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'Who owns my life?'

"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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In November 1992 a parliamentary committee in Ottawa is in the midst of "recodifying" the Criminal Code, including the sections on euthanasia and assisted suicide. It's the perfect platform for Sue Rodriguez to launch her case. But since Rodriguez is already too weak to travel to Ottawa she addresses the committee in a carefully scripted videotape testimony.

As shown in this CBC Television report, Rodriguez asks the committee for the legal right to take her own life with the help of a doctor. "Who owns my life?" Asks Rodriguez staring directly at the camera, "whose body is this?" Rodriguez's appeal instantly catapults her into the public spotlight, transforming her from a suburban stay-at-home mom to a national figure. She finds herself being praised, admired, pitied and attacked simultaneously.

Her supporters include John Hofsess of the Right to Die Society, NDP MP Svend Robinson and her lawyer Chris Considine. But detractors such as Liberal MP Don Boudria accuse Rodriguez of sensationalism. Boudria vows to block any attempts to make euthanasia and assisted suicide legal in Canada. The committee would eventually conclude that the Criminal Code regarding euthanasia and assisted suicide remain in tact.
. Rodriguez's plea was immediately opposed by a number of right-to-life groups including the Surrey, B.C.-based Compassionate Healthcare Network, and Campaign Life Coalition based in Toronto. Representatives from the groups played a tape of a Nazi propaganda film that justified euthanasia. They made a connection between the legal exemption Rodriguez was seeking and Nazi death camps.

. "Nancy B.," mentioned in this CBC Television report, refers to the 25-year-old Quebec patient who was granted the right to refuse treatment. Nancy B. had a rare neurological disease that left her paralysed from the neck down with no hope of recovery. Having spent the last 2½ years of her life confined to a hospital room, she died on Feb. 13, 1992, seven minutes after her respirator was unplugged. The case of "Nancy B" differs from that of Rodriguez because it was about the right to refuse treatment, not the right to die.

. Rodriguez first met John Hofsess of the Right to Die Society in August 1992. The two eventually severed ties when Hofsess wrote a letter on Rodriguez's behalf without consulting her. He even faked her signature. The letter, published in January 1993 in the Vancouver Sun, lashed out at some high-profile members of the ALS Society for their lack of support. Rodriguez was shocked and furious. Hofsess later wrote a letter of apology to Rodriguez but the two never reconciled.
Medium: Television
Program: Prime Time News
Broadcast Date: Nov. 24, 1992
Guest(s): Don Boudria, Chris Considine, Sue Rodriguez
Host: Pamela Wallin
Reporter: Jerry Thompson
Duration: 4:50

Last updated: August 31, 2012

Page consulted on September 10, 2014

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