The mother of one of two women at the centre of Friday’s historic Supreme Court of Canada decision to strike down the country’s ban on doctor-assisted suicide, says her daughter would be “absolutely elated.”
“I’m sure she was looking down on Ottawa (home of the Supreme Court) and smiling,” said Anne Fomenoff of her daughter Gloria Taylor.
Taylor, from West Kelowna, was one of two terminally ill women who challenged Canada’s ban on doctor-assisted suicide in the country’s highest court in 2012. On Friday, posthumously, she won.
The Supreme Court’s nine justices unanimously ruled in favour of Taylor, who died in October 2012 after the arguments to the Supreme Court were made. Her fellow plaintiff Kay Carter went to Switzerland to end her life.
Taylor was 64 when she died, as a result of an infection from a perforated colon. She suffered from amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), a crippling disease with no known cure.
Prior to the Supreme Court challenge, Taylor and the B.C. Civil Liberties Association were successful in having the B.C. Supreme Court strike down part of the Criminal Code that made doctor-assisted suicide illegal. But that ruling was itself struck down by the B.C. Court of Appeal in 2013.
So the case went to the Supreme Court of Canada.
Following the arguments before the high court, Taylor was given special personal dispensation to have a doctor-assist suicide, the only person in Canada to receive that. The court did so because of her advanced condition at the time and the fact the court’s ruling would likely be handed down after she died.
But in the end, she did not need it, said he mother.
Fomenoff said her daughter volunteered to be a plaintiff in the court battle in B.C. as soon as she was diagnosed, feeling it would help to have some one who was still healthy enough to participate and explain the needs of a person facing a painful terminal illness and death.
“She was the type of person who once she got it into her mind, she was going to see it through,” said Fomenoff.
She said Taylor’s whole family supported her effort and was delighted with the ruling.
“I had no doubt it would happen,” said Taylor’s mother.
Taylor’s challenge followed an unsuccessful attempt to overturn the country’s doctor-assisted suicide ban in 1992 by another B.C. ALS-sufferer, Sue Rodriquez .
In 2012, Taylor called Rodriquez a hero for her attempt despite its failure.
On Friday, Fomenoff said she believed her daughter and Rodriquez were “partying with the angels,” following the Supreme Court ruling.
The ruling gives the federal and the provincial governments one-year to write new legislation allowing doctor-assisted suicide and limits it to competent adults with grievous and irremediable conditions and enduring and intolerable suffering, both mental and physical.
The ban remains in effect for the year.
Fomenoff said she believed her daughter was fighting for the terminally ill to have a choice.
She said no one wants to die but when the time comes, Canadians should have a choice about their death. In the case of the terminally ill, that choice should include an option where they do not have to suffer a painful lingering death.
“Death is a natural thing,” she said. “But we live in a death-denying society. We need to talk about this.”
And she urged Canadians to talk with their familes about how they want to die.
“In my family we talk about it openly,” she said.
Now, she feels, with the legacy her daughter has left, others may be more willing to talk about it too.