Background on The Right to Die Society of Canada

by John Hofsess

When SUE RODRIGUEZ first came to visit me in August 1992, seeking advice
about what her options were, she informed me that none of the people she
had dealt with - doctors, nurses, health care workers - had shown an
interest in giving her honest answers about her future.  At age 42, Sue
was suffering from ALS (Lou Gehrig's disease) and had every reason to
believe that she would suffer considerably before she died.  She said that
she hoped in turning to The Right to Die Society of Canada she would, at
last, get some of the answers she sought.  The rest is history.

Our advice to Sue Rodriguez was that she should attempt - on behalf of ALL
incurably ill Canadians - to determine what rights, if any, such people
have under present law.  This involved going before the BC Supreme Court
(December 1992) to argue that the law prohibiting assisted suicide (a law
which Canada derived from Great Britain 100 years ago) was in conflict
with the Charter of Rights and Freedoms drafted by Prime Minister Pierre
Trudeau in 1982. 

The court's decision (Dec 30, 1992) was negative.  But at the next level,
in the BC Court of Appeal (March 1993) the Chief Justice sided with Ms.
Rodriguez and said that she did have a right to a physician's assistance
in dying.  Two other Justices disagreed however and the case then went to
the Supreme Court of Canada in May 1993, where, for only the second time
in the Court's history, the proceedings were televised live (on both the
Parliamentary Channel and CBC Newsworld).  All nine Supreme Court Justices

A sharply divided Supreme Court in September 1993 - four in favour, five
against - ruled that Sue Rodrgiuez did not have a right to an assisted
suicide even though all nine Justices acknowledged that the existing law
did infringe to some degree upon her rights as a person.  This meant, in
effect, that it was now up to Parliament to change the law in such a
manner as to give incurably ill Canadians the "right" to an assisted death
- even if the Charter of Rights and Freedoms did not guarantee such a
right according to a majority of the Supreme Court Justices.

Thus it is, in January 1994, that Liberal Senator Joan Neiman formed the
Senate Special Committee on Euthanasia and Assisted Suicide.  The
Committee is currently conducting public hearings in Ottawa.  The
Committee has promised to produce a report (with possible recommendations
for model legislation) by December 15, 1994.  However, the Report is
likely to be delayed a month or two due to the quantity of testimony from
Witnesses. This initiative by the Senate has the backing of the Minister
of Justice Allan Rock and the Minister of Health Diane Marleau.

Prime Minister Jean Chretien has publicly stated that the issue will be
permitted full debate and a free vote in the House (presumably early in
1995).  If such legislation is passed by the House, it would make Canada
the first English-speaking country in the world to grant incurably ill
individuals the right to end their suffering with assistance, if they so
choose.  Whatever happens, Canada is the only country in the next year to
seriously consider the issue - although individual states in the United
States continue to wrestle with the issue of whether laws against assisted
suicide are constitutional.

More details (including the texts of major court decisions) can be found
in Last Rights (electronic journal) and "A Time to Die" BBS (403) 455-6298

Also, the Society makes available online (on both Gopher and World Wide
Web) the entire transcripts (in English and in French) of the hearings of
the Senate Sepcial Committee on Euthanasia and Assisted Suicide. See Last
Rights Library for details and connections.


The Right to Die Society of Canada was formed in October 1991. (See
"Homemaker's" Magazine, Nov-Dec 1991, for the article "Candle in the Wind"
which describes the background social conditions of how and why the
Society was formed).  Obviously not every terminally-ill person has the
strength or resources to go to court, or even to "go public" with his or
her story; someone must defend the human rights of the seriously ill. 
That is what The Right to Die Society of Canada attempts to do.  In less
than three years, the Society has put "right to die" issues high on the
legal and political agendas of institutions which, in the past, ignored
the plight of the terminally ill.

As of 1994:  The Society has chapters and/or affiliated groups in every
major Canadian city.  The Society produces a professional magazine, called
"Last Rights" (ISSN 1198-3922); each issue runs about 68-72 pages on
glossy paper.  Its contributors include a wide range of international
experts from many different fields.  Some "Last Rights" articles are
available online through this Information Centre (see "Last Rights"
electronic journal).

The Society also operates a full-service Bulletin Board System (BBS) in
Edmonton called A TIME TO DIE (403-455-6298). In addition, the Society is
a not-for-profit publisher and distributor of books dealing with death and

Personal inquiries are accepted through E-mail to the moderator:

John Hofsess:
Editor,               "Last Rights";
Executive Director,   The Right to Die Society of Canada

Mailing Address:         Fax:

  P. O. Box 39018          (604) 386-3800
  Victoria BC
  V8V 4X8