Evelyn Martens of Kelowna, British Columbia died on January 2, 2011. Evelyn was visiting family and grandchildren in Alberta during the Christmas holiday when she suddenly became ill. She died at Edmonton’s Misericordia Hospital a week before her 80th birthday.
Evelyn was born on January 10, 1931, in Swift Current, Saskatchewan, during the hardship of the Great Depression. At the age of 6 her father died, leaving the family destitute. For high school, Evelyn had one blouse and one skirt, which she washed daily. In grade 9 she left school to waitress and help support the family. She later worked in a liquor store and as a secretary. All of her life she devoted herself to caring for brothers, sisters, children, and grandchildren.
Evelyn married Jack Batsch in 1948 and together had a daughter, Millie. Jack died in the Korean war and in 1953, Evelyn married Ed Poelzer. They had 5 children:
Ed, Berny, Mark, Bart, and Les. They divorced in 1976. Evelyn had 14 grandchildren and 7 great-grandchildren.
A turning point for Evelyn was the death of her brother, Cornelius. He suffered with cancer for 2.5 years and died in 1988. Evelyn told CBC television’s Fifth Estate that Cornelius died in excruciating pain and that his “bad death” convinced her that there had to be a better way to die. In 1989, Evelyn moved to Victoria, BC, to join her daughter Berny.
By 1994 Evelyn was a Regional Advisor to the Right to Die Society of Canada. She later became membership director, provided member-support, and she participated actively in NuTech research for improved methods for self-deliverance. Evelyn was
a compassionate woman and believed nobody should have to die alone. Around 1997 she sat for the first time at the bedside of an individual who decided to end their suffering by a carefully planned suicide. When there was nobody else to support a dying person, Evelyn was there.
In 2002, at the age of 71, Evelyn was charged in the deaths of Monique Charest and Leyanne Burchell. She was the first and only right-to-die activist in Canada ever prosecuted for the offence of aiding suicide, and she faced a maximum penalty of 28 years in jail. In the small town of Duncan, BC, Evelyn stood strong through a preliminary inquiry that lasted from November 13, 2002 to June 12, 2003. The criminal trial started October 12, 2004. On November 4, 2004 a jury of 12 women and men found Evelyn not guilty.
Evelyn’s victory was celebrated by many Canadians who had come to see her as a caring hero with the courage to stand up for her convictions. Her solid legal defence by Catherine Tyhurst and Peter Firestone was funded by supporters from around the world who contributed to the Right to Die Society of Canada fundraising campaign.
Evelyn’s acquittal clarified that mere compassionate presence at suicide is not a crime in Canada. In 2005 the Humanist Association of Canada awarded Evelyn the prestigious title, Humanist of the Year. The World Federation of Right to Die Societies recognized Evelyn’s achievements with the 2006 Marilyn Seguin award.
Evelyn will be remembered for her sympathy, compassion, sensitivity, and sense of humour. She had genuine empathy for the suffering of others and she enriched the lives of all who met her.
Near Evelyn’s former Victoria home, a memorial bench is installed at Esquimalt Gorge Park. Its caption reads “Our Eagle: A Woman of Strong Convictions.” At her Kelowna home, a magnolia tree was planted in Evelyn’s memory.