Uncommon Will: The Death and Life of Sue Rodriguez


180 pages
Contains Photos
ISBN 0-7715-9091-1
DDC 362.1'9683'092





Reviewed by June M. Blurton

June M. Blurton is a retired speech pathologist.


Sue Rodriguez was diagnosed as having Lou Gehrig’s disease (ALS) in
August 1991. Between then and her death in February 1994, she went from
being an ordinary suburban housewife in British Columbia to being a
crusader for the right to die with dignity who was recognized throughout

ALS is a disease of the nerves and muscles. The muscles waste and
stiffen so that the sufferer becomes progressively more disabled. In the
end Sue was unable to walk, use her hands, swallow, or speak, and was
totally dependent on others for her personal care. But through all this,
she was mentally alert and contended that “[the] quality of life is
the essence of life, and [that] a life deprived of quality is not worth
living.” This belief was the basis for her decision, in April 1992, to
commit suicide when the disease reached a stage that deprived her life
of quality.

Suicide has not been illegal in Canada since 1972. It is, however,
illegal to assist anyone in committing suicide, and Rodriguez knew that
by the time her life was no longer worth living she would be physically
incapable of killing herself. This book, which she asked Lisa Hobbs
Birnie to write, chronicles Sue’s efforts to change that law through
the courts. The case went all the way to the Supreme Court of Canada,
where Rodriguez lost by a narrow margin. Nonetheless, her efforts
focused the public’s attention on the issue of euthanasia.

Not only has Birnie managed to make the law comprehensible as it
pertains to this subject, but she has also resisted the temptation to
turn Rodriguez and her family and friends into martyrs. In fact, the
book reads like a novel until one remembers that Sue is not a fictional


Birnie, Lisa Hobbs, and Sue Rodriguez., “Uncommon Will: The Death and Life of Sue Rodriguez,” Canadian Book Review Annual Online, accessed February 24, 2024, https://cbra.library.utoronto.ca/items/show/1057.