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In: Philosophy and Psychology

Submitted By wclover123
Words 565
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Philosophy 120
Lecture Notes

Week Two

Outline of the Case of Sue Rodriguez: • In 1992-93 Sue Rodriguez, an intelligent, aware woman aged forty was first diagnosed with ALS (amyotrophic lateral sclerosis), a degenerative neurological disorder. • Mrs. Rodriguez, mother of a small child, had done her research and knew full well that the disease would gradually rob her of the ability to walk, move her body at will, eat and finally breathe without mechanical assistance. Her mind would remain alert, however, trapped in the shell of her body. • Sue Rodriguez was appalled at the prospect of facing such a life and wished instead to prevent it by requesting physician-assisted suicide at a time and in a manner of her own choosing. She determined that she would like to activate a machine that would facilitate her death, but would also like to have a physician present, in case, through some unpredictable eventuality, something went awry and she needed further aid in dying. • A lawyer for Mrs. Rodriguez took her case to a lower court, to the Supreme Court of British Columbia, which denied her request, and then to the B.C. Court of Appeal. In the judgment on appeal from the Court of Appeal, the decision was lost by a vote of two to one. Justice McEachern in his dissenting opinion, based mostly on arguments relating to the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms presented by Mrs. Rodriguez's counsel, outlined a set of guidelines by which he felt Mrs. Rodriguez could be granted her wish. • The matter then proceeded with unusual speed to the Supreme Court of Canada. On May 20, 1993, the Supreme Court of Canada heard the Appeal of Sue Rodriguez v. Attorney General of British Columbia and Attorney General of Canada. In a narrow five-to-four decision, the Supreme Court of Canada dismissed the appeal of Sue Rodriguez in its decision announced September 30, 1993. • The majority decision, written by the Honourable Mr. Justice Sopinka, concluded that, given the concerns about potential abuse and the great difficulty of creating appropriate safeguards, the blanket prohibition on assisted suicide is "not arbitrary or unfair" and should therefore be upheld. • However, four dissenting judges, in the highest court of the country, including Chief Justice Lamer, concluded, in separate decisions, that the prohibition against suicide is invalid because it violates certain rights protected by the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms: the right to security of the person, which protects the dignity and privacy of individuals with respect to decisions concerning their own body; and the right to equal treatment under the law, because the prohibition prevents persons physically unable to end their lives without assistance from choosing an option that is available to other members of the public.

• Chief Justice Lattimer recommended that the declaration of invalidity be suspended for one year to allow Parliament to address this issue and that, during this one-year period, Sue Rodriguez and other persons who are physically unable to commit unassisted suicide, be granted a constitutional exemption that would allow them assistance under court-approved conditions and safeguards.

• On February 12, 1994 Sue Rodriguez killed herself, with the assistance of some close friends. No person has been prosecuted in the case.

For more details about the case, including video testimony from Mrs. Rodriguez and others involved, go to:

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