Caregiver avoids jail time despite guilty verdict in starvation death of woman with Down syndrome

A woman in British Columbia has been convicted for playing a part in the starvation death of a woman in her care. However, though she was found guilty, she has avoided a jail sentence for her crime.

Astrid Dahl has received a 12-month conditional sentence to be served in the community after she was found to be involved in the death of Florence Girard, a woman who had Down syndrome. As Girard’s caretaker, Dahl was responsible for making sure that the woman ate, as well as taking her to the doctor. But when investigators were called to the home following Girard’s death, they found her severely undernourished, and later discovered that she hadn’t been brought to any of her medical appointments.

Court documents reveal that Girard weighed just 50 pounds at her death, and hadn’t been to the doctor in four years.

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According to the Vancouver Sun, a judge did find Dahl guilty of criminal negligence causing death. “The end of life of Ms. Girard occurred because she starved to death,” said Supreme Court Justice David Crossin.

However, Crossin determined that Dahl exercised her best judgment in refusing to feed Girard or bring her to the doctor, and therefore offered her a light sentence.

Caregiver Astrid Dahl

Girard’s sister, Sharon Bursey, said she was “heartbroken” over the ruling. “Everybody that’s in home care needs to watch out for the people that they love, because it’s obvious that if they’re in care it doesn’t matter to the government or to the courts. I’m just heartbroken,” she said. “I’m disappointed in the whole thing. It should have been at least 12 months or something. There’s no incentive for anyone to make anything different,” she told reporters.

Tamara Taggart, president of Down Syndrome BC, also spoke out against the ruling. “These people are paid. This is their job. This is their responsibility. So, you trust that they will provide the necessities of life,” said Taggart. “That didn’t happen for Florence. She starved to death. It’s absolutely horrific what happened to her. It’s every parent’s nightmare, every sibling’s nightmare, that this will happen to a person they know and care about and love.”

Sadly, the ruling demonstrates what can happen when the death of those with disabilities is already accepted within the culture.

British Columbia leads the country in euthanasia and assisted suicide deaths, and there have been reports of distressing instances in which people with terminal illnesses or disabilities were even pressured to commit euthanasia.


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