Dalhousie Law Journal


medicine, science, law, Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms, Supreme Court of Canada, assisted suicide, Criminal Code, courts, sanctity of life


While we are forced, somewhat begrudgingly, to face the fact that there are limitations to what medicine can achieve, we still seem to have an undisturbed faith in what law can achieve. The limitations to what litigation under the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms' can achieve was highlighted most recently in the case of Rodriguez v. British Columbia (A.G.)2 where the Supreme Court of Canada, by a five to four margin, upheld the constitutionality of the assisted suicide provisions of the Criminal Code.3 The Court recognized that Ms. Rodriguez's rights were violated but concluded that the infringement did not contravene the principles of fundamental justice. Sue Rodriguez's right to autonomy and bodily control was, in essence, pitted against a vague notion of the state's interest in the "sanctity of life" and in the protection of the vulnerable. Although it may be persuasively argued that the principles enshrined in the Charter could conceivably lead to progressive social change,4 individual rights litigation will rarely succeed if the Court, when performing this balancing act, continually conceptualizes the state's interests as superior to those of the individual. This case illustrates this recurring dilemma within the Charter framework.

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