It has been two years since Gloria Taylor was diagnosed with ALS (Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis, also known as Lou Gehrig’s Disease), a rapidly and progressive fatal neuro-degenerative disease.
Taylor, who was born and raised in Castlegar, has been involved in a court case she hopes will allow her and others in a similar position to legally end their lives.
The case is the first constitutional challenge in 18 years to Criminal Code sanctions that make physician-assisted suicide illegal in Canada.
The lawsuit was filed in April by the B.C. Civil Liberties Association (BCCLA). Taylor, who is one of five plaintiffs involved in the suit, joined the lawsuit in June.
“The lawsuit is challenging the laws that make it a criminal offence to assist seriously and incurably ill individuals to die with dignity,” said Grace Pestine, litigation director for the BCCLA and lawyer for the case, in an interview with the Castlegar News. “We believe all Canadians should have the right to a dignified, compassionate and peaceful death.”
Taylor, 63, now lives in West Kelowna but still has strong roots in Castlegar; Her mother Anne lives here.
She first felt symptoms of ALS in 2003, in the form of cramping in her hands, feet and limbs. On Dec. 9, 2009, she was diagnosed with ALS by a neurologist at Kelowna General Hospital. Eighty percent of people diagnosed with ALS die within two to five years of diagnosis.
Her muscles began to atrophy (shrink) and she had difficulty using her limbs, and often experienced difficulty breathing. She was told in January of 2010 by neurologist Dr. Briemberg of Vancouver that she would likely be paralyzed in six months and likely die within the year.
She has fared better than the prediction by Dr. Briemberg; however, she has lost the use of most of her fingers and has difficulty walking due to the loss of muscle and must use a wheelchair to go longer distances.
“One of my greatest fears is to be reduced to a condition where I must rely on others for all of my needs,” said Taylor in an affidavit. “I do not want to live in a bedridden state, stripped of dignity and independence.
“I know I am dying, but I am far from depressed. I have some down time – that is part and parcel of the experience of knowing you are terminal. But there is still a lot of good in my life; there are still things, like special times with my granddaughter and family, that bring me extreme joy. I will not waste any of my remaining time being depressed. I intend to get every bit of happiness I can wring from what is left of my life so long as it remains a life of quality; but I do not want to live a life without quality.”
In her affidavit, Taylor said she is fearful about the progression of her disease. “As ALS generally affects the ability to control the muscles used to breathe, I use a respiratory ventilator when sleeping and already use it sometimes in the evening just to watch television. I fear that I will eventually suffocate and die struggling for air, like a fish out of water.”
“I’m asking the court to change the laws in Canada so that all Canadians, including myself, have the right to die with dignity,” she said. “I am asking the mercy of the court to allow me the option to work with my doctor to minimize my pain and maximize the peacefulness of my dying. I should be able to make the choice about how much suffering to endure, based on my beliefs and values. All of my life, I’ve been a supporter of the dying with dignity movement. I strongly believe that Canadians like me should have the choice and comfort of aid in dying. It doesn’t make any sense that it’s legal for me to commit suicide, but it’s illegal for someone to help me to die at peace, without pain, in the comfort of my home, with family and friends surrounding me.”
The case is currently in front of B.C. Supreme Court and is expected to wrap up in mid-December. The ruling is expected some time in late 2012.