Assisted Suicide Case in Canada Concludes, Heads to Jury for Consideration

Bioethics   |   Steven Ertelt   |   Nov 4, 2004   |   9:00AM   |   WASHINGTON, DC

Assisted Suicide Case in Canada Concludes, Heads to Jury for Consideration Email this article
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by Paul Nowak Staff Writer
November 4, 2004

British Columbia, Canada ( — During final arguments in the case of a Canadian woman charged with aiding in two suicides, prosecutor Susan Rupertus told the court that the evidence strongly showed the accused broke Canadian law.

Evelyn Martens allegedly helped Monique Charest and Leyanne Burchell end their lives on two separate occasions. Both women contacted Martens, a member of the Right to Die Society, to help them with their suicides. Neither woman was terminally ill.

While Canadian law does not forbid the act of suicide, it does state that assisting in a suicide is a crime.

"This case is about aiding in a suicide," Rupertus told jurors. "The nature of their relationship [Martens, Charest and Burchell] was solely in the nature of euthanasia and suicide."

Martens’ defense attorney, Catherine Tyhurst, claims that her client did nothing wrong as there was no criminal intent. Tyhurst has shown that both women had decided to commit suicide before contacting Martens.

It has also not been shown the Martens provided the drugs Burchell used in her suicide.

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.

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.