For the third time in as many years, a Quebecker has made headlines by assisting in the suicide of a sick loved one.

Stephen Dufour, 29, was arrested after police investigated the death of his uncle, Chantal Maltais who suffered from, depending on the news source, either polio or muscular dystrophy. Maltais was confined to a wheel chair and his nephew assisted him with day-to-day tasks that he could not do for himself.

Dufour’s lawyer claims that Maltais had been asking for help to commit suicide for 10-15 years.

Police say Dufour assisted in Maltais’s hanging suicide but some media reports suggest Maltais was too weak from his condition to even light his own cigarettes raising doubts about whether Maltais could have physically taken part in his own suicide other than to request assistance.

Alex Schadenberg, executive director of the Euthanasia Prevention Coaltion, said that considering Maltais’s physical state, the proper charge should not be assisting in a suicide but homicide. “Family members and the neighbours of Chantal Maltais reported that Maltais was physically unable to kill himself by hanging,” stated Schadenberg. “Since assisted suicide represents a case whereby one person assists the other to commit suicide, Stephan Dufour would have had to do more than just assist Maltais and has possibly been inappropriately charged with assisted suicide when the crime was possibly homicide.” Dufour’s lawyer maintains that his client was not present when Maltais is said to have killed himself.

The crime of assisting in someone else’s suicide is punishable with a maximum 14-year sentence. Recent cases of assisted suicide in Quebec, however, have seen the guilty parties receive sentences far below the maximum. In October 2006, Andre Bergson received a sentence of 3 years probation for helping his wife commit suicide. In January of 2006, another Quebec resident, Marielle Houle, received a similar sentence for killing her chronically ill son by administering a cock-tail of drugs, and then asphyxiating him with a plastic bag.

Schadenberg also complained about the media coverage of the Maltais case, particularly by the Canadian Press. “CP made no attempt to present the issue in a fair and unbiased manner. The news item appears to be about the supposed ‘need to change the law’ regarding euthanasia rather than the alleged assisted suicide death of Chantal Maltais.”

CP quoted euthanasia advocate Yvon Bureau who called for a Netherlands-like system where physicians aid in patient’s death.