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Dying woman asks B.C. court to fast track her right-to-die lawsuit

ALS sufferer wants a doctor-assisted suicide -- and soon.

It's an issue that hasn't been argued in Canadian courts for 20 years. And it's back.

Gloria Taylor, who suffers from Lou Gehrig's disease, is petitioning BC Supreme Court for a doctor-assisted suicide.

Canadian Press has the story:

VANCOUVER -- A dying woman is asking the B.C. Supreme Court to fast track her lawsuit so she can have a doctor-assisted suicide, reopening a debate that was last famously battled in the courts almost 20 years ago.

Lawyer Joe Arvay told the court the lawsuit must be heard quickly so Gloria Taylor can exercise her "constitutional right'' to a doctor-assisted suicide.

Taylor's request is one of two cases that has resurrected the right-to-die argument that was thought settled by Canada's highest court in the 1993 Sue Rodriguez case.

Arvay, who is also acting on behalf of the B.C. Civil Liberties Association, wants a trial date this year because Taylor-- who suffers from ALS, or Lou Gehrig's disease -- is getting worse.

"We have a dying woman who wants to exercise her constitutional right to die with dignity,'' Arvay told reporters outside the court.

"The only way that's going to happen is if the trial is heard in November, because her situation is urgent.''

The legal action comes too late for some members of the Farewell Foundation, another group fighting to have the law criminalizing assisted suicide thrown out.

"We've already had two of our members who have ended their own lives,'' said Russel Ogden, one of five directors of the foundation.

"We believe that the Farewell Foundation ought to be in a position to provide comfort and care and assistance to members in those circumstances. Individuals should simply not have to die alone.''

Outside the court, Ogden agreed no matter what the B.C. court decides, the case will likely go to Canada's highest court and the whole process could take five or six years. That could be too late for many of the foundation's more than 100 members.

No matter what the current law, Ogden said people are still getting help committing suicide.

The problem is that there's no guarantee that the decisions made by those wanting to die are made appropriately and with the best-practice standards, he said.

"Sometimes these efforts -- to have a humane, self-chosen death -- can go horrifically wrong. We believe that people should be able to access appropriate care at the end of life.''

The foundation believes people should have "the best possible dying experience'' for those who choose to end their lives.

The two cases are being tried separately, but are both being heard by Justice Lynn Smith and they could eventually be merged.

Arvay told Smith on Tuesday that Taylor is already having difficulty walking and her doctor says she may soon need a feeding tube.

He said if the case isn't accelerated, Taylor won't be able to exercise her right to get help when she dies.

If the trial can't be held in November, Arvay said he'll ask the court to give Taylor a constitutional exemption from the laws that make it a crime to have a physician assist in her death.

Donaree Nygard, the lawyer for the Attorney General of Canada, called Arvay's tight schedule "unworkable.''

She said it wasn't possible to rush a case that is this complex.

They are challenging a law that protects a large number of people, Nygard told the court

"Protection from the ultimate threat that they be euthanized against their true wishes,'' she said. "The rights of those people is incredibly important. This trial should not be rushed.''

She told the court the issue hasn't shifted since 1993 to the extent that would allow the law to be changed.

Rodriguez also had Lou Gehrig's disease and died in 1994, a year after the Supreme Court voted 5-4 against her right to an assisted suicide.

The judge is expected to make a decision on fast tracking Taylor's lawsuit on Wednesday. Preliminary matters in the Farewell Foundation legal action will also continue Wednesday.

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