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Woman at centre of assisted-death case ‘still here for living’

Gloria Taylor, who suffers from Lou Gehrig's disease and won a doctor-assisted suicide challenge in B.C. Supreme Court, pauses during a news conference in Vancouver on Monday June 18, 2012. A B.C. Supreme Court judge struck down the laws banning doctor-assisted suicide last week, calling the them discriminatory, disproportionate and overbroad.


She can no longer walk, eats through a feeding tube, and is losing her ability to speak.

Much has been taken from Gloria Taylor – but it's what she received from British Columbia's Supreme Court that has her feeling grateful.

The court last week ruled that Canada's ban on physician-assisted deaths is unconstitutional and gave Parliament one year to draft new legislation. Ms. Taylor, a 64-year-old plaintiff who suffers from Lou Gehrig's disease, was granted a constitutional exemption that permits her to seek physician-assisted death while the ruling is suspended.

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Ms. Taylor publicly commented on the ruling for the first time Monday and told reporters at a downtown Vancouver news conference that she hasn't decided what she'll do next, or when she'll do it.

"I live one day at a time and I'm not there yet. I'm still here for living, and I hope for a long time," she said.

Ms. Taylor's last news conference was held in late November and she said her condition has only worsened since then. She can no longer visit friends, or go on outings with her beloved granddaughter. Her hands are virtually useless and she can no longer pursue her passion of cooking. The biggest loss of dignity, she said, is needing help to get off the toilet.

To die screaming at the top of her lungs because the pain has become unbearable, Ms. Taylor said, is not what she wants.

"I can do dying, but I can't do major suffering to get there," she said.

The court case was filed in April of 2011 by the B.C. Civil Liberties Association. The federal government has said it is still reviewing the 395-page judgment and a decision on appeal has not been made. Ottawa has until July 16 to file.

Legal experts have said it's near certain the government will challenge the ruling. Opponents of physician-assisted death have urged the Conservatives to fight the judgment.

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The B.C. Supreme Court case revisited the constitutional challenge that Sue Rodriguez took to the Supreme Court of Canada in 1993. Ms. Rodriguez – who also suffered from Lou Gehrig's disease, or amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS) – lost in a 5-4 decision. She later ended her life with the help of an anonymous physician.

Ms. Taylor cited Ms. Rodriguez at Monday's news conference and said she's proud to carry on her legacy.

Ms. Taylor was joined at the news conference by Lee Carter and Hollis Johnson, who were also plaintiffs in the case. The husband and wife travelled to a clinic in Switzerland in 2010 when Ms. Carter's mother, Kay, decided to end her life. The 89-year-old suffered from spinal stenosis and had been told by her doctor she would soon be reduced to lying flat in bed, unable to move.

In her ruling, Madam Justice Lynn Smith said provisions of the Criminal Code that ban physician-assisted death infringe not only on the equality rights of the terminally ill, but also on the liberty of those who try to help them, such as Ms. Carter and Mr. Johnson.

Mr. Johnson said the threat of arrest in Canada forced him and his wife to engage "in partial truths, half-truths, and outright lies."

"These are deeply personal decisions and to have to make these decisions under the shadow of criminal law makes you feel like you're a creep, or a criminal," he said.

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Ms. Taylor said she's aware the federal government could appeal the ruling, and that it could even be overturned. But she plans to approach that possibility the same way she did the court case.

"I'm keeping the faith, just like I have all along. I think positive. I thought all along this was going to be a win. I had no doubt in my mind whatsoever," she said.

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Based in Vancouver, Sunny has been with The Globe and Mail since November, 2010. More


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