The B.C. Civil Liberties Association announced late Friday afternoon that Gloria Taylor, 64, of West Kelowna, B.C., had died suddenly and unexpectedly due to a severe infection resulting from a perforated colon.
Less than four months ago, Taylor, who was battling Lou Gehrig's disease or ALS, won an exemption to the law banning-doctor assisted suicide, after a B.C. Supreme Court justice struck down the federal legislation but gave Parliament a year to change the law.
The federal government then announced in August it was taking the case to the B.C. Court of Appeal.
"Gloria was a courageous and delightful woman and she will be remembered," said Russel Ogden, a director of the Farewell Foundation for the Right to Die.
Ogden said he last saw Taylor in November when the case went to B.C.'s Supreme Court but had been in contact with her by email until last week.
He said he wasn't aware of her most-recent illness, and although Taylor has now died, her work continues.
Ogden said applications by interveners to the Court of Appeal are due in November, and the plaintiffs and respondents are preparing their arguments.
A five-day hearing has already been scheduled for March 2013, he said.
Federal Justice Minister Rob Nicholson issued a statement Saturday morning expressing his condolences.
"I was saddened to hear the news of Gloria Taylor's passing. My thoughts and prayers are with her family," Nicholson said.
The fight against Canada's laws against assisted suicide was first taken up in court by Sue Rodriguez, another B.C. woman who also suffered from ALS. But her challenge in the early 1990s ended in defeat in the Supreme Court of Canada.
Rodriguez then took her own life with the help of an unidentified physician.
The B.C. Civil Liberties Association has argued that much has changed since then, and jurisdictions around the world, including Oregon, the Netherlands and Belgium, now have laws in place to allow assisted suicide.
The association has noted that those laws also include safeguards so vulnerable people are protected, and it vows to continue the fight.
"The BCCLA launched this lawsuit and we will continue with the lawsuit, arguing to uphold the Supreme Court decision and to protect Gloria's victory," said Grace Pastine, litigation director for the association.
Pastine said several individual plaintiffs remain, and the association is also a public-interest plaintiff, so there is still standing to bring the lawsuit forward.
The next step, she said, will see the federal government file its legal-written arguments and then the association will have an opportunity to respond.
Pastine said she talked to Taylor late last week. She said she knew Taylor was in hospital but didn't know how serious her condition was and was taken by surprise by her death.
"She was a great woman," said Pastine. "She was courageous and inspirational and despite great personal hurdles, she managed to change the world in a meaningful way."