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bulletEditor's Comment
bulletMontreal woman charged with aiding suicide  Son's mother Marielle Houle  assisted suicide
bulletDo not push gently into that good night



". . . I believe physician assisted death is the `radical rejection of human dignity' and the antithesis of compassion. Attempting suicide and assisted suicide, are poles apart. Tragically, many suffering from feelings of hopelessness and depression, have gone to their grave feeling useless, unwanted, rejected and abandoned - people who otherwise could have been helped. It would be an absolute tragedy to validate assisted suicide and eliminate the suffering person, rather than seeking ways to eliminate the suffering. Let us focus on the quality of love, compassion and care we bring to the suffering and promote aid in living."  Cheryl Eckstein

Editor's Comment:

I can't think of anything more hopeless than to have a mother help their son or daughter believe there is no hope and that it is better for them to be dead.  I can not conceive in my mind how a mother - any mother could agree to such a crime.  Just what could be worse? 

Many question why the mother helped her son kill himself ... why she supported her son's decision to take his life and why neither seemed to have sought help.  She worked in healthcare and must have known about the various groups who could help. How does a nurse's aide obtain enough drugs to kill?  Such an act is not impulsive, it takes time to plan. I believe both bought into the lie, that all was hopeless.

I am a chronic pain patient. I am well acquainted with  pain - suffering and disappointments.  Many of my symptoms mimic MS - (spastic muscles, hearing and visual problems - at times I have difficulty walking without the aid of a cane).   Over the years the symptoms have increased -  I have experienced a lot of pain, cognitive problems - often called a "fog", (I sometimes wonder if maybe I am also in the first stages of Alzheimer's)  and serious disabling fatigue. (Thankfully, with medication my pain is manageable)  Every single night for over 3 years, my fever mysteriously rises to over 100 degrees.  Every single morning I wake up in a drenched bed- including my pj's.  One symptom that is very hard to bear is when I am in the sun I break out in hives all over my body ... the hives feel like they are burning into my skin and the itch is unbearable.  This happens within a minute of exposure and no matter how well I am covered, it doesn't matter. Thus, my daytime outings have seriously diminished.  One of my absolute favorite hobbies is gardening.  I find it hard not to grieve the loss of being able to go out whenever I want.  Also, physically I am no longer able to tend a garden.  

The combination of symptoms led to depression.   I kept hoping the diagnosis was wrong and that it was just a flu  - I was in deep denial.  I was certain that I would wake up the next day and have my old life back.  It took some time for me to finally accept that I was very ill.  I also knew that without help, depression will keep me in an utter state of hopelessness.

I have had to learn how to let go of  many of the things I was able to do in the past. One major loss is my ability to practice my favorite pieces on my grand piano.  Before I founded The Compassionate Healthcare Network, I was a classical concert pianist and teacher.  Now when and if I am able to sit and play, it is only for a short time, and I must choose more simple compositions. Yes, I've done my fair share of grieving.  I cannot stress enough how important it is to have help from compassionate and positive people.  Compassion literally means "to suffer with."  I am blessed to be loved and cared for by a most compassionate husband.

I have learned to take each day that the Lord gives me with gratitude.  There is no doubt in my mind that I could not go through what I do without my faith in the Lord. And I rejoice knowing that I am still made in His Image -- and I still believe in miracles.  

 "The Lord is my strength." 

I have no idea how others cope without faith - without strength from God.

Just as I believe all life comes from God, I believe all strength comes from our Creator and Lord, it is just some have not yet given Him the glory.  Many will suffer without receiving the strength they need because they won't ask Him. I tell you truthfully, He has been with me when I grieve, for Who knows more about suffering than Jesus?

Suicide is the extreme and final act of hopelessness.  It is critical to know depression is nothing to feel shameful about ... it is not a sign of weakness -  and it is completely treatable and curable - lastly, no one should suffer alone in silence.

When one is struck with illness it is also critical to have positive family and friends supporting you.  I have learned from those who love me, that it is okay that I am a burden at times to them.  When we open our hearts to others and express our need, we will find burden-bearers who are willing to help.  No one is assured of living in great health ... none of us know when illness or accident could come upon us and alter our lives forever.  MS is not a death sentence!  It is not fatal disease.  

