10/15/2014 04:12 EDT | Updated 12/15/2014 05:59 EST

Right-to-die advocates hold rallies across Canada

A national charity whose focus is on allowing people to choose how and when they die held rallies across the country Wednesday as the Supreme Court of Canada held a one-day hearing looking at assisted suicide.

The court last considered the issue in 1993 when it ruled where assisted death is concerned, certain rights enshrined in the Charter of Rights and Freedoms are trumped by the principles of fundamental justice.

Twenty-one years later, right-to-die advocates say the legal and moral landscape in Canada has changed — and the laws need to change with it.

“As a priest, I have sat by the bedside of many dying people and some have been very serene and comfortable and lovely deaths and others have been quite terrible. And then, the other part is most older people I deal with now, they have no fear of dying, it’s mostly a fear of how they die,” said Reverend John Smith, 82.

Like a growing number of people, Reverend Smith wants the right to choose when he dies if he faces a terminal illness and prolonged suffering.

A recent survey by the national charity Dying with Dignity shows a majority of Canadians agree they should have the choice.

“We have evidence now that it works if you legislate it correctly. It works in 10 states and countries in Europe and attitudes have changed. It’s not that Canadians are less sympathetic to life, but they’re more compassionate to choice,” said Sheila Sperry, the provincial coordinator with Dying with Dignity Nova Scotia.

Ellen Agger shares a similar line of thinking. She runs workshops about advanced care planning in Mahone Bay, a small community on Nova Scotia’s south shore. She says nearly 50 people showed up to take part in a recent workshop.

Agger says Canada has changed since the first Supreme Court challenge about assisted dying in the early 1990s.

“In some jurisdictions, you have to ask more than once and you have to be terminally ill or you have to be suffering unbearably. There are different ways to organize the system, but it is not going to be a slippery slope,” she said.

Reverend Smith hopes to live well beyond his 82 years, but he hopes the Supreme Court understands the concerns of many people who are in the twilight of their lives.

He also says that he does not want to be hooked up to tubes or intravenous fluids, or have to wear diapers.

“I have been independent all my life and I would like to have a say in what happens to me,” said Reverend Smith.