Section 241 of the Canadian Criminal Code is being challenged by Evelyn Martens, a founding member and former membership director of the Right to Die Society of Canada.

Martens has been charged with aiding and counselling in the suicide deaths of Monique Charest, who died Jan. 7, 2002 in Duncan B.C., and Leyanne Burchell, who died June 26, 2002 in Vancouver. The trial for Martens begins Sept. 20 in Duncan. Martens intends to defend herself by asking the jury to ignore Section 241 of the Criminal Code and acquit her on the charges.

Section 241 of the Criminal Code, under the title Counselling and Aiding Suicide, states: Everyone who (a) counsels a person to commit suicide, or (b) aids or abets a person to commit suicide, whether suicide ensues or not, is guilty of an offence and liable to imprisonment for a term not exceeding 14 years.

Martens is also responsible for producing and distributing the $32 (US) – plus $10 (US) postage – “exit bag – suicide bag” for worldwide use. The exit bag has caused the death of people both in Canada and abroad, including Rosemary O’Toole of Dublin, Ireland. Irish authorities have indicated interest in extraditing Evelyn Martens in relation to the death of O’Toole.

The exit bag is not only an effective suicide device, but also works as a homicide device. On August 31, 2001, Herbert Lerner of Cote-St.-Luc, Que. (near Montreal) was sentenced to five years in prison for suffocating his wife Jenny with the plastic bag. Jenny Lerner had been diagnosed a few months earlier with Alzheimer’s disease. Her husband maintained that the asphyxiation was a mercy killing. But Quebec Court Judge Pierre Laberge rejected the mercy killing defence, noting that the woman was only in the earliest stages of Alzheimer’s disease.

Martens has indicated that it is her intention to challenge the law and is even willing to appeal her case to the Supreme Court of Canada, if necessary. The cost for such a trial would be very expensive and a fundraising campaign has been established to raise money for her defence. End of Life Choices, formerly the Hemlock Society, the largest American group dedicated to legalizing euthanasia, has committed itself to raising money for the Evelyn Martens defence fund. With End of Life Choices’ 30,000 American members, it is capable of building a multi-million-dollar yearly budget.

The Martens defence fund is currently working to raise $200,000 to cover her current legal defence and is hoping to raise significantly more money to continue her cause to the Supreme Court of Canada.

Martens’ defence is based on striking down Section 241 of the Criminal Code. The section protects people who experience depression and teenagers from being counselled, or aiding or encouraging someone to commit suicide. If the section is struck down, then the law will not act as a deterrent to stop people from promoting, encouraging or helping others to commit suicide. Some experts have warned that without Section 241, there will be a proliferation of internet suicide sites in Canada.

The Euthanasia Prevention Coalition is concerned that American euthanasia activists are raising money to overturn Canadian laws in order to make Canada a “safe haven” for euthanasia and assisted suicide in North American. Canada would become a North American Switzerland. There are numerous reports indicating that two-thirds of assisted suicide deaths carried out at the Dignatus clinic in Switzerland are international suicide tourists and not Swiss citizens.

If Section 241 is struck down by the courts, as Martens is attempting to do, then Canada will be effectively unable to stop suicide clinics from being established and could become a destination for suicide tourists.

The Martens trial is expected to last six to eight weeks. The Euthanasia Prevention Coalition is developing a strategy that will include a consistent media message. The hope is that by maintaining a consistent strategy, we can ensure a more balanced media representation of the case. The EPC believes we are facing the strongest challenge yet to Canadian laws on euthanasia and assisted suicide.

The Evelyn Martens case raises serious concerns in relation to defending our current law. Martens is currently 74 years old and doesn’t appear to be a threat to public safety. Both of the women whom she assisted in their suicides were believed to be mentally competent (some of the information indicates serious signs of depression existed in one or both of them). The reality is that she is a prime candidate for being made into a media darling.

The EPC has organized a Euthanasia Symposium on Sept. 25 at the Plaza 500 Hotel and Convention Centre in Vancouver. The cost to attend the symposium is $25 per person. We are asking supporters to donate $25 if they cannot attend the symposium, to allow students and people with disabilities to attend at no cost. The purpose of the symposium is to educate, inform and prepare people and to implement an effective strategy to influence public opinion in relation to the Martens case.

The EPC is also in need of financial support to enable us to implement an effective strategy. We have been successful in the past by prompting an investigation into the exit bag and by having a successful petition campaign opposing the use of the royal prerogative of mercy for Robert Latimer.

To register for the Euthanasia Symposium, or to support the Euthanasia Prevention Coalition – Evelyn Martens strategy, send donations to: the Euthanasia Prevention Coalition, Box 25033, London, Ont., N6C 6A8. Or call toll free: 1-877-439-3348.