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Transcript of Sue Rodriguez
Final Result...After 22 Years...
September 26, 2016
Who is Sue Rodriguez?
Who owns our lives? How did her decision influence Canadian law?
Our Own Rights and Freedoms...
When Rodriguez was 42, she was diagnosed with ALS. By 1993 it was determined that she would not live for more than a year.
She decided to fight for the legal right to assisted suicide because under section 241(b) of the criminal code, assisted suicide is punishable by a maximum sentence of 14 years in prison.
She believed that section 241(b) of the Criminal Code violated sections 7 (the right to "life, liberty, and security of the person), 12 (protection against "cruel and unusual punishment"), and 15 ( equal treatment before and under the law, and equal protection and benefit of the law without discrimination) of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms.
However, on September 30, 1993, the Supreme Court of Canada narrowly decided (5-4) to disallow her plea for a physician-assisted death.
Why Did Courts Rule Against Her?
The court rejected her argument, ruling that society's obligation to preserve life and protect the vulnerable outweighed her rights.
Justice Sopinka, writing for the majority, found that there was no violation of sections 7, 12 and 15 of the Canadian Charter Rights and Freedom.
The reason behind the decision was to prevent people from assisting those who want to commit suicide but who are not mentally capable of making the decision and because of the “value that society places on human life” which "in the eyes of the law makers, might easily be eroded if assistance in committing suicide were to be decriminalized” (Assisted Suicide: Canadian Perspectives).
Sue Rodriguez (August 2, 1950 – February 12, 1994)
She was born in Winnipeg, Manitoba and grew up in Thornhill, Ontario.
She was diagnosed with amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS) in early 1991.
She was the very first Canadian advocate of assisted suicide which was illegal at that time.
In 1994, she decided to take her own life with the help of an anonymous physician.
The Supreme Court's ruling in Rodriguez's case was overturned 22 years later in the 2015 decision in Carter v Canada (Attorney General), which found that denying assisted suicide in some cases violated Section 7 of the Canadian Charter Rights and Freedoms.
In this situation where the family of Kay Carter, a woman suffering from degenerative spinal stenosis, and Gloria Taylor, a woman suffering from ALS are all saying that the punishment of assisted suicide is the opposite side of the section 7 of Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms.
On February 6, 2015, after a period of decision making, the Court struck down the provision in the Criminal Code, giving Canadian adults who are mentally competent and suffering intolerably, the right to a doctor’s help in dying.
Sue Rodriguez had a direct impact on the need to reform Canadian Law because she moved the issue of assisted death into both the political and public domains. Because she was passionately vocal and pointed out the problem, other people such as Kay Carter and Gloria Taylor, were willing to challenge the law for their own benefit.
Rodriguez’s determination and courage resulted in challenging the law and demanding a need for change. If Rodriguez had not pointed out the problem, many people would not have known the punishment for assisted suicide. More importantly, the change allows for terminally ill Canadians to have a choice in the way they die. As Ms. Rodriguez’s lawyer said in an interview, “It affects every single Canadian. It affects your life, my life and the life of our friends and family who may be or are terminally ill.”