“Let’s not mince words: I killed people who wanted to die.”

Canadian euthanasia activist posthumously discloses serial murders

Sean Murphy*

John Hofsess, a long-time assisted suicide/euthanasia activist, committed suicide on 29 February, 2016 at a facility in Basel, Switzerland run by the Eternal Spirit Foundation.  He was accompanied by Madeline Weld (an editor of Humanist Perspectives) and four others, two of whom were filmmakers doing a documentary about his death.

Four days later, Toronto Life published Weld’s account of his death and his posthumous confession to having murdered at least four people between 1999 and 2001, including noted Canadian poet Al Purdy, and either murdered or assisted with the suicide of four others.  He abandoned the practice because it became too risky after police charged his accomplice, Evelyn Martens, with two counts of assisted suicide in 2002 with respect to the deaths of two women;  Hofsess states that he knew nothing them.  Martens was acquitted in a jury trial two years later and died in 2011.

Hofsess’ description of the method he employed in four of the cases (including Purdy’s) makes clear his clients did not kill themselves with his assistance; rather, he killed them with their consent.  Consent to being killed was not a defence to a charge of murder at the time; planned and deliberate homicide, even with consent, was first degree murder.  Consistent with this, he was advised by two lawyers that he could expect to be charged with “crimes ranging from assisted suicide to first-degree murder” if he published his account.

In Carter v. Canada, the Supreme Court of Canada decided to strike down the absolute prohibition of using consent as a defence to a charge of murder.  Under the terms of the ruling, a physician who kills a patient in the circumstances defined by the Court can use the patient’s consent as a defence to a charge of murder; in that case the killing is non-culpable homicide.  It remains first degree murder even under the terms of the Carter ruling if the client or patient is killed by a layman like Hofsess, even if the homicide otherwise conforms to the requirements of the law.

Hofsess was forthright in describing what he did.

“Let’s not mince words,” he wrote.  “I killed people who wanted to die.”

This is precisely what troubles health care workers who do not want to provide or to become accomplices to physician administered euthanasia or physician assisted suicide.  They do not want to kill people or help them commit suicide, even people who want to die.