Mark Pickup lives in Alberta Canada, I think he knows much more about MS than a lot of physicians, because he has MS! Mark is truly one of the most compassionate men I have ever met.  His words have greatly encouraged and helped me.   I want to encourage readers to go to his web page where you will get a different perspective on this disease.  Mr Pickup's page ->  I also wish to encourage the media to contact Mark for interviews.

Also MS Canada has a newsletter.  See  or see MS International,

It is exactly 10 years ago today (October 4, 1994) that I appeared before the Senate of Canada, to oppose the legalization of assisted suicide and euthanasia. On that day I also gave a personal testimony which can be read in its entirety  on CHN: Archives  At that time I was very healthy and not disabled.  Today, I wish to repeat the final paragraph from that statement which I still strongly believe and hold to -- 

 I believe physician assisted death is the `radical rejection of human dignity' and the antithesis of compassion. Attempting suicide and assisted suicide, are poles apart. Make no mistake ladies and gentlemen, many suffering from feelings of hopelessness and depression, have gone to their grave feeling useless, unwanted, rejected and abandoned - people who otherwise could have been helped. It would be an absolute tragedy to validate assisted suicide and eliminate the suffering person, rather than seeking ways to eliminate the suffering. Let us focus on the quality of love, compassion and care we bring to the suffering and promote aid in living.  

Cheryl Eckstein, CHN October 4, 2004.



Marielle Houle should actually have been charged with euthanasia (second-degree murder or manslaughter). Houle didn't stop at giving him the lethal drugs, she tied his hands and put a plastic bag over her son's head to asphyxiate him, Ironically, Houle's attorney Salvatore Mascial  opined on the ruling, “This is actually the first case that I’ve seen charged this way. I’ve seen other cases where the charge is murder.”

Alex Schadengerg of EPC had this to say:

Marielle Houle was given a sentence of 3 years probation for assisting her son Charles Fariala to die. The Euthanasia Prevention Coalition will be asking the Minister of Justice of Quebec to review the sentence of Marielle Houle. We understand that extenuating circumstances exist for Houle, but are concerned that the current sentence provides no deterrent for others who may follow Houle's lead. In fact, Houle should have been charged with second-degree murder or manslaughter. According to the evidence, Houle placed the plastic bag over her son's head and tied it tight. By doing so, she didn't simply assist the act but she committed the act, which is murder in the criminal code. Fariala was experiencing the early stages of MS and according to his friends, seemed very depressed. Fariala needed positive emotional and psychological support from his mother, not death.


Montreal woman charged with aiding suicide

Last Updated Mon, 27 Sep 2004 19:13:26 EDT

MONTREAL - A Montreal woman has been charged with aiding and abetting in a suicide in the death of her playwright son.

Marielle Houle was charged on Monday, after Charles Fariala, 36, was found dead at his suburban Montreal home on Sunday morning.

Carrying a box of tissues, the 59-year-old nurse's aide made a tearful appearance in court Monday afternoon before being released on bail.

Her lawyer, Salvatore Mascial, says Houle confessed to police on Sunday that she had helped her son take his life.

"This was not an easy act for my client and you saw her condition in court today," said Mascial.

Fariala, whose play Victoria, about a woman's aging and dying, is due to be performed at the National Arts Centre in October, was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis last year. His friends say he had trouble walking and had spoken openly about committing suicide.

bulletCBC Archives: Sue Rodriguez and the Right-To-Die Debate

Mascial won't say exactly how Fariala died, but police said he had no external injuries.

"Did it involve drugs? You could perhaps come to that conclusion," said Mascial.

Laying charges of assisting in a suicide and not first-degree murder in such a case could be groundbreaking, he said.

"This is actually the first case that I've seen charged this way. I've seen other cases where the charge is murder," said Mascial.

An assisted suicide case is currently before the Vancouver courts. A 74-year-old woman is facing 14 years in prison on two charges of assisting two women to commit suicide.

