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A lawyer for plaintiffs in a landmark court challenge of Canada's assisted suicide law says stopping suffering patients from asking for a doctor's help to end their lives is akin to torture.

The federal government asked the B.C. Court of Appeal to review Canada's ban on assisted suicide after a lower court ruled last year that the current law is unconstitutional.

Joseph Arvay, a lawyer representing a number of plaintiffs in the case, says the current law forces patients with terminal illnesses to end their lives early, because they know they won't be able to seek a doctor's help if they become too debilitated later.

Arvay says the federal government wants to give those patients a cruel choice: kill themselves or live through the torture of a painful, agonizing death at the hands of their illness.

He rejects the government's argument that legalizing assisted suicide will lead to vulnerable people being coerced into killing themselves, saying there is no evidence that would actually happen.

The challenge was launched by a number of people, including ALS patient Gloria Taylor of Kelowna, B.C., who won an exemption from the law but died last year without seeking the help of a doctor.