Sue Rodriguez

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
Jump to: navigation, search
Sue Rodriguez Canada
Born Susan Jane Shipley
(1950-08-02)August 2, 1950
Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada
Died February 12, 1994(1994-02-12) (aged 43)
Victoria, British Columbia, Canada
Nationality Canadian
Known for Amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS) sufferer who unsuccessfully litigated for the right to die by assisted suicide

Susan Jane "Sue" Rodriguez (née Shipley; born August 2, 1950 – died 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 (who presently lives in Geneva, Switzerland) has vowed to never 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 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]