Written by CBC News Online staff

MS group worries suicide sends message about disease
MONTREAL - Officials with the Multiple Sclerosis Society are worried about the message people might take away from the death of Charles Fariala.  

The group says Fariala's death sends a bad message to people who are diagnosed with a serious illness.


bulletRELATED STORY - Playwright's mother charged in suspected assisted suicide
The suspected suicide sets back the efforts of people who try to educate the public about multiple sclerosis, says society spokesperson Diane Rivard.  

"What it tells people now, is that MS is so terrible, there's no need to continue living," Rivard says, noting that people afflicted with the disease can have a good quality of life.

Rivard says Fariala's death saddened people around her office. She says she and her co-workers are going to have to work to educate people that being diagnosed with MS is not the end.  "We are going to have to work very hard, even harder, to change the negativeness of that message," Rivard says.  

Approximately 12,000 Quebecers suffer from MS, and three out of four people with the disease do lead a normal life, Rivard says.

Playwright's mother charged in suspected assisted suicide
MONTREAL - The woman accused of helping her son commit suicide is not being charged with first-degree murder.

Marielle Houle faces one count of aiding and abetting in a suicide.
Marielle Houle is escorted from courthouse following her release(CP photo)
Her lawyer says her part in ending Charles Fariala's life was an act of compassion.


bulletCBC ARCHIVES - Sue Rodriguez and the Right-To-Die Debate


Houle's 36-year-old son was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis last year, and it was no secret.


Fariala had told his friends he wanted to end his life before the disease progressed.


"The victim was extremely, extremely suffering. He was in great pain," says Salvatore Mascia, Houle's lawyer.

Mascia says that's why Houle decided to help her son commit suicide.


He won't say how the nurses' aide did it, but he suggests drugs were involved.


"My client—and she'll say this again and again—acted strictly out of compassion," Mascia said.


Her actions left her shaken and sobbing in the court room Monday.


bulletINDEPTH: Assisted suicide


It was expected she would be charged with first-degree murder, but the crown opted for a charge that Mascia says is rarely used.

"I think it's the appropriate accusation," Mascia says. "Assisting, encouraging someone to help take away their life."

Mascia believes this is the first time someone who assisted in a suicide has faced this type of charge.

The offence of aiding a suicide carries a maximum sentence of 14 years, and has no minimum sentence.

Houle will be back in court in October.  



Do not push gently into that good night


I have spent most of the past three weeks inside a hospital room, watching a person I love fight for his life.  

It is in this frame of mind — raging helplessly against the ever-mutating cleverness of disease, how hungrily and with such stealth malignancy hovers, circles, teases, even retreats just long enough to kindle hope — that I come, with outrage, to the reignited debate of assisted suicide.

Torn from the current headlines, it's a trendy issue. But morally hollow. So profoundly abominable that it provokes in me a fury I can barely control.

Death is never a mercy. To characterize death as merciful is to invest it with nearly altruistic qualities, with tenderness, which is a kind of anthropomorphizing, as if death has a personality and we can alter its features, render it more kindly, make of it even a friend.

Merciful death — it was for the best ... at least he's not suffering any more — is but a shallow platitude, seized upon most eagerly by those who cannot otherwise admit their own relief in being released from the exhausting burden, emotional and otherwise but essentially vicarious, of illness and infirmities and frailty; of how awful life looks, wasting and desiccated and necrotic, when it's trickling away.

This is, I think, the unbearable heaviness of being.

Of growing old and feeble, or not even so old but terribly sick, losing one's faculties, one's mobility, one's mind — reverting, yes, to the helplessness of infancy. But it is inevitably the healthy who recoil from this, as if even death were a preferable alterative to such dependency and deterioration.

We project our revulsion — which is essentially rooted in fear of our own mortality — and convince ourselves that somebody else would be better off dead because look, just look, at how wretched their existence has become or will become. And that says a great deal about the value that we subtract from a life when it is no longer vigorous and productive; when it just lies there, maybe thinking, maybe dreaming, maybe remembering.

