Editorial: Opinions wanted on assisted dying

The federal government is asking Canadians about expanding access to medical assistance in dying to three groups: mature minors, people suffering solely from mental illness, and people who want to request it weeks, months or years in advance if certain conditions are met.

An online survey at justice.gc.ca specifically asks only about the last category, but the preamble identifies those three groups and they were also the focus of reports written for the government by the Council of Canadian Academies.

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The public was given only two weeks to complete the survey – the deadline is Jan. 27 – because the government is in a rush to meet a March 11 deadline set by a Quebec judge, who ruled the assisted dying law was unconstitutional in requiring a patient’s death to be “reasonably foreseeable.”

Even though the suspension of that provision would apply only in Quebec, Justice Minister David Lametti says the government is committed to updating the legislation across the country before the March deadline. His department is also committed to launching a review of the legislation in June, as originally planned, so it’s not clear how much the law will change in the near term.

Despite the hurried and confusing process, Canadians are deeply engaged on the issue, with almost 38,000 people filling out the survey in a single 24-hour period.

Apart from asking a pair of hypothetical questions on advanced requests for assisted dying, the survey focuses on potential safeguards “to protect against misuse or abuse” of the procedure for people whose deaths are not reasonably foreseeable. These safeguards are not currently in place in Canada, though some are in countries like Belgium and the Netherlands, where liberal euthanasia laws were passed in the early 2000s.

Some of the safeguards seem so obvious that it’s inconceivable they would be overlooked – making sure the person is aware of all means available to potentially relieve their suffering, including health and social support services; consulting with an expert on that person’s medical condition and circumstances; discussing the decision with family members if the patient gives his or her consent to do so.

The survey also links to a summary of the reports from the CCA working groups which studied the three categories being considered for possible access to assisted dying. The experts were sharply divided on many of the fundamental issues and the reports reflect those divisions, providing valuable data and insights.

Your opinions might be ignored, but the survey will give you an idea of where the government is heading with this and you’ll learn something if you peruse the 62-page summary.

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