Gloria Taylor Right-To-Die Case: B.C. Woman Pleads For Legal Right To End Life

Gloria Taylor

First Posted: 11/30/11 02:41 PM ET Updated: 12/01/11 04:05 PM ET

VANCOUVER - One of Gloria Taylor's greatest fears is suffocating before she dies, her weak body struggling for air like a fish out of water.

It's part of the reason the 63-year-old grandmother has "gritted her teeth" to appear before a crowd of media and before a B.C. Supreme Court judge on Thursday in her quest for the right to a doctor-assisted suicide.

Taylor has Lou Gehrig's disease, or amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, which damages the neuromuscular system. She is the reason the hearing on assisted suicide has been accelerated in B.C. Supreme Court.

The right-to-die challenge has been hearing expert evidence for two weeks and the plaintiffs case will open tomorrow.

Taylor won't testify, but she told reporters Wednesday she wants to be present so the judge can put a face to the court affidavit she filed that requests assistance in her death.

"I must make this very clear: I do not want to die," she said. "I want to live every day that I can to the fullest, one day at a time. What I do not want is to die an agonizing, slow, difficult, unpleasant, undignified death."

While she's fighting for the right to end her life, she said she isn't ready to make any decisions about doing that soon.

"I'm not there today, so it's hard for me to say what I will do, how I will do it, with who I will do it — other than my family — or if I will do it. I don't know until I get there."

The fight isn't just for her. Taylor's voice faltered as she spoke of a friend's recent, gruesome death, saying it wasn't peaceful nor dignified, and she does not want to die that way.

She visited with Peter Fenker, who also had Lou Gehrig's disease, in the days before his death and they talked about assisted dying.

"He expressed to me how he wished that he could have that ... and he said 'Gloria you gotta go and you gotta win, you gotta win this for everybody.' He said 'It's too late for me, but you just gotta win this case.'"

Fenker also filed an affidavit with the court asking for the right to die without pain and with a doctors help.

He died just weeks before the hearing began in what Fenker's wife Grace described to the court as a horror-filled four days in hospital where he pleaded with her to help him die.

The trial has already heard from expert witnesses on both sides of the argument.

The B.C. Civil Liberties Association is one of the other five plaintiffs in the case, and the association's lawyer Joe Arvay told the judge when the hearing started in mid-November that the association hopes the lawsuit will prevent Taylor from suffering the same fate as Fenker.

The lawyer for the federal government told the court that if assisted suicide were allowed, there would be no system of safeguards that could guarantee there wouldn't be wrongful deaths.

It's been 18 years since Sue Rodriguez challenged assisted suicide laws and lost in the Supreme Court of Canada.

Taylor said the beliefs of Canadians have changed since then and it's way past time for the "archaic" laws to change.

"The majority of Canadians want this. For the few people that don't they don't have to do it," she concluded.

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Filed by Christian Cotroneo  |