Gloria Taylor Regains Right to Die in Peace

Unless the federal government intervenes yet again, Gloria Taylor can decide in peace when her life with ALS (Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis or Lou Gehrig’s disease) has become unbearable. At that point she can ask a physician to ease her death. British Columbia’s highest court has granted Taylor a personal exemption.

In her decision B.C. Appeal Court Justice Jo-Ann Prowse wrote:

I am not persuaded that the harm to the public contended for by counsel for AG [Attorney General] Canada outweighs the harm to Ms. Taylor if she is left without a remedy pending the resolution of this appeal, and possibly at all.  She may be a symbol, but she is also a person, and I do not find that it is necessary for the individual to be sacrificed to a concept of the “greater good” which may, or may not, be fully informed. The reasons for judgment in this case put squarely at issue the important public values with which this Court (and, likely, the Supreme Court of Canada) will ultimately have to grapple in determining whether, and in what circumstances, assisted suicide may, or may not, be in accord with the public interest, including the interest of that minority of the public in circumstances similar to those of Ms. Taylor.  It is apparent there are competing arguments and interests on both sides of the issue which will be elaborated upon as the appeal progresses.  The public as a whole will benefit from this process. In the meantime, if it should happen that Ms. Taylor is not present for the end of the story because she exercised her right to end her life in accordance with the exemption, I am not persuaded that the nature of any harm suffered by the public as a result offsets the likely final and irrevocable nature of the harm to Ms. Taylor if a stay is granted.

Next: Background and Opposing Reactions

Leading Up to the August Decision

Just over a year ago Taylor joined the B.C. Civil Liberties Association’s suit challenging laws that criminalize assisted suicide. Because of her precarious health, the B.C. Supreme Court agreed to hasten the proceedings. Originally scheduled for spring 2012, the were moved to November 2011.

In June 2012 Gloria Taylor won the right to ask for a physician’s assistance to end her suffering. Judge Lynn Smith granted an exemption to the ban against assisted suicide because of Taylor’s rapidly deteriorating condition. At the same time, she gave the federal government a year to re-write the legislation.

The Government of Canada chose to appeal Judge Smith’s decision. Justice Minister Rob Nicholson wrote:

The laws surrounding euthanasia and assisted suicide exist to protect all Canadians, including those who are most vulnerable, such as people who are sick or elderly or people with disabilities. The Supreme Court of Canada acknowledged the state interest in protecting human life and upheld the constitutionality of the existing legislation in Rodriguez (1993).

Opposing Reactions to the Decision

In an interview reported in the Vancouver Sun, Taylor’s lawyer, Sheila Tucker, said:

We’re particularly pleased with the fact that the court was very cognizant of the fact that, for Gloria, it really is a case of irreparable harm, because she’ll either get to use that exemption and have the value of that exemption now, or she never will.

The Euthanasia Prevention Coalition, one of the groups to speak out against the decision, said:

It is inconceivable that a judge can order death by assisted suicide for Gloria Taylor, which is prohibited by the criminal code, after parliament overwhelmingly rejected assisted suicide in April 2010 by a vote of 228 to 59, and after the Supreme Court of Canada decided in 1993 that Canada’s assisted suicide was constitutional.

Allowing Taylor the right to decide the timing of her death is quite different from ordering it. Stringent safeguards should she decide to exercise her option.

Next: Justice Shows Compassion


Compassion for a Dying Woman

In crafting her decision, Justice Prowse quoted from Taylor’s affidavit to the court:

I am dying.  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.  I do not want to die slowly, piece by piece.  I do not want to waste away unconscious in a hospital bed.  I do not want to die wracked with pain.  It is very important to me that my family, and my granddaughter in particular, have final memories that capture me as I really am – not as someone I cannot identify with and have no desire to become.

Once again Gloria Taylor has the assurance of choice, something the federal government’s appeal took away. If anti-euthanasia groups have their way, the federal government could take it away again.

Justice Prowse does not believe Taylor should have to endure yet more legal wrangling while the courts rule on the larger issues. She wrote:

The reasons for judgment in this case put squarely at issue the important public values with which this Court (and, likely, the Supreme Court of Canada) will ultimately have to grapple in determining whether, and in what circumstances, assisted suicide may, or may not, be in accord with the public interest, including the interest of that minority of the public in circumstances similar to those of Ms. Taylor.  It is apparent there are competing arguments and interests on both sides of the issue which will be elaborated upon as the appeal progresses.  The public as a whole will benefit from this process. In the meantime, if it should happen that Ms. Taylor is not present for the end of the story because she exercised her right to end her life in accordance with the exemption, I am not persuaded that the nature of any harm suffered by the public as a result offsets the likely final and irrevocable nature of the harm to Ms. Taylor if a stay is granted.

Related Care2 Stories

B.C. Woman Asks for Right to Assisted Suicide

B.C. Supreme Court Legalizes Assisted Suicide

Update: Government of Canada Condemns Gloria Taylor to Slow Death

Photo credits: Thinkstock

84 comments

Martha Eberle
Martha Eberle3 years ago

The right to make the decision about right to die, is the last decision a person has. The government should have no say in it.

Stella Nobrega-Garcia

It is entirely up to her.

Wendy Schroeder
Wendy Schroeder4 years ago

We end the suffering of our pets but we humans have to endure our pain. Why? I think Christianity has placed this idea in our culture. I think if you are dying you should have a choice if too end your life if there is no hope of getting better.

wchi wink
.4 years ago

What is it about our society that pushes people to want to prolong life at all cost, even when there is no hope, much suffering and total dependancy? This, to me , is preposterous and cruel!
Everyone should have the right to decide weather or not to go on living! (living? - what a life!!!)

Lin part time Penrose
Lin Penrose4 years ago

I believe that your life is Your only personal possession and that you should have the ability and right, to prolong Your life, or not, regardless of the reason.

Winn Adams
Winn Adams4 years ago

Thanks for the info.

Magda F.
Magda F.4 years ago

i would definitely like to have a choice

Nicole Bergeron
Nicole Bergeron4 years ago

Anyone who is anyone, who suffers from a painful disease, should be allowed to die peacefully even if it is assisted by drugs that will kill the pain and make it quick, and not have to be afraid of suffocating because their lungs stop working or choking because their throat muscles stop working.

Now those that just want to die, and are healthy otherwise, needs to go get help from a professional.

We are willing to peacefully kill our pets through euthanasia, but not our own kind who are suffering painfully and cannot be cured?

Kathy Z.
Kathy Z.4 years ago

Every human should have the right to decide how they want to die. the gov't. does NOT have the right to interfer or to dictate peoples right to die.

Charli S.
Charlotte S.4 years ago

Why should anyone have to have a personal exception? As an adult I have the right to do what ever I want with MY body and life. Right now I live in alot of pain due to a policy by the VA to cut my pain meds in half. When the pain gets too bad I have already decided to kill myself. Sadly because of stupid laws I will have to do this while alone so that my family is not charged. I believe in reincarnation and do not fear death. I do however fear becoming a non functioning person. I've lived my entire life as an active and independent person. I've never understood why we can give our pets a merciful and easy death surrounded by the people they love yet we sentence humans we love to a horrible life or a solitary death.