The woman at the centre of Canada’s move towards assisted suicide died of natural causes last week before taking advantage of an exemption from the law granted by a judge in British Columbia.
Gloria Taylor, 64, suffered from amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, or Lou Gehrig’s disease. She was gradually losing control of her muscles and feared dying of the disease. Together with two others, she launched a lawsuit claiming that the Canadian Charter of Rights implied a right to choose the time of her death. Judge Lynn Smith agreed and struck down the law, but suspended her judgement until after the inevitable appeal. However, she did give Ms Taylor a personal exemption from the law, making her the only person in Canada allowed to have recourse to doctor-assisted suicide.
Ms Taylor died quickly and peacefully of an infection which flared up from a perforated colon. The B.C. Civil Liberties Association issued a press release which stated that “Due to the acute nature and brief course of her illness from the infection, Gloria did not need to seek the assistance of a physician to end her life.”
Another campaigner for assisted suicide who died of natural causes after a blaze of media publicity was Tony Nicklinson, a UK man with locked-in syndrome who appealed unsuccessfully to the courts to be allowed to die. He died in August of pneumonia, a few days after he lost his case.
Ms Taylor’s death will not stop the case from proceeding through the courts, as there are two other plaintiffs, Lee Carter and Hollis Johnson. In 2009 they discreetly took Ms Carter’s elderly mother to Switzerland to die at a Dignitas clinic, knowing that this could expose them to prosecution for assisting a suicide.
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