Mercier Affair: helping his wife commit suicide is a crime


Jean Mercier, 87 years old, was condemned on October 27, 2015 by the correctional court in Saint-Etienne to a one-year suspended prison sentence for “non-assistance to a person in danger of death “, after having helped his sick and depressed wife commit suicide in 2011.

Josanne Mercier, 83 years old at the time, was suffering from chronic pain due to osteoarthritis (1) for the past three years. She had been depressed for 30 years and had already attempted suicide several times. Her husband attended to her care for numerous years, while he himself was suffering from Parkinson’s disease and prostate cancer. But on November 10, 2011, he finally relinquished to her request and helped her to ingest a large quantity of medicine, waiting until she died to call a doctor.

An active protestor for the Association for the Right to Die in Dignity and strongly supported by the president Jean-Luc Romero, Jean Mercier asserted several times that he didn’t have any regrets. Since 2015, he had however declared that it took him « infinitely more courage to perform this gesture, something horrible and very difficult, than it took for me to fight in Indochina.”

He was tried both for voluntary homicide, which was dismissed at the issue of the instruction, and for non-assistance to a person in danger of death (2). In November 2014, his lawyer pleaded a priority preliminary ruling on constitutionality, considering that the European Convention on Human Rights does not exclude assisted suicide and that France should legalize it. This priority preliminary ruling on constitutionality was rejected by the High Court in Saint Etienne on February 3, 2015.

The audience before the correctional Court of the same city was held last September 22nd. The prosecutor for the Republic considered that the offense constitutes a non-assistance to a person in danger of death, considering that Mr. Mercier could have called for help in the lapse of time between absorbing the lethal medicine and the death of his spouse: “He had the possibility to act which he did not do, because he was afraid to be reprimanded if she regained life”. The prosecutor requested minimum penalty of three years suspended prison sentence.

At the announcement of the verdict condemning Mr. Mercier to a one year suspended prison sentence, his lawyer considered that it was “an absurd decision” and announced that he would appeal the decision.


(1) Very common, osteoarthritis results from a breakdown of cartilage which covers the bone extremities in the joints. Affecting millions of French people, it becomes more frequent upon aging.

(2) Article 223-6 of the penal Code: “Whoever can prohibit by his immediate action, without immediate risk for himself or others, either a criminal offence or a felony against bodily harm of the person by voluntarily refraining to do so is punishable by five years of imprisonment and a fine of 75,000 €. The same punishment is applicable to those who voluntarily refrain from helping a person in need of assistance, whom without risk for himself or others, he could help either by personal action or by calling for help”.


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