Jocelyn Downie

Study program:
Faculties of Law and Medicine
Current affiliation:
Dalhousie Unversity

Professor Jocelyn Downie is an expert on the protection of human participants in research, end of life law and policy, and the protection and promotion of women’s health.

Professor Downie works on issues at the intersection of health, law, and ethics. Her primary focus has been on end of life law and policy – voluntary euthanasia, assisted suicide, terminal sedation, and unilateral withholding or withdrawal of potentially life-sustaining treatment. She has worked extensively on the protection of human participants in research (particularly in the context of increasing commercialization of public universities and hospitals) and the protection and promotion of women’s health (particularly in the context of abortion and assisted human reproduction).

Research project

Building communities of engagement on end of life law, policy, and practice

In her Trudeau Project, Prof. Downie will combine academic research, community-building, and public engagement in the areas of palliative care, advance directives, the withholding and withdrawal of potentially life-sustaining treatment, and assisted death with the ultimate goal of encouraging and enabling the Canadian legal and health systems to better care for the dying.

Project objectives

To build communities of experts in multiple disciplines and sectors and marshal their efforts in four areas that require urgent attention:

1. palliative care (by facilitating mutual understanding and fostering progress in the law and in policy directions);
2. advance directives (by improving education);
3. withdrawing and withholding treatment that may keep the patient alive (by fostering progress in the law and in policy directions);
4. voluntary euthanasia and assisted suicide (by gathering data and facilitating mutual understanding).

Jocelyn Downie is a professor in the Faculties of Law and Medicine at Dalhousie University. She first trained in philosophy at Queen’s University and the University of Cambridge – all with an emphasis on bioethics. She then shifted to law and completed her LLB at the University of Toronto and her LLM and SJD at the University of Michigan at Ann Arbor. Jocelyn’s professional career began in bioethics at the Westminster Institute for Ethics and Human Values in London, Ontario. She began her professional career in law clerking for Chief Justice Lamer of the Supreme Court of Canada.

Bringing the two together, she then directed the Health Law Institute at Dalhousie University for ten years. Of particular relevance to her Trudeau project, Jocelyn served as the special consultant to the Senate Committee on Euthanasia and Assisted Suicide, published Dying Justice: A Case for the Decriminalization of Euthanasia and Assisted Suicide (which won the Abbyann D. Lynch Medal in Bioethics from the Royal Society of Canada), and was a member of the legal team in Carter v. Canada and of the Royal Society of Canada Expert Panel on End of Life Decision-Making. She is used to discuss assisted death in venues from high schools to regional professional meetings to conferences around the world; through media spanning academic journals, blogs, radio, television; and with audiences ranging from hospital patients to healthcare providers, legal practitioners, academics, politicians, civil servants, and the general public.

  • January 25, 2018
    In December 2017, Governor General Julie Payette announced 125 new appointments to the Order of Canada. Six members of the Pierre Elliott Trudeau Foundation community were listed among the new members of the Order.
  • November 27, 2017
    While we might be used to reading op-eds by Canadian scholars and seeing academics interviewed on TV, institutional support for researchers’ public engagement is not a given. Policy Options editor-in-chief Jennifer Ditchburn reflects on a workshop led by Foundation scholars and fellows on the topic.
  • May 10, 2017
    Late last year, the Canadian Ministers of Health and Justice requested that the Council of Canadian Academies conduct independent reviews on issues related to medically assisted death. To that end, the Council has named an expert panel which will examine three particularly complex cases: requests by mature minors, advance requests, and requests where mental illness is the sole underlying medical condition.
  • May 3, 2016
    Several Foundation members will take part in two major annual gatherings of Canadian academics: the 84thCongress of l'Association francophone pour le savoir (ACFAS) will take place from 9 to 13 May at Université du Québec à Montréal on the theme of “Meeting points,” and the 85thCongress of the Humanities and Social Sciences will take place at University of Calgary, from 28 May to 3 June on the theme of “Energizing communities.”
  • March 3, 2016
    Canada is rapidly moving into a new reality for end-of-life care. From an all-out ban, Canada is on course to adopt some of the most progressive assisted death legislation in the world. In her Trudeau Conference / Big Thinking lecture, 2015 Trudeau fellow Jocelyn Downie of Dalhousie University explores recent policy discussions, explains what’s at stake and sketches possible scenarios for end-of-life law and policy.
  • September 15, 2015
    The Pierre Elliott Trudeau Foundation congratulates this year’s recipients of its prestigious research fellowships. Five researchers in the social sciences and humanities will share $1 million in awards