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The final legal word on assisted suicide for Sue Rodriguez

"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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After losing in both the B.C. Supreme Court and the B.C. Court of Appeal, Sue Rodriguez takes her case to the highest court in the land. Rodriguez asks the Supreme Court of Canada to grant her the right to assisted suicide. On May 20, 1993, as shown in this special CBC Television coverage, Chris Considine once again pleads Rodriguez's case.

Considine asks the court to grant Rodriguez the right to exercise control over her own body by allowing her to die with dignity with the aid of a doctor. On Sept. 29, 1993, Rodriguez loses her final legal battle. The Supreme Court judges rule against Rodriguez but by the narrowest of margin. They deny her request in a split 5-4 decision.

In writing the majority judgement, Justice John Sopinka expresses the "deepest sympathy" for Rodriguez, but ultimately rules that she cannot be exempt from the law. "No consensuses can be found in favour of the decriminalization of assisted suicide. To the extent that there is a consensus, it is that human life must be respected." 
• In the September 1993 Supreme Court ruling, the majority argument denying Rodriguez the legal right to doctor-assisted suicide was supported by Justices John Sopinka, Gerard La Forest, Charles Gonthier, Frank Iacobucci and Jack Major. The four Supreme Court judges who sided with Rodriguez were Chief Justice Antonio Lamer, Justices Beverley McLachlin, Claire L'Heureux-Dubé and Pete Cory.

• The four dissenting justices who sided with Rodriguez wrote in the minority judgement that "the right to die with dignity should be well protected as is any other aspect of the right to life." They also wrote that the Criminal Code prevents people like Rodriguez from exercising autonomy over their bodies available to other people.

• Rodriguez's case before the Supreme Court of Canada was only the second time in Canadian legal history that cameras were allowed in the courtroom. The first time cameras, recordings and still photographs were allowed was in March 1993. It was during an appeal brought on by Toronto lawyer Elizabeth Symes who argued that self-employed parents should be allowed to deduct child-care costs as a business expense.
Medium: Television
Program: CBC Television News Special
Broadcast Date: May 20, 1993
Guest(s): Chris Considine
Duration: 7:04

Last updated: January 27, 2012

Page consulted on September 10, 2014

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