At the boundaries of law and ethics: How the legal system addresses social issues concerning life and death

From the series “Viv(r)e la recherche en droit”. English closed captions available.


Aux confins du droit et de l’éthique La recherche en droit pour l’actualisation juridique des questions sociales concernant la vie et la mort 


[Logo: uOttawa, Faculté de droit | Faculty of Law, Section de droit civil | Civil Law Section] 

[Series title] 




Access to justice 

Knowledge Mobilization 

Access to Knowledge 

Justice Mobilization 

[The following text appears on screen over an image of the cover of La declaration universelle des droits de l’homme] 

The laws most crucial laws to our fundamental rights do not always reflect social realities  

[The words de l’homme are scratched out and replaced with de la personne before the next text appears] 

and do not always respond to contemporary ethical questions. 

Michelle Giroux: 

[Voice-over as the words below appear on screen] 

Should medical assistance in dying be offered alongside palliative sedation and palliative care? Should a child conceived through assisted reproduction have access to their biological origins? How should the law take into account same-sex families? 

medical assistance in dying 

access to biological origins 

new family configurations 

Michelle Giroux: 

[In front of camera] 

My research allows me to better understand how well the law addresses different contemporary social realities. 

[Video title] 

At the boundaries of law and ethics 

Research in Law to improve how the legal system addresses social issues concerning life and death 

Michelle Giroux [Professor, Faculty of Law, Civil Law Section]: 

[In front of camera as examples of research articles are displayed beside her] 

My name is Michelle Giroux. I do research on many topics concerning human rights and family law, but also in bioethics. I am interested in issues that go from the beginning of life to the end, and in recent years, I have been particularly interested in social issues related to the recognition of different contemporary family forms. 


Complex social problems challenge law and law research 

Michelle Giroux: 

[In front of camera] 

These complex social problems challenge the law, and I think that it is fundamental to work in a multidisciplinary and collaborative manner to better understand these realities, these emerging social problems. 


Formal law does not always reflect contemporary family realities 

Michelle Giroux: 

[In front of camera] 

For me, norms should not exist separately from the realities of families. I think it is sometimes limiting to impose a legal solution solely in the name of a major principle of law such as public policy, for example. 


As part of a field survey of French and Quebec judges, Professor Giroux and her collaborators have tried to better understand the decision-making challenges judges face with respect to families who use assisted human reproduction. 


Civil Code of Quebec 

  1. Any agreement whereby a woman undertakes to procreate or carry a child for another person isabsolutely null. 

The ethical question 

How can we better recognize citizenship, identity and the best interests of the child? 

Michelle Giroux: 

[In front of camera] 

In the interviews we did with Quebec judges, it emerged that they often felt caught between a rock and a hard placeSo, between public order, which predominates in the Civil Code with regard to agreements of gestational and reproductive surrogacy, and the fact that they were asked, in the name of the interests of the child, to grant an adoption. 

[Text animation:  the word juge is squeezed between the words l’arbre et l’ écorce] 

Rock (substantive law) 


Hard place (best interests of the child) 


In Quebec, to make up for the nullity of assisted procreation agreements, judges have turned to the rules of adoption as a form of recognition of children. 


How has the law adapted to this situation in France? 

Michelle Giroux: 

[In front of camera] 

In France, the judges felt exactly the same way in that they told us that they felt a bit like rubber-stampers, where people came to seek their approval for a situation for which they did not have much of a say, in a context where the law was still fairly strict and where public policy should have imposed the non-use of adoption. 


The contribution of empirical research in law 

Michelle Giroux: 

[In front of camera as examples of research articles are displayed beside her] 

So, through my research, especially with the field surveys, I feel that we can understand the realities experienced by families and the application of the law to these families, and see how this family reality does not always fit the norm in place. 


The effects of legal research on the law 

Michelle Giroux: 

[In front of camera] 

My research involves considering the law differently, sometimes taking into account the evolution of family realities and other times taking into account the evolution of science or medicine. 