Little wonder that the sick and dying begin to see themselves as valueless, too, abhorrent, ashamed, unworthy because they can no longer walk or talk or feed themselves.

It is precisely the lame, the enfeebled and the despondent who most need our protection, our gentling, to assuage their pain and respect the essence of their being. This essence is not held hostage to the ravages of the flesh.

A mother who helps a son take his own life — as that misguided woman in Montreal last week, her son just 36 and only in the early stage of multiple sclerosis, is charged with doing — has, if she did it, committed both a crime and a grievous sin. Suicide is the murder of self. Assisted suicide is just plain murder, however some might rationalize it as a supreme act of compassion.

It takes gall — or guile — to call what this woman did selfless love.

She must not be absolved for it, out of mercy.

There's an immense difference between declining to apply extraordinary life-extending measures — respecting do-not-resuscitate orders — and intervening not merely to hasten death but to inflict it. Abetting suicide in the irreversibly ill or the utterly incapacitated is not a kindness; it's an abuse of power.

This young Montreal man was not incapacitated, although he was surely depressed, and chronic depression crushes reason. He had an illness that couldn't be cured, that would assuredly get worse. But he wasn't in insupportable physical pain and he could have lived a productive life — one that contained pleasure and curiosity and wisdom — for decades, with MS, as have hundreds of thousands of other Canadians.

What he needed was a professional to treat the sadness and fatalism that had settled in his bones. The last thing he needed was a mother in emotional thrall to his deranged thinking or seduced by his need to bail prematurely from an envisioned existence he could not, in that agitated state of mind, bear to contemplate.

Don't speak to me about opinion polls that show most Canadians favour a legal option for helping someone to die. This is not a question that can be posed in the abstract, and then answered in the affirmative by those not immediately or imminently facing that acute, bewildering, agonizing dilemma. The young and the healthy are in no position, certainly shouldn't be, to tilt the debate from the depth of their beautiful, enviable ignorance. More illuminating, more intuitively informed, are the views of physicians and palliative care professionals and those involved with disabled people's organizations who are, in the main, strongly opposed to both euthanasia and assisted suicide.

Do not harm is the core code of doctors. That is the antithesis of beckoning death.

It is not in our nature to truly imagine ourselves, or those we love, at the fraying end of the mortal coil. We're only pretending, and the real thing isn't like pretending at all. We might think we know what we'd want for ourselves or for those we care about, but believe me, we do not. I've seen enough of dying — in all its grotesque manifestations and most especially in those who never saw it coming — to have learned that nobody, no mentally lucid human being, is ever eager to depart this world.

It is indeed different for those who aren't lucid, for those in unspeakable pain, and those so intractably depressed that life doesn't seem worth living. But physical pain can nearly also be effectively managed, in this advanced society, and those unable to think clearly should not be making this most irreversible of all decisions for themselves.

Killing the terminally ill or the dreadfully enfeebled must never become the expedient thing to do, dressed up as pity. It must not be legislatively condoned, even that we know full well that it happens in furtive ways, sometimes with physicians involved. There are occasions when it's better to leave some things unexamined.

The moment we condone murder — assisted suicide — even for those just tenuously still attached to life, we set ourselves upon a wicked path, one where the worth of a person is measured empirically. Assisted suicide begets euthanasia and a society that makes intellectual peace with euthanasia is one that puts at risk every human being in it, but most especially the constituency of the vulnerable: The grievously ill, the chronically ill, the mentally ill, the unproductive, the economically draining, the recidivist, the subversive. Maybe you, maybe me.

I put my hand to my father's cheek — but only when he's sleeping because we are not a family that touches — and I feel the warmth of a living person. I feel a heart beating for all the damage that's been done to it. Not even the stench of gangrene assaulting my nostrils can occlude the sweetness of life still being lived. I am so pitifully grateful for every day, for every minute, for every breath.

It's the sadness that must be borne. Sadness and anger and impotence and fatalism — all the emotions that combine to plant in a person's mind the seductive belief that it's better to rush toward death in one final damn-you rebel yell, an assertion of individual will. As if to say, I am the master of my fate.

None of us is. And none of us will make it out alive.

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