A suspended sentence for a Nova Scotia  woman convicted of aiding and abetting her friend’s suicide sends an ominous message across the country says the president of the province’s Campaign Life organization.

Herm Wills of Campaign Life Nova Scotia said a suspended sentence on an assisted suicide conviction puts out word that “mercy killing” practitioners can now set up shop in the province.

In October, Mary Jane Fogarty, 39, of Halifax was convicted of aiding the suicide of her friend Brenda Barnes, a diabetic who overdosed on insulin. Fogarty, the first person in Canada to be convicted of such an offence, faced a maximum 14-year jail term.

“All they have to do now is come to Nova Scotia if they want to put down their loved ones or others,” Wills told The Interim.

During the trial, Fogarty admitted to writing Barnes’ suicide note which left all of her friend’s possessions, including a $100,000 insurance policy, to Fogarty. She also admitted giving Barnes syringes, but said she had no knowledge of her friend’s plan to take her own life. Barnes, 36, was not terminally ill at the time of her suicide. She had attempted to commit suicide at least 35 times before  finally succeeding in May, 1994.

In suspending the sentence, Mr. Justice John Davison of Nova Scotia Supreme Court said Fogarty posed no threat to society. He added that a jail term would be inappropriate for Fogarty, an insulin-dependent diabetic, who has endured illness and abuse most of her life.

The judge did order Fogarty to perform 300 hours of community service. She was also placed on three years probation.

“To me the suspended sentence suggests it’s open season for those who want to attempt assisted suicide, euthanasia, or whatever they want to call it,” Wills said. “I know that’s an emotional response, but that’s just how I believe right now.”

Crown attorneys and pro-life supporters had looked to the Nova Scotia Supreme Court to provide some direction in the matter of assisted suicide. The Crown had sought at least a two-year sentence for Fogarty.

However, Anne Derrick, Fogarty’s defence lawyer, said the suspended sentence was entirely appropriate for her client. Derrick also defended abortionist Henry Morgentaler when he first attempted to set up clinics in Nova Scotia.

Wills, who said the suspended sentence was not unexpected in light of the growing tolerance for assisted suicide, called the decision another example of the “political correctness game.”