What is the potential impact of this research? 

Michelle Giroux: 

[In front of camera, with text below appearing beside her] 

In the case of complex family transformations, I would like to imagine, for example, new foundations for the law on filiation. As part of these new foundations, identity would be central to my questioning. So, if I were offered a blank page to write the law, or if I was offered the opportunity to reform the law, in my law, there would be more dignity for people, more respect for fundamental rights. The law must necessarily – should necessarily – also innovate. Another thing that seems essential to me is flexibility in the different family models because the family realities are varied. In fact, the best future for my research would be for it to influence the law, to influence law reform here and elsewhere. 

Legal innovation 

new foundations for the right of filiation 

placing identity at the center of these questions 

more dignity for people 

more respect for fundamental rights 

flexibility of family models 


The role of research in law 

Michelle Giroux: 

[In front of camera] 

As a researcher, I establish a dialogue between society and the law. It is my greatest motivation, and it is why I do what I do. 

[Subtitles and text] 


Colleagues and Collaborators 

Hélène Belleau 

Laurence Brunet 

Jérôme Courduriès 

Martine Gross 

Louise Langevin 

Carmen Lavallée 

Brigitte Lefebvre 

Me Jean-Pierre Ménard 

Anne-Marie Piché 

Jehanne Sosson 

Marie-Christine St-Jacques 

and many others 

[Logos: Familles en mouvance, Partenariat de recherche; Chambre des notaires; Mission de recherche Droit et JusticeInterdisciplinary Research Laboratory on the Rights of the Child (LRIDE); Human Rights Research and Education CentrePartenariat de recherche – Séparation parentale, recomposition familialeSocial Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada; uOttawa] 


Featured Researcher 

Michelle Giroux 

Professor, Faculty of Law, Civil Law Section 

Content Direction 

Margarida Garcia 

Professor and Vice-Dean of Research and Communications, Faculty of Law, Civil Law Section 

Cintia Quiroga 

Assistant Dean of Research and Professor, Faculty of Law 

Andrew Kuntze 

Research Communications Strategist, Faculty of Law 

Photography and Images 

Andrew Kuntze 


Université libre d’Amsterdam 

Wangkun Jia, 


Deliberate Thought, Kevin MacLeod 

(original music track remixed for this video) 

Language Revision 

Natalie Carter 


Natalie Carter 

Andrew Kuntze 

Content Coordination 

Civil Law Section, Faculty of Law 

University of Ottawa 

Research Office, Faculty of Law 

University of Ottawa 


Teaching and Learning Support Service (TLSS) 

University of Ottawa 

The production of the video series Viv(r)e la recherche en droit was made possible thanks to the financial support of the Law Foundation of Ontario. 

[Logo: La Fondation du droit de l’Ontario] 

While financially supported by The Law Foundation of Ontario, the University of Ottawa is solely responsible for all content. 

[Logo: uOttawa] 

Comment faire progresser l’accès à la justice? Et comment les efforts des chercheurs en droit peuvent-ils contribuer à la cause?  

Family law studies show us that the diversity of choices relating to the private lives of individuals does not always mesh well with the prevailing norms in place in our society. In this video from the “Viv(r)e la recherche en droit” series, Michelle Giroux explores the evolution of family realities, noting that they are varied and they demand a dialogue between the law and our lived experience. For example, as part of a field survey conducted in France and Quebec, Professor Giroux studied the decision-making challenges that judges face related to assisted reproduction. To overcome challenges like these, Professor Giroux explains how the law can innovate to grant people more dignity.

The “Viv(r)e la recherche en droit” series explores legal research as a gateway to justice. The series illustrates how access to justice benefits from knowledge mobilization, and how access to knowledge drives justice mobilization.

We thank the Law Foundation of Ontario whose financial support made this series possible.

References and Useful Links
About the Researcher

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