Humanist Perspectives: issue 153: Evelyn Martens Defence Fund

Evelyn Martens Defence Fund
by Paul Zollman

cover of Humanist in Canada, issue 152

cover of Humanist in Canada, issue 152

In November 2004,Evelyn was acquitted of two charges of assisting a person to commit suicide. The prosecution had viewed her case as a ‘model’ and poured extraordinary resources into it.

Shortly after her arrest, some of her friends in the Right to Die Society of Canada established a fund to cover the costs of her defence. Legal costs were estimated at $200,000 which was taken as the target for the fund.

From the outset, the fund faced several handicaps, the most important of which was the lack of media coverage. Except for British Columbia, coverage was virtually non-existent. We did not even have a membership list of the Right to Die Society as it was confiscated by the police together with most of Evelyn’s papers and her computer. Nevertheless, by the time of Evelyn’s acquittal we had managed to raise about $190,000, most of it through members of right to die societies in Canada and abroad. The balance was made up from loans provided by a few supporters.

Unfortunately, as often happens, the original projections proved somewhat optimistic. Shortly after Evelyn’s acquittal we were informed that the actual defence costs would be closer to $250,000 rather than the originally budgeted $200,000. Fund raising will, therefore, have to continue.

In Canada, publicity and organization remain the most serious problems. Canadian response has generally been good in places where adequate publicity has occurred (British Columbia) or where the Right to Die groups have many supporters (BC, Ontario). The publicity provided by the Humanist Association of Canada was also very helpful. (No information on individuals’ affiliation was collected.) With the exception of British Columbia, where Evelyn’s trial took place, there was scarcely any mention of the trial in the press or electronic media.

Not much media coverage of the trial in the USA was expected. However, many Right to Die Groups (particularly Hemlock/EOLC and ERGO) rose to the challenge. They publicized the trial widely and were major contributors to the Fund. We are particularly grateful to Hemlock for their generosity.

cover of Humanist in Canada, issue 152 web supplement

cover of Humanist in Canada, issue 152 web supplement

The response from outside Canada demonstrates the importance of interpersonal relations in our movement. Of donations from outside North America, the majority came from groups and individuals with whom some of us have personal contacts. This is also true of a number of contributions from individuals in the USA, many of whom have strong ties with Canada.

It is important to note that the enormous expenditure was not in vain. The trial has established that mere attendance at a suicide is not a criminal offence within the meaning of section 241(b) of the criminal code. This was recently reinforced in the very public suicide of Marcel Tremblay (in Ottawa). The police in Marcel’s case declined to investigate as they were satisfied that no assistance was involved in spite of the fact that many of his family (and a journalist) were present.

The fund has not done as well as we had hoped and considerable additional contributions (up to $60,000) will be required to retire Evelyn’s debts stemming from this unusually expensive trial. Consequently, while Evelyn has already been acquitted, the fund will have to continue soliciting contributions for some time to come.

Paul Zollmann is a retired information processing consultant. He and his wife, Deltry, now live in Almonte, Ontario, and for the past ten years have been very active in the movement for the right of individuals to manage their dying.