe depression led her to being on social security disability for seven years. She also is diabetic and suffers from chronic pain due to arthritis.

Shirley Vann had colon cancer which McNall said caused her to experience constant pain.

McNall said Vann talked about suicide for more than a year leading to her death.  Her health was deteriorating and McNall couldn’t imagine living without without her.

The poor health also came with seemingly insurmountable medical bills -— about $100,000 in total.

While David Schwartz isn't speaking to his sister, he did call his mother each week and was aware of their problems.

“We — my wife and I and my family — helped them out as much as we could. But I just think it got so extensive they had no other recourse,” he said.

“You know the financial folks were on their back and they were both fairly ill. And I think it just ended up that they just got tired out.”

Although McNall initially tried talking her mother out of taking her life, the two women eventually made a suicide pact.

According to court documents, the women sold all their possessions in March, gave notice to their landlord and wrote letters to Vann’s creditors.

They then packed up their two dogs and headed to Alberta, a place they had visited before.

Assisting suicide charge first for Alberta

When they arrived, McNall and Vann wrote one line on a piece of paper saying they were committing suicide.

They injected themselves and the dogs with insulin. McNall turned on a propane tank in their tent.

The next day Vann and the dogs were dead. McNall was still alive so she went into town to get more propane.

“Turned it on. Went to sleep. Woke up again,” she said.

“And at that point, I knew that we were out of money and I was so disoriented from the propane I couldn't think of any other way to kill myself there. So I decided to drive us into the hospital.”

RCMP became involved and McNall became the first person to be charged with assisting a suicide in Alberta history.

When McNall arrives in Arizona, she will be assessed by a caseworker and a crisis team.

Doctors believe McNall is still a suicide risk, but she hopes she won’t try again.

“I want to try real hard to make my mom proud,” she said.

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