VANCOUVER - Norm Kunc knows that sometimes when people give him a quick glance while crossing the street they're likely to make some assumptions about his quality of life.
The 53-year-old uses a wheelchair, and his body moves with the somewhat spastic co-ordination of cerebral palsy.
He was outside B.C.'s highest court on Monday, hoisting a sign that read "legalizing the right to die fosters the duty to die" because he believes a decision on doctor-assisted suicide that's working its way through the legal system will greatly impact people with disabilities.
"I know that anyone listening to me right now would never say 'He should die'. But they're saying that because they can hear my voice," he said in an interview.
"But what happens if I were to have a stroke — to be in the hospital where I could not speak? Is it feasible that a nurse or a doctor might come and see me and say, 'his life isn't worth living?'"
Kunc was joined by several dozen other people carrying signs both condemning and praising the legal possibility of the right to die on what had been scheduled as the first day of appeal hearings for a landmark B.C. Supreme Court ruling that came down last June.
The decision by Justice Lynn Smith struck down a longtime law and opened the door for terminally ill people to end their lives with the help of a doctor. She ordered Parliament to re-write the legislation around the emotionally-charged issue.
However, the hearing was unexpectedly adjourned for two weeks after one of the key government lawyers fell ill.
Both those lawyers and counsel with the B.C. Civil Liberties Association are now expected to the B.C. Court of Appeal on Mar. 18.
Before the delay was announced, another opponent of doctor-assisted suicide said he understands that people who support the ruling want more control over the way their life will end.
But Will Johnston, with the Euthanasia Prevention Coalition of B.C., said he believes they are naive to suggest new guidelines will prevent abuse.
"For the same reason we rejected capital punishment, we should be rejecting anything which could put innocent people at risk. We think this is a serious public safety issue," he said.
However Wanda Morris, with a group called Dying with Dignity, said the judge concluded that safeguards are working in other places around the world that allow assisted suicide.
"I believe that those who are opposing us are misreading the evidence and actually that many of them have a theological agenda and they are mis-stating the facts to support something that's actually quite different," she said.
The ideal outcome for the case would be the creation of legislation that allows mentally competent adults the choice to end their life if they are suffering grievously and get assistance from a medical professional, she said.
Experts on both sides of the issue have said that after a ruling comes down in B.C.'s high court the case could still go to the Supreme Court of Canada for a final decision.
Shelly Hunter was holding a sign that simply stated, "I'm here because of dad."
"I didn't like his death," she said, noting the 81-year-old was suffering dementia when he died about a year ago.
"It prompted me to start on this journey of, 'If it were to happen to me, (I would want to) have a good death."
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Euthanasia In Canada
Here's a look at the state of Euthanasia laws in Canada and their history.
Suicide Not A Crime
Suicide hasn't been a crime in Canada since 1972. (Shutterstock)
Doctor-Assisted Suicide Illegal
Doctor-assisted suicide is illegal, although the ruling of the B.C. Supreme Court will force Parliament to alter the law within one year.<br><br> The <a href="http://laws-lois.justice.gc.ca/eng/acts/C-46/page-113.html#h-79" target="_hplink">Criminal Code of Canada states in section 241</a> that:<br><br> "Every one who (a) counsels a person to commit suicide, or (b) aids or abets a person to commit suicide, whether suicide ensues or not, is guilty of an indictable offence and liable to imprisonment for a term not exceeding fourteen years." (Alamy)
Passive euthanasia involves letting a patient die instead of prolonging life with medical measures. Passive euthanasia is legal in Canada.<br><br> The decision is left in the hands of family or a designated proxy. Written wishes, including those found in living wills, do not have to be followed by family or a proxy. (Alamy)
<a href="http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Rodriguez_v._British_Columbia_(Attorney_General)" target="_hplink">Sue Rodriguez</a>, who suffered from amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (also known as Lou Gehrig's disease), launched a case asking the Supreme Court of Canada to allow her to end her own life on the grounds that the current law discriminated against her disability.<br><br> Because suicide is legal in Canada and Rodriguez was unable to end her life because of a lack of mobility, she argued it was discriminatory to prevent her from ending her own life with the aid of another.<br><br> The court refused her request in 1993, but one year later she ended her life anyway with the help of an unnamed doctor. (CP)
<a href="http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Robert_Latimer" target="_hplink">Robert Latimer was convicted of second-degree murder in the 1993 death of his severely disabled daughter Tracy</a>. A lack of oxygen during Tracy's birth led to cerebral palsy and serious mental and physical disabilities, including seizures and the inability to walk or talk. Her father ended Tracy's life by placing her in his truck and connecting a hose to the vehicle's exhaust.<br><br>The case led to a heated debate over euthanasia in Canada and two Supreme Court challenges. <br><br>Latimer was granted day parole in 2008 and full parole in 2010. (CP)
Bills To Legalize
Former Bloc Québécois MP Francine Lalonde tried repeatedly to get legislation legalizing euthanasia in Canada passed. Bill C-407 and Bill C-384 were both aimed at making assisted suicide legal. C-384 was defeated in the House 228 to 59, with many Bloc MPs and a handful of members from all other parties voting for the legislation.<br><br> Tetraplegic Tory MP Steven Fletcher, pictured, made the following statement after C-384 was defeated: <br><br> "I would like to be recorded as abstaining on this bill. The reason is I believe end of life issues need to be debated more in our country. I believe that life should be the first choice but not the only choice and that we have to ensure that resources and supports are provided to Canadians so that choice is free. I believe, when all is said and done, the individual is ultimately responsible. I want to make this decision for myself, and if I cannot, I want my family to make the decision. I believe most Canadians, or many Canadians, feel the same. As William Henley said in his poem Invictus, "I am the master of my fate: I am the captain of my soul."<br><br>(CP)