Canadian Woman Charged With Assisted Suicide in Son’s Death

Bioethics   |   Steven Ertelt   |   Oct 8, 2004   |   9:00AM   |   WASHINGTON, DC

Canadian Woman Charged With Assisted Suicide in Son’s Death Email this article
Printer friendly page

by Paul Nowak Staff Writer
October 8, 2004

Montreal, Canada ( — A Canadian woman has been charged with helping her son commit suicide. While suicide is not illegal in Canada, assisting or counseling another to kill themselves is punishable by up to 14 years in prison.

Charles Fariala was found dead in his home last month, accompanied by his mother, Marielle Houle, who was in shock and had to be carried from the house. Houle had called 911 and reported her son’s death to the authorities.

The cause of death could not be immediately determined, though the there was no external injuries according to police.

Houle’s lawyer said his client will maintain that her actions were driven by compassion.

"My client is extremely shaken and she will say it over and over again she acted strictly out of compassion," Salvatore Mascia told reporters outside the Montreal courthouse after Houle was arraigned.

Fariala had been diagnosed with multiple sclerosis, according to neighbors, and was just beginning to show signs of weakness, though he was still able to work and walk. While it can be devastating, multiple sclerosis is not life-threatening according to the MS Society of Canada.

Another Canadian woman charged with assisted suicide is currently on trial, though details of the trial are unavailable due to a gag order on the proceedings.

Evelyn Martens has been charged with aiding Monique Charest, a former nun, to commit suicide in January 2002, as well as related charges in the death of Leyanne Burchell in June 2002. Both women were thought to be terminally ill.

Martens expressed hope that her case would establish a legal precedent to allow assisted suicide. Currently it is not illegal in Canada to attempt suicide, but it is illegal to counsel or aid another in committing suicide.

"A Gallup poll says there’s 80 percent support for physician-assisted suicide in B.C. alone," Martens said in March 2003. "I hope it will help to change the law, so that every person has the right to choose their own destiny at the time of their choosing."

However, polling data has shown that support for assisted suicide in Canada is diminishing. Some polls even show that a majority of Canadians oppose the practice.

Pollara, a Canadian polling firm, conducted a survey in August 2003 that found that 49 percent of Canadians backed assisted suicide while 37 percent opposed it.

A 1997 poll taken shortly after Robert Latimer was sentenced for killing his disabled 12-year-old daughter, Tracy, found 70 percent of Canadians said assisted suicide was allowable in some circumstances and 60 percent favored legalizing it.

Pro-life groups have pointed out that the language used in the poll can make a difference in the results. For instance, a January 1999 poll for the Toronto Globe and Mail found that 56 percent of Canadians opposed assisted suicide.

Many of the polls that show support of assisted suicide are phrased to group that practice with providing better care for the terminally ill.

"Canadians don’t want to terminate the sick and disabled, they want to care for them," said Dr. Will Johnston of the Euthanasia Prevention Coalition.

"There is no consensus about so-called mercy-killing." Johnston stated. "But there is definitely a public consensus for better palliative care services to relieve the suffering of dying persons. That’s where we should be focusing our attention instead of frightening sick and disabled Canadians with proposals to eliminate them."