As Canadians await the next round in the Robert Latimer story, another “mercy killing” case has caused some unease among pro-life organizations and those working with the disabled.

The case involves the drowning last November of six-year-old Charles-Antoine Blais of Montreal by the child’s mother Danielle. The child suffered from autism, and the mother, citing depression, anxiety and a lack of services available to parents with disabled children, felt there was no recourse but to end the life of her child. The woman later attempted to commit suicide.

After an original charge of first-degree murder, the Crown proceeded with a manslaughter charge and asked for a minimum three-year sentence. Although Danielle Blais pleaded guilty to the manslaughter charge, a Quebec judge rejected the three-year prison term in favor of a 23-month suspended sentence.

The judge argued that a jail term would not deter other depressed or suicidal persons from taking similar action. Blais also received sympathetic treatment from the secular media and from the president of Quebec’s autism society.

Describing Blais’ life as “a nightmare,” Peter Zwack of the Quebec autism group said the woman should not have faced first-degree murder charges and should not have been faced with the possibility of a prison sentence.

Many in the media have responded to the death of Charles-Antoine Blais by citing the heavy burdens facing parents of disabled children. They criticize government social service cutbacks as a major contributing factor in the death of the innocent six-year-old.

While recognizing the importance of social services to the disabled and their families, officials with disabled rights’ groups are concerned about the lenient treatment extended to Danielle Blais.

Jim Derkson, an official with the Council of Canadians with Disabilities (CCD), said the Blais case, and a similar situation in British Columbia, send out the wrong message to Canadians.

“The unmet needs of people with disabilities is always an issue, however we must be very vigilant when we relate this issue to the murder of people with disabilities,” Mr. Derkson said. “The murder of a person with a disability must be treated in exactly the same manner as the murder of a non-disabled person.”

The CCD also warned against the media’s tendency to blame institutions for the actions undertaken by individuals. While services to the disabled may be deteriorating, the CCD says, this cannot be used as justification for killing people with disabilities.

This has long been the view of Mark Pickup, one of Canada’s most prominent voices for the disabled. Pickup, who has multiple sclerosis, has noted a tendency to treat handicapped persons differently from able-bodied Canadians.

He said families and individuals caring for the disabled deserve support and sympathy. They should not however face a different standard of justice when the chose to end the lives of those under their care.