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Sue Rodriguez: Designer death vs. merciful end

"Whose body is this?" With those four words Sue Rodriguez single-handedly catapulted the right-to-die debate onto the public stage. After being diagnosed with the terminal disease ALS in 1991, Rodriguez took her fight all the way to the highest court in the land. She failed to get euthanasia and assisted suicide legalized in Canada. But Rodriguez's battle and her death in 1994 forced a crucial debate on this controversial topic.

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Sue Rodriguez's case is about to be heard at the B.C. Supreme Court and that raises some hard legal and moral questions. While Barry Hoffmaster agrees that the law has left Rodriguez in a "tragic situation," he tells the CBC's Bill Cameron that the law can't be changed to suit an individual. The director of Ontario-based Westminster Institute for Ethics and Human Values says a law against assisted suicide and euthanasia is necessary to prevent killing of the disabled or the terminally ill who may not truly consent to death.

He feels that once the law is changed it will open the floodgates and that could lead to a devaluation of human life. Such a move could result in subtle pressure being placed on individuals who are dying or disabled to end their lives. Dr. Hoffmaster says it could also remove commitments to provide better palliative care and for new cures and therapies.

University of Victoria's biomedical ethicist professor Eike Kluge disagrees. He sides with Rodriguez, saying that the current law should be amended to deal with individuals as persons.
. Rodriguez was asked why she decided to go public rather than commit suicide quietly. Rodriguez replied that since she was going to die anyway, she wanted to fight for her beliefs and perhaps help others in similar situations. Rodriguez also wanted her son to respect the law and didn't want her last act on earth to be illegal. "But if I can't obey the law in the end, I'll know at least I did all I could to change it. So will he [her son]," from her book, Uncommon Will.

. Suicide and attempted suicide were decriminalized in 1972 in Canada. The changes were made because completed suicide leaves no one to prosecute and prosecution of incomplete suicide only increases the risk of suicide and prevents the survivor from seeking help. Before 1972 anyone found guilty of attempted suicide could face unspecified jail time.
Medium: Television
Program: The Journal
Broadcast Date: Sept. 18, 1992
Guest(s): Barry Hoffmaster, Eike Kluge
Host: Bill Cameron
Duration: 8:33
This clip has poor audio.

Last updated: January 31, 2012

Page consulted on June 18, 2014

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