By the time you read this, Carol Taylor will be dead.
The 80-year-old Kelowna woman, who had lung and liver cancer, organized a medically assisted death for herself Wednesday morning.
She lay on the couch in her living room with her two best friends holding her hands while a doctor, accompanied by a nurse, first administered a general anesthetic and then an intravenous injection that stopped her heart.
“I imagine it will be marvellous,” Taylor said about two weeks prior to her death. “I’ll lose consciousness, and within five minutes it will all be done and I’ll be gone on my own terms.”
I met with Taylor on Jan. 2 in that same sun-streaked living room to talk about choosing when and where to end your life when you’re terminally ill.
Taylor picked the date for our interview, 13 days before her scheduled death, so she could speak freely about the topic without too much pain, either physically or emotionally.
When I arrived at her Lower Mission home, she was making tea and listening to classical music in the kitchen.
She was chipper and looked healthy, her slim frame casually dressed in black leggings and a blue fleece sweater.
“The key word here is choice,” said Taylor. “I choose not to have chemotherapy and suffer the horrendous side-effect. I choose not to hold my family and friends hostage to my cancer.”
Taylor, who described herself as an atheist, retired from teaching Grades 1 to 5 at Bankhead Elementary School 20 years ago.
Taylor and her common-law husband, who died 20 years ago of a heart attack, were childless by choice.
Two-and-a-half years ago, Taylor was diagnosed with breast cancer, had a double mastectomy and thought she was cured.
She resumed her happy and healthy life of meeting with friends, working on causes, skiing, cycling and hiking.
However, on Dec. 18 she met with her oncologist to hear devastating news: the cancer had metastasized to her lungs and liver.
The option of chemotherapy, a drug cocktail to help kill cancer cells, was discussed.
Chemo would give her only two to four months more life, so she opted for medically assisted death and set the date for Jan. 15.
That may seem like a quick turnaround, but Taylor said it was essential.
Medically assisted death in Canada has been legal since 2016 for terminally ill patients who are of sound mind and can give the doctor confirmation they want to die in the seconds before lethal injection.
Patients who are not of sound mind because they are on heavy pain medication, for instance, cannot give that confirmation.
Therefore, Taylor wanted to schedule her death before the pain got too fierce and pain medication could prevent her from giving confirmation.
Since making her decision, Taylor had been busy meeting with her provider, which is a term for the medical doctor who gives the final injection, and her financial planner and lawyer to get all her affairs in order.
She’s also openly talked to her friends and the man she called her “adopted grandson” about her decision, her plans and her wishes.
“I’ve chosen to talk about my experience because I want the community to know medical assistance in dying is an option,” said Taylor.
“Often we treat our animals with more dignity at death than we do ourselves. This is a liberal and progressive way for me to say goodbye. Always leave a party when you are having the most fun. I’m thankful for the freedom to choose. I’m 80 years old. I’ve had a good life and I’m ready.”
For the most part, Taylor was matter-of-fact and pragmatic as she discussed medical assistance in dying and her upcoming death.
The only time her voice caught and she fought back tears is when I asked her what she was going to miss about her life.
“I’m relieved and excited and upbeat about going out on my own terms,” she said.
“But, I am leaving my beloved friends and family. Their support has meant so much to me.”
Those friends and family showed up en masse Tuesday from 4 to 6 p.m. for a living wake.
“I imagine it will be tearful, but upbeat,” said Taylor.
“There will be Champagne, and non-alcoholic drinks, too. It’s all falling into place.”
Taylor’s support of medical assistance in dying goes back decades.
When her mother was suffering with throat cancer in San Francisco 20 years ago, she chose to join the Hemlock Society to organize a death at home by concentrated morphine injection.
Taylor administered the injection, as per her mother’s wish, while her two brothers held their mother’s hands.
“It was the most peaceful, dignified death possible,” Taylor recalled.
“Our mother told us not to cry for her because she’d been lucky and had a good life.”
Such a background led Taylor to become a founding member and co-chair of the Okanagan chapter of Dying With Dignity when medical assistance in dying became legal in Canada in 2016.
Miriam Tetler is the other co-chair.
“Carol is a strong individual who supports many causes,” said Tetler.
“When I think of Carol, I’ll always remember her as a advocate of people’s right to chose and for her passion for helping people. She’s a true friend. She was the glue that held our group and our group of friends together. She was a huge part of every friend’s life. She was the leader, but she also encouraged us to be leaders.”
Tetler also knew Taylor as an intensely private person.
“She decided to speak out about her death because she’s an advocate of dying with dignity and she wanted to make sure people were informed about that choice,” said Tetler.
Besides advocating for terminally ill people’s right to chose, Dying With Dignity offers advice and support for those considering medical assistance in dying and will provide witnesses to attend the death along with the doctor, nurse and loved ones.
Since 2016, the local chapter has provided witnesses for 75 medically assisted deaths, with 45 of those in Kelowna over the past year.
The number in the Okanagan is more than the Dying With Dignity statistics because many patients organize their own medically assisted deaths with a doctor and have family and friends as witnesses.
Dying With Dignity is now lobbying for advance care planning, which would expand the current medical assistance in dying legislation. Such planning would allow someone with dementia or pain that requires medication that will make them non-lucid to consent in advance to medical assistance in dying and allow those with power of attorney to pick a date when the time is right.