Thursday, December 23, 2010

The Aquittal of Stéphan Dufour is not an assisted suicide precedent for Quebec.

Yesterday, the acquittal of Stéphan Dufour for allegedly assisting the suicide of his uncle Chantal Maltais, was unanimously upheld by three judges on the Quebec Court of Appeal.

The Quebec court of appeal judges correctly stated:
assisted suicide is a specific intent crime and the Crown had to prove the accused had the intent to cause the death of his uncle. The judges noted Dufour didn't want his uncle to die and his limited intellectual capacities prevented him from resisting to pressures from Maltais any longer.

Assisted suicide is dealt with under section 241 of the criminal code of Canada. Assisted Suicide is when one person directly and intentionally, aids, abets or counsels another person to commit suicide, whether suicide occurs or not.

Cases, such as the death of Nadia Kajouji (18) whereby William Melchert-Dinkel had admitted to intentionally counseling Kajouji, via the internet, to commit suicide are clear, whereas Dufour had limited capacity, and he did not want his uncle to die.

Some people are falsely stating that the Dufour acquittal is a sign that the assisted suicide law will not be upheld in Canada.

The Dufour acquittal should not be treated as a precedent, but rather a sign that the law is being properly upheld.

From the beginning, based on the facts of the case, the Euthanasia Prevention Coalition (EPC) questioned whether Dufour's charge of assisted suicide was appropriate.

When Dufour was found not guilty (December 12, 2008), EPC stated:
The Euthanasia Prevention Coalition is convinced that this case is not a straight forward case, that there are questions as to whether Dufour intented or had the mental capacity to intend to participate in the death of his uncle - Maltais.

We are convinced that no precedent has been set in this case. The facts would lead one to question whether there was intention to break the law or whether the harassment by Maltais and his limted mental capacity was a reasonable limit on his intention.

When, on December 30, 2008, the Crown decided to appeal the acquital of Dufour EPC stated:
The Euthanasia Prevention Coalition (EPC) reacted to the acquittal of Stephan Dufour on December 12, 2008 by challenging the comments by the euthanasia lobby that this case was a precedent setting case. EPC recognized that Dufour set-up the suicide device for Maltais, his uncle, but he did so under extreme duress and did not encourage his uncle to commit suicide. EPC also considered Dufour's diminished mental capacity as a mitigating factor, making him less capable of resisting the pressure from his uncle.

EPC welcomes the appeal, if the Crown brings new evidence into the case but without new evidence this will only be a re-trial of a questionable case.

This case did not put assisted suicide on trial but rather the defense was based on the capacity of Dufour to break the law. This cannot be a jury nullification of assisted suicide but rather a question of Dufour's mental capacity to commit the crime.

Once again EPC does not consider this case to be a precedent setting case in Canada because it is riddled with mitigating factors that make its outcome uncertain under any circumstances.

On January 5, 2009, EPC agreed with editorial in the Montreal Gazette published that stated that the Dufour acquittal was not a precedent setting case and that the people of Quebec should reject assisted suicide.
The editorial in the Montreal Gazette correctly stated:
Dufour's case is staggeringly sad. The 31-year-old mentally-handicapped man was browbeaten by his uncle, Chantal Maltais, until he agreed to rig up a contraption which Maltais used to hang himself.

Maltais, crippled by polio, was confined to a wheelchair, but evidently could, and did, end his own life. He was able to get his way by abusing his nephew for weeks until Dufour agreed to help him.

One can easily understand why the jury acquitted Dufour. How could they condemn to jail a man described by a leading psychologist as socially, intellectually and emotionally a child. Under pressure, Dufour was three times more susceptible than a normal person, the psychologist said.

In acquitting Dufour the jury was surely acting out of a desire to spare an intellectually-incapacitated young man, more than from any wish to increase legal access to assisted suicide. But Dufour should never have been tried on this charge; he should have been declared unfit for trial. If supporters of assisted suicide choose this case as a template, they're in trouble.

EPC is concerned that the Dufour case will be falsely treated as a precedent, and seen as an example the court refusing to convict someone who assists a suicide.

EPC was concerned from the outset that charging Dufour with assisted suicide was an inappropriate charge.

Whereas, we question whether Chantal Maltais was given adequate support by society, EPC believes that based on the facts of the case, that justice has been done.

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