Theories of Justice: Application

Photo taken from

Photo taken from

In today’s learning experience, we investigated the concept of Justice and how various people have conceptualized it. We learned what Kant, Bentham, Aristotle, Locke, and Rawls all had to say about the idea of Justice. Michael Sandel helped us realize that Justice is not a concrete idea, but one that is very much up for debate:

We tried to match our understandings of justice with the scenarios he posed and then we tried to see how the theorists we explored might view justice in the context of the trolley car example.Here are the resources we looked at in the event you need to refresh yourself:






Now here are the facts of a real case in Canadian legal history. What we would like you to do is familiarize yourself with the facts of the case and then comment on how your philosopher might perceive justice in this case. Next, what would be justice for you? Comment and/or comment on what someone else has said. Be courteous, concise, and thoughtful. Take time to reflect and read what your peers have offered.


On October 24, 1993, Robert Latimer, a farmer from Saskatchewan, placed the helpless body of his 12 year old daughter, Tracy, in his pick up truck and connected a hose from the exhaust to the cab resulting in her asphyxiation by carbon monoxide poisoning.

Tracy had been born severely disabled with cerebral palsy and at age 12 still had the mental capacity of a three month old. She was completely dependent on her parents for round the clock care. Just prior to the events that would lead to his arrest, Latimer had been told that his daughter would require further operations to correct a hip dislocation that had been aggravated by her advanced scoliosis- a condition that had reached the point where her spine diverged from a perpendicular position by 75%. He was advised that the operation would place her in even greater pain than the intense pain she was already experiencing. Moreover, because of other anti-convulsive medication she had to take to control her epileptic seizures, she could not be given pain killers of greater strength than regular Tylenol without the risk of inducing a coma. Latimer would later contend that he was faced with the dilemma of subjecting his daughter to ever more agonizing operations without the ability to limit the intensity of her pain because of the adverse interaction between the drugs she was taking and any pain medication stronger than regular Tylenol.

It was under these circumstances, he would claim, that he chose to end her life.

October 24, 1993- Wilkie, Saskatchewan, Latimer ‘places’ his 12 year old severely disabled daughter- Tracy -in cab of pickup truck- piping CO into the cab through a series of connecting pipes and hoses and resulting in her death by asphyxiation.

November 4, 1993- RCMP bring Latimer in for questioning and arrest him on charge of 1st degree murder.


Rawls, Justice, & Assisted Suicide

Yesterday, we had a fantastic visit from from Brian Keenan from the University of Winnipeg. He engaged us in a dialogue about the notion of justice and helped us solidify some of the ideas we have studied. Dr. Keenan also elaborated on Rawls’ conceptualization of justice. Many of us were “okay” with this theory of justice, whereas others questioned his second principle.

Coincidentally, the Supreme Court of Canada is listening to arguments on whether physician-assisted suicide should or should not be constitutional. Those who are on the “right to die” side of things, argue that certain sections of the Charter of Rights and Freedoms are being violated.

How does Rawls’ theory of justice inform the debate on assisted suicide? How does your understanding of justice inform your opinion on the decision the SCC will make? Be sure to be clear with your argument and use evidence to support it.

To help answer these questions, I have posted the following links:

CBC Article and Video clips on SCC Case

Rawls and the Question of Physician­Assisted Suicide

LA Times on John Rawls (a Primer)