In the end, she didn’t exercise the right for which she fought, and won, in court – the right to have a doctor’s help when she decided it was time to end her life.
But when Gloria Taylor died on Thursday, she did so on her own terms.
“It was very unexpected and it was sudden, but in the end, Gloria had the good death she so dearly wanted,” Grace Pastine, litigation director for the B.C. Civil Liberties Association, said Friday in an interview.
Ms. Taylor, the British Columbia woman who was the lead plaintiff in a lawsuit that challenged laws against physician-assisted deaths, died unexpectedly Thursday of an infection resulting from a perforated colon.
As recently as last week, Ms. Taylor was still living independently, at home on her own, Ms. Pastine said.
“When I spoke to her last, she’d just spent a great day at a friend’s house.”
Ms. Taylor died peacefully and painlessly, as she had hoped, Ms. Pastine said. She was 64.
In June, the B.C. Supreme Court ruled that physician-assisted deaths are protected by the Charter of Rights and Freedoms, and granted Ms. Taylor a personal exemption that would have allowed her the right to seek a physician-assisted death.
The federal government appealed that decision, as well as the exemption that applied to Ms. Taylor. The B.C. Court of Appeal in August upheld that exemption.
The lawsuit is now headed for the B.C. Court of Appeal and a hearing is scheduled for March, 2013. Four plaintiffs – three individuals and the BCCLA – remain part of the proceedings.
The case drew wide attention across Canada and abroad, as it touched on the role of doctors, the rights of elderly and the disabled and the experiences of other jurisdictions that allow physician-assisted deaths.
Ms. Taylor was diagnosed with amyotrophic lateral sclerosis in 2009, after experiencing symptoms that began six years earlier. She attended several press conferences related to the lawsuit in a wheelchair.
In an affidavit filed for the case, Ms. Taylor explained why she was fighting for the right to end her life, saying she feared the loss of her independence and the toll on her family of a long, wasting illness.
“I am dying,” she said in her affidavit. “I do not want to, but I am going to die; that is a fact. I can accept death because I recognize it as a part of life. What I fear is a death that negates, as opposed to concludes, my life.”
Her affidavit also referred to Sue Rodriguez, a B.C. woman who in 1993 took her challenge to physician-assisted deaths to the Supreme Court of Canada and lost.
“As Sue Rodruiguez asked before me, whose life is it anyway?” Ms. Taylor said in her affidavit.
In July, speaking to The Globe and Mail after the landmark B.C. Supreme Court decision, Ms. Taylor said she still thought of herself as a “small-town girl” and that she had been unprepared for the attention she drew through her case. Ms. Taylor, a grandmother, was from the small Okangan community of Westbank, just outside Kelowna.
“I was in this to do this for everybody in Canada,” Ms. Taylor said at the time. “I didn’t really think too much about myself. As with most things I’ve done in my life, I’m a doer for people and put myself last.”
In the same interview, she also talked about how she reconciled her fight for what she saw as the right to death with dignity with her belief in God.
“My God is a non-condemning God, a non-judgmental God, and a non-punishing God,” Ms. Taylor said at the time. “I like to believe that’s the God that most people have in their life. I feel bad for people who don’t have that faith in their life.”
Family members said Ms. Taylor was “so grateful” to know that she had choice in how she died, and that prevented a lot of suffering for her, Ms. Pastine said.
Ms. Taylor had only been in Kelowna General Hospital for a few days when she died.
In the meantime, she said condolences may be sent to the B.C. Civil Liberties Association, which will pass them on to the family members, who have requested privacy.