Gaynor French, the terminally ill cancer patient who spent the final year of her life fulfilling a bucket list of madcap antics and campaigning for voluntary assisted dying, has died.
The mother of three, who ran the Dying with Dignity blog, passed away at the Galway Hospice on Sunday.
She did not get to die at home, as she had argued should be a choice for all undergoing end-of-life care, but she was tended by medical staff she held in affection, surrounded by her husband Stephen, daughter Zara and sons Deven and Xander, just as she wanted, and her family described her death as peaceful.
Gaynor, 47, was originally from Manchester in England but she and Stephen both had Irish roots and made Co Roscommon their home for the past 10 years.
Four years after their move, Gaynor was diagnosed with breast cancer which at first responded well to treatment. But just as she was looking forward to being declared cancer-free, she began to feel unwell and it was discovered the cancer had returned and spread to her liver and bones.
Initially given just six months to live, she was put on a trial drug which slowed the progression of her cancer and enabled her to fulfill some long-held personal ambitions, including learning to play piano, riding a motorbike, throwing her underwear onstage at a Depeche Mode concert and even getting arrested, a request to which her bemused local Garda station acceded.
But she also began a campaign for a change in the law to allow terminally ill people choose when and how they die by providing for the prescription of life-ending medications under strictly controlled circumstances.
Her online blog received thousands of hits and attracted an international following. In a candid interview with theearlier this year, she said she feared a painful death, or that she would be so dulled by painkilling medication that she would not be lucid in her final moments.
My doctor can’t tell me when exactly I’m going to die but I’ll know when I’ve had enough. I want to be in charge when that happens,” she said. She recognised the issue of voluntary assisted dying was an emotive and often divisive one and she appealed for a mature and respectful debate.
“All I want to do is start the conversation,” she said.