A legal application filed in a right-to-die case before the Supreme Court of British Columbia spells out in painful detail the way Gloria Taylor’s life is steadily and rapidly deteriorating.
The 63-year-old, divorced mother of two adult sons has amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, or Lou Gehrig’s disease, a fatal illness that afflicts about 3,000 Canadians. It has left her with a crippled right hand, difficulty breathing, atrophied muscles in her feet and toes, uncontrollable cramps that shoot through her body and bouts of excruciating pain when she stretches.
“Gloria is terrified of losing control of her bodily functions. … One of her greatest fears is to be reduced to a condition where she must rely on others for all of her needs. She does not want to live in a bedridden state, stripped of her dignity and independence,” states the application, filed by the British Columbia Civil Liberties Association, one of two groups in B.C. challenging laws that make it illegal to assist someone in suicide.
George Copley, a lawyer for the Attorney-General of B.C., said both the provincial and federal governments need more time to prepare for the case, and urged a delay.
But Joseph Arvay, a lawyer for the BCCLA, said time is something his client doesn’t have. “We have a dying woman who wants to be able to exercise her constitutional right to die with dignity,” Mr. Arvay said outside court on Tuesday. “And the only way that’s going to happen is if the trial is heard in November, because her situation is urgent.”
The government’s position, he added, “is irresponsible and it’s insensitive. For them to say we need more time, and given the situation of Ms. Taylor, is in my opinion very wrong. … Gloria has ALS. … It is a disease that causes people to die in a horrible manner and she wants to be able to avoid that fate if at all possible with the assistance of this court.”
Shortly after Mr. Arvay’s application was heard, the Farewell Foundation For The Right To Die appeared before the same judge to discuss two legal applications it is bringing. One involves an appeal against a decision by the B.C. Registrar of Companies, which refused to allow the group to register as a society on the grounds that it has illegal purposes.
The Farewell Foundation is also before the courts with a civil suit it has filed against the Attorney-General of Canada, in which it is challenging the constitutionality of the law against assisted suicide.
Jason Gratl, a lawyer representing the Farewell Foundation, told court his client wants to get to trial quickly and is willing to either proceed with the appeal, or the civil suit, whichever is more expedient.
The provincial government is trying to have the appeal dismissed, and it is understood the federal government will ask to dismiss the civil suit when that issue is heard Wednesday.
The Farewell Foundation and B.C. Civil Liberties Association cases have been proceeding separately, but that may change.
“We are on parallel tracks, but clearly we will have to merge at some point,” Russel Ogden, one of the founding directors of the Farewell Foundation, said outside court. “The same judicial case management judge, Madam Justice Lynn Smith, is hearing [all]these issues. It makes sense to consolidate the resources both from the Civil Liberties and Farewell Foundation perspectives, but also from the perspective of the justice system. The Attorney-General, the judge, they ought to be able to hear all these same issues in the same courtroom because there is a convergence here.”
In a separate interview, however, Mr. Arvay did not seem so sure, saying he didn’t see the Farewell case as “the appropriate vehicle” to challenge the law.
“Whether they might intervene in this case is up to them and the court, but we’re proceeding on the basis that it will be our case that’s going to carry the issue,” he said.