Sue Rodriguez

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Sue Rodriguez
Susan Jane Shipley

(1950-08-02)August 2, 1950
DiedFebruary 12, 1994(1994-02-12) (aged 43)
Known forAmyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS) sufferer who unsuccessfully litigated for the right to die by assisted suicide

Sue Rodriguez (August 2, 1950 – February 12, 1994) was a Canadian right to die activist. In August 1991, she was diagnosed with amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS or Lou Gehrig's disease) and was given two to five years to live.[1] She ultimately made the decision to end her life and she sought the assistance of a doctor to that end. However, none would help her; under section 241(b) of the nation's Criminal Code, anyone who "...aids or abets a person to commit suicide, whether suicide ensues or not, is guilty of an indictable offence and liable to imprisonment for a term not exceeding fourteen years".[2][3] Rodriguez sought a legal exception in her home province, British Columbia, but was denied.

The British Columbia Civil Liberties Association (BCCLA) filed a lawsuit, Rodriguez v British Columbia (AG), that challenged section 241(b) as contrary to sections 7, 12, and 15 of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms.[4] In a videotaped address to Parliament on November 24, 1992, Rodriguez famously asked, “If I cannot give consent to my own death, whose body is this? Who owns my life?”[5][6] On May 20, 1993, her case was heard by the Supreme Court of Canada. On September 30 of that year, it decided against her 5-4.[7]

On February 12, 1994, with the assistance of an anonymous doctor, Sue Rodriguez took her own life by ingesting a liquid mixture of morphine and secobarbital[8][9] The doctor's intervention was arranged by MP Svend Robinson, who was regarded as one of Rodriguez's most prominent supporters. Robinson was present at her death.[10] However, by her request, her ex-husband Henry and their son Cole were not. An investigation was undertaken, but no charges were laid.[11] Robinson has vowed never to reveal the anonymous doctor's identity.

Almost 23 years later, on June 7, 2016, physician-assisted suicide became legal in Canada as the result of a similar Supreme Court case, Carter v Canada (AG). The Court unanimously struck down parts of section 241(b) and section 14 of the Criminal Code which the justices ruled unjustifiably infringed on section 7 of the Charter of Rights and Freedoms.[12][13]

Life and diagnosis[edit]

Sue Rodriguez was born in Winnipeg, Manitoba and grew up in the Toronto, suburb of Thornhill. She lived in California for a time before returning to Canada. Her first marriage to Henry Rodriguez ended after less than eight years, and she had a son.[14]

In the media[edit]

The 1996 book Timely Death was inspired by the Sue Rodriguez story, and the 1998 film At the End of the Day: The Sue Rodriguez Story, which stars Wendy Crewson as Sue Rodriguez, dramatizes her story.


On June 17, 2016, medically assisted dying became legal in Canada.[15] An emotional Svend Robinson, who now lives in Geneva, Switzerland, told the press: “Today’s ruling is a victory for compassion, for justice and for humanity. And I pay tribute to the memory of Sue Rodriguez, who with courage, passion and dignity blazed the trail that led to this historic day. She would have been thrilled".[16]

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