Rodriguez v British Columbia (AG)

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Rodriguez v British Columbia (AG)
Supreme Court of Canada
Hearing: May 20, 1993
Judgment: September 30, 1993
Full case name Sue Rodriguez v The Attorney General of Canada and the Attorney General of British Columbia
Citations [1993] 3 SCR 519, 107 DLR (4th) 342, 1993 CanLII 75
Docket No. 23476
Prior history On appeal from the Court of Appeal for British Columbia
Ruling Appeal dismissed
Criminal prohibition of assisted suicide does not violate the Charter.
Court Membership
Chief Justice: Antonio Lamer
Puisne Justices: Gérard La Forest, Claire L'Heureux-Dubé, John Sopinka, Charles Gonthier, Peter Cory, Beverley McLachlin, Frank Iacobucci, John C. Major
Reasons given
Majority Sopinka J., joined by La Forest, Gonthier, Iacobucci and Major JJ.
Dissent McLachlin J., joined by L'Heureux-Dubé J
Dissent Lamer C.J.
Dissent Cory J.
Laws Applied
Charter of Rights and Freedoms, s.7
Criminal Code, s.241(b)
Overruled by
Carter v Canada (AG), 2015 SCC 5

Rodriguez v British Columbia (AG) [1993] 3 S.C.R. 519 is a landmark Supreme Court of Canada decision where the prohibition of assisted suicide was challenged as contrary to the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms by a terminally ill mother, Sue Rodriguez. In a 5 to 4 decision, the Court upheld the provision in the Criminal Code.


Sue Rodriguez was a 42-year-old mother whose illness amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS or "Lou Gehrig's disease") was diagnosed in 1992. By 1993 it was found that she would not live more than a year, and so she began a crusade to strike down section 241(b) of the Criminal Code, which made assisted suicide illegal, to the extent that it would be illegal for a terminally ill person to commit "physician-assisted" suicide.

She applied to the Supreme Court of British Columbia to have section 241(b) of Criminal Code struck down as it violated sections 7 (the right to "life, liberty, and security of the person), 12 (protection against "cruel and unusual punishment"), and 15(1) of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms (equality).

Reasons of the court[edit]

Justice Sopinka, writing for the majority, found that there was no violation of section 7. He first considered whether the prohibition on ending one's life engaged the right to security of person. He found that the prohibition had sufficient connection with the justice system by its impact on an individual's autonomy and right to life by causing physical and psychological pain.

Sopinka, however, found that the provision did not violate any principles of fundamental justice. He examined the long history of the prohibition of suicide and concludes that it reflects part of the fundamental values of society and so could not be in violation of fundamental justice.

He also rejected the claim that the provision violated the section 12 right against cruel and unusual treatment or punishment as a mere prohibition did not fall within the meaning of treatment.

Lastly, he considered the section 15 equality challenge. He noted that the issue is best not resolved under this right, but in assuming that it did violate section 15 he found that it was clearly saved under section 1. He found that the objective was pressing and substantial, rational, and that there was no lesser means to achieve the goal.

Chief Justice Lamer held a dissenting opinion that Criminal Code section 241(b) had infringed on the section 15 and did not consider sections 7 and 12.

Justice Cory ruled that the right to die is as much a protected freedom under section 7 of the Charter as any other part of life.

Justice McLachlin's judgment was that Criminal Code section 241(b) violates the section 7 right to security of the person and that this violation was not saved under section 1.


The Supreme Court's ruling in Rodriguez 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 Charter.

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