“What I want is to be able to die in a manner that is consistent with the way I lived my life. I want to exercise control and die with dignity and with my sense of self and personal integrity intact.”
So wrote Gloria Taylor, the 64-year-old Kelowna woman who recently won a Supreme Court of Canada case for the right to doctor-assisted suicide.
These are almost exactly the same words spoken by my sister, Leyanne, prior to taking her own life 10 years ago after a long and painful battle with stomach cancer at the age of 57, and sparking the three-year trial of Evelyn Martens who was accused of assisting her. These three courageous women demanded their rights as human beings to make the most important decisions of their lives, how to live and how to die.
What sometimes gets lost in the controversy is that these human-rights pioneers were not advocating for suicide. They loved life and would, with all their heart, choose to live rather than to die.
What they felt passionate about and fought for, each in their own way, was their right to make their own choices at a time when nobody else can choose for you. They were advocating as much for one’s right to suffer the prolonged deterioration of terminal illness as they were for the right to self-deliverance.
How can those of us who have never faced the inevitability of our imminent and painful demise feel that we should be granted the right to impose our choices on those who are dealing with it in real time? This is when it is no longer the subject of hypothetical debate but the startling reality of your own mortality.
In the end, Gloria didn’t have to make the choice she fought so hard for, but at least the choice was hers to make.
These women are heroes, not because of the way they died but because of the way they lived.
Marc Burchell, White Rock