Questionable judicial reasoning in Canadian assisted suicide case

Alex Schadenberg

Alex Schadenberg

By Alex Schadenberg
Executive Director - Euthanasia Prevention Coalition

The Hamilton Spectator reported that Herbert Dilts, who pled guilty to assisted suicide in the death of Brian Nelson (71) was given a suspended sentence by Superior Court Justice Patrick Flynn on April 17, 2015.

Whether or not it was reasonable to give Dilts a  suspended sentence, I am concerned about the reasons given for the suspended sentence. According to the Hamilton Spectator report Justice Flynn stated:

the court had "sympathy" with Dilts' decision when handing the 57-year-old Hamilton man a suspended sentence and two years of probation. He also cited a recent Supreme Court ruling striking down Canada's law against assisted suicide.

The spectator article stated that Dilts unsuccessfully assisted in Nelson's suicide and then refused to continue participating. Justice Flynn found this to be an important factor but the law does not require that the act be sucessful. Section 241 of the Criminal Code states:

"whether suicide ensues or not, is guilty of an indictable offence"

My primary concern relates to Flynn's reference to the Supreme Court of Canada assisted dying decision. On February 6, 2015 the Supreme Court struck down Canada's assisted suicide law, but they held the decision for 12 months. Further to that, the Supreme Court stated that assisted suicide must only be restricted to certain circumstances and done by a physician. Dilts is not a physician.

Link to the full article