Gloria Taylor never expected this much attention.
The 64-year-old grandmother, diagnosed with amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), agreed last year to become a plaintiff in a B.C. Supreme Court right-to-die case. And since the court last month declared Criminal Code provisions prohibiting physician-assisted death unconstitutional – and granted Ms. Taylor an exemption that permits her to legally end her life – the attention has at times been overwhelming.
Aside from one news conference after the judgment, Ms. Taylor has been reluctant to speak publicly, choosing to spend time with her family.
But in her first one-on-one interview since the ruling came down, she talked to The Globe and Mail about when she’ll use her exemption. She also spoke about the federal government’s appeal of the B.C. Supreme Court ruling, and how she – as a devout believer in God – answers criticism she’s going down a road God would forbid.
The Okanagan resident still thinks of herself as a “small-town girl,” and having so many Canadians debate her fate is not something she ever envisioned.
Q: Federal Justice Minister Rob Nicholson announced last week that Ottawa will appeal the B.C. Supreme Court ruling. Mr. Nicholson said the federal government believes the Criminal Code provisions prohibited physician-assisted death are constitutionally valid, and also objects to the exemption you were granted. What was your reaction when you learned
Ottawa would appeal the judgment?
A: My reaction to them appealing was one of dismay. I was really disappointed that they’re doing that. Considering the majority of Canadians want that, why they would go against that … kind of blows me away. It was to be expected, I guess.
Q: Although the federal government has filed its appeal, your exemption remains valid until a court says otherwise. Have you decided when you will use it?
A: I’m not there yet, so I don’t know. It’s kind of a personal thing and I’m just thinking on it, still.
Q: In an affidavit to the court last year you said you would know when it was time to end your life. [Ms. Taylor wrote: “There is no preset trigger moment. I just know that, globally, there will be some point in time when I will be able to say, ‘This is it, this is the point where life is just not worthwhile.’ ”] Do you still think that’s the case?
A: I’m sure it will be. I don’t have any doubts about that. I will know then, and not a moment before.
Q: After the ruling you told reporters your condition had deteriorated to the point that you could no longer walk, were eating some of your meals through a feeding tube, and were losing the ability to speak. Has your condition changed at all since then?
A: I think my appetite has gotten a lot worse. I hardly eat. They’re going to put me on tube feeding twice a day now. I’ve lost more weight this last week, even.
Q: What is a typical day for Gloria Taylor like?
A: I typically get up and have my cup of tea. Home support usually comes by around 11 a.m. and does the tube feeding. Then they give me a shower. … I’m on my computer, or I read. Other than that, I have medical appointments, or maybe friends come over and visit, my son might take me for groceries or something.
Q: When you decided to become a plaintiff in this case, did you ever expect to receive this much attention?
A: I didn’t, by any stretch of the imagination, think it would be this big. I like to think I’m just a small-town girl. I was in this to do this for everybody in Canada. 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.
Q: Do you have a message for other incurably ill Canadians who were disappointed by the federal government’s decision to appeal?
A: Keep the faith. I’m keeping the faith. I think positive. If we all collectively think positive and we all collectively keep the faith and believe in God, I'm sure we’ll have a good answer.
Q: Some might suggest your view that terminally ill people should be able to end their lives with the help of their doctors is at odds with what God would want. How do you respond to that?
A: My God is a non-condemning God, a non-judgmental God, and a non-punishing God. 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.
This interview has been edited and condensed.