The Body and the Body Politic: Assisted Suicide Under the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms

26 Pages Posted: 27 May 2008

See all articles by Lorraine Weinrib

Lorraine Weinrib

University of Toronto - Faculty of Law


The author critically examines the majority judgment of the Supreme Court of Canada in Rodriguez v. Canada (kG.) and concludes that the judges in the majority have adopted a legislative public policy mandate rather than carrying out a judicial function that accords with established canons of Charter interpretation and analysis. The author contends that the majority read section 7 of the Charter as enshrining the sanctity of life as an intrinsic, abstract societal value necessary to protect the ill and the vulnerable and not as an expression of the individual's entitlement to autonomy against the State. She also contends that the majority's section 1 analysis was unduly deferential not only to the Canadian Parliament but also to the legislatures of the majority of Western democracies. This came at the expense of considering the legislative pattern of abandoning laws against suicide, the common law respect for individual autonomy and quality of life regarding refusal of and withdrawal from medical treatment, and the widespread lax enforcement of laws against mercy killing. The author is particularly critical of the majority's reliance on "slippery slope" reasoning, which subordinated Ms Rodriguez's Charter rights to apprehended wrongdoing by the medical profession and the presumed best interests of society as a whole. The author recommends that legislators who address the question of assisted suicide look to methods of regulating access to assisted suicide that reflect respect for individual dignity under the Charter at the end of life, and reject any reading of the majority judgment that suggests that legislators are free to regulate or to proscribe assisted suicide according to abstract notions of the sanctity of life, pragmatic views of the public good, or the false consciousness or perceived vulnerability of the terminally ill or disabled.

Suggested Citation

Weinrib, Lorraine, The Body and the Body Politic: Assisted Suicide Under the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms. McGill Law Journal, Vol. 39, No. 3, 1994, Available at SSRN:

Lorraine Weinrib (Contact Author)

University of Toronto - Faculty of Law ( email )

78 Queen's Park
Toronto, Ontario M5S 2C5
416-978-5075 (Phone)
416-978-7899 (Fax)

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