British Columbia

Svend Robinson remembers assisted suicide trailblazer Sue Rodriguez

Svend Robinson, former B.C. MP and leading advocate in the right-to-die movement, remembers Sue Rodriguez, the Victoria woman credited with putting the issue on the national agenda.

Rodriguez put the right-to-die issue on the public stage in Canada

Sue Rodriguez asks to die on her own terms

Digital Archives

28 years agoVideo
Rodriguez decides she wants to fight for the legal right to die. 14:04

On a day he says makes him "proud to be a Canadian", Svend Robinson the former B.C. New Democrat MP and leading advocate in the right-to-die movement, spoke to CBC News about Sue Rodriguez, the Victoria woman credited with putting the issue on the national agenda.

"I know that Sue would be ecstatic," Robinson said of today's landmark ruling. "She fought with such courage and such dignity to change the law, that, as the Supreme Court of Canada ruled, is fundamentally cruel."

Rodriguez came to prominence in 1992 when, suffering from the degenerative disease ALS, she fought to overturn the law that made physician-assisted suicide illegal.

Sue Rodriguez brought the issue of assisted suicide to the national agenda. She took her own life in 1994.

She died at her home in Victoria in February 1994, with the help of a doctor whose identity has never been revealed, witnessed by Robinson.

On the day the SCC ruled in favour of physician-assisted suicide in some cases, Robinson said Rodriguez would have wanted to thank all those who continued to fight all these years in the courts.

"Sue initially went to Parliament, the Justice Committee," Robinson recalled. "We didn't get very far, and that remained the case...There's not been a lot of political leadership on this."

'I have the final word'

"And so we went to court—the B.C. Court of Appeal,the Supreme Court of Canada...I remind you this was one of the first cases in the Supreme Court that was televised—there was such public interest and such public support for Sue Rodriguez."

In September 1993, the court ruled five-to-four against.

"It was a heartbreakingly close decision.

"Sue speaking personally said, 'The court may have spoken, but I have the last word’ – and of course, she did.

"But, more importantly, both of us at the time recognized this was just one step on a journey. I didn’t have any idea it would take over 20-odd years, but here we are today."


To encourage thoughtful and respectful conversations, first and last names will appear with each submission to CBC/Radio-Canada's online communities (except in children and youth-oriented communities). Pseudonyms will no longer be permitted.

By submitting a comment, you accept that CBC has the right to reproduce and publish that comment in whole or in part, in any manner CBC chooses. Please note that CBC does not endorse the opinions expressed in comments. Comments on this story are moderated according to our Submission Guidelines. Comments are welcome while open. We reserve the right to close comments at any time.