Canadian Euthanasia Advocate Pleads Not Guilty to Assisted Suicides

Bioethics   |   Steven Ertelt   |   Oct 7, 2004   |   9:00AM   |   WASHINGTON, DC

Canadian Euthanasia Advocate Pleads Not Guilty to Assisted Suicides Email this article
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by Steven Ertelt Editor
October 7, 2004

Vancouver, Canada ( — Canadian euthanasia advocate Evelyn Marie Martens has entered a not guilty plea to charges of assisting in the suicide of two women. Her jury trial commenced on Tuesday.

In his opening statement, the prosecutor said that Martens’ own admissions will be used against her.

In the case of 64-year-old Monique Charest, a former nun, Martens had said she was present when Charest killed herself, and told and undercover police officer that they "had talked about it [suicide] a lot over two years."

Prosecutors added that another witness will testify that Martens helped Charest kill herself by putting a helium-filled plastic bag over her head.

Several such bags, called "exit bags" and promoted by euthanasia advocates, were found in Martens’ home and vehicle. Papers were also found identifying Martens as the Right to Die Network’s director of membership and publications.

Fellow member of the Right to Die Network and friend of Martens’, Brenda Hurn, Testified that witnessing Charest’s death was "surreal." She told the court that she had to take Charest’s cat into another room as it appeared to anticipate that her owner was about to die.

The other woman who committed suicide, allegedly with Martens’ assistance, died of a lethal drug injection according to prosecutors. Neither woman was terminally ill.

In Canada it is not illegal to commit suicide, but it is illegal to assist or counsel another to commit suicide.

Martens expressed hope that her case would establish a legal precedent to allow assisted suicide. Currently it is illegal to counsel or aid another in committing suicide.

"A Gallup poll says there’s 80 percent support for assisted suicide in British Columbia alone," Martens said in March 2003. "I hope it will help to change the law, so that every person has the right to choose their own destiny at the time of their choosing."

However, polling data has shown that support for assisted suicide in Canada is diminishing. Some polls even show that a majority of Canadians oppose the practice.

Pollara, a Canadian polling firm, conducted a survey in August 2003 that found that 49 percent of Canadians backed assisted suicide while 37 percent opposed it.

A 1997 poll taken shortly after Robert Latimer was sentenced for killing his disabled 12-year-old daughter, Tracy, found 70 percent of Canadians said assisted suicide was allowable in some circumstances and 60 percent favored legalizing it.

Pro-life groups have pointed out that the language used in the poll can make a difference in the results. For instance, a January 1999 poll for the Toronto Globe and Mail found that 56 percent of Canadians opposed assisted suicide.

Many of the polls that show support of assisted suicide are phrased to group that practice with providing better care for the terminally ill.

"Canadians don’t want to terminate the sick and disabled, they want to care for them," said Dr. Will Johnston of the Euthanasia Prevention Coalition.

"There is no consensus about so-called mercy-killing." Johnston stated. "But there is definitely a public consensus for better palliative care services to relieve the suffering of dying persons. That’s where we should be focusing our attention instead of frightening sick and disabled Canadians with proposals to eliminate them."

In a similar case, a Canadian woman has been charged with helping her son commit suicide last month.

Charles Fariala was found dead in his home, accompanied by his mother, Marielle Houle, who was in shock and had to be carried from the house. Houle had called 911 and reported her son’s death to the authorities.