“She told me she no longer wished to live, because she could no longer hug her son.”
Those words by lawyer Chris Considine echoed through the Regent Theatre in downtown Oshawa on March 10 during this year’s large-scale symposium put on by the UOIT Student Law Association. This year the law association chose to bring awareness to an extremely timely topic on the national political front: Euthanasia.
Considine, a veteran lawyer who handled the infamous Sue Rodriguez case in 1992, was the guest speaker at the event.
“She was fighting for change since she walked into my office that day,” he said.
Rodriguez suffered from ALS, which is a rapid and fatal neurological disease that attacks the nerve cells responsible for controlling muscles. She was diagnosed in 1991 and had been fighting the disease for more than a year when she entered Considine’s office in British Columbia hoping for a way to end her life.
With up to 14 years in prison as a possible sentence for assisting a person to die, Rodriguez became an activist for the right of terminally ill people to end their lives if they so choose. She eventually took her case to the Supreme Court of Canada on Sept. 30, 1993 but ultimately they rejected her case 5-4.
On Feb. 12, 1994, Rodriguez decided she could no longer take the pain and suffering and she took her own life with the assistance of an anonymous physician.
It has been more than 20 years since Rodriguez became a well-known public figure fighting for what many others deem immoral and ungodly.
But she and her famous words “if I cannot give consent to my own death, whose body is this, who owns my life?” have managed to change the law for millions of people in the future.
On Feb. 6, 2015 the Supreme Court overturned its 22-year-old ruling and unanimously decided that people with terminal cases do have the right to choose when they die, stating “the sanctity of life also includes the passage into death.”
The court gave Parliament one year to amend the legislation and on June 6, 2016 it will be completely legal for people with irremediable and grievous medical conditions to end their lives with the assistance of a doctor.
As of Feb. 6, 2016 the legal ban on assisted suicide expired across Canada, however, it has been legal in Quebec since 2014.
“We are at the beginning of a new era for dealing with terminal illness,” said Considine.
Udo Schuklenk, a professor at Queen’s University and Ontario research chair in bioethics, spoke about the implications of not letting people with terminal illness have the right to end their lives.
“There is always concern that by decriminalizing assisted dying, we will increase the chance of abuse of the practice, when in fact, we found that decriminalization tends to lower the incidence of abuse,” said Schuklenk, citing abuse of euthanasia as a reason for hesitating on legalizing the process.
Now just a few months away from the new legislation, Canada is about to step forward as one of few places around the world like Germany, Switzerland, Japan and the Netherlands that allows people with terminal illness to finally free themselves of the pain they have to endure.
According to Considine, Canadians owe this all to Rodriguez who took the step that no one else could and made people realize the importance of the issue.
“At the end of the day we owe it all to Sue Rodriguez, she opened the door for assisted suicide in this country,” said Considine.
The UOIT student law association believes speakers like Considine help broaden the understanding of students on significant issues.
“I want students to be critical and analytical thinkers in regards to any issue that is occurring in society,” said law association president Kaylee-Anne Kosoralo, who wants students to be able to take away new perspectives from the event.