OTTAWA — As Canadians are being urged to express their views before the government revises the law governing assisted suicide, about 200,000 people have made their feelings known via a federal government online survey, according to the Department of Justice.
The survey, which closes at 11:59 p.m. on Jan. 27, is seeking public input on how Ottawa will amend the Criminal Code surrounding assisted-suicide after a Quebec court ruled in September that the “reasonably foreseeable” and imminent death requirements to qualify for an assisted death are unconstitutional.
That court decision means the federal government must amend Canada’s medical-dying regulations by March 11. The existing law, passed in 2016, came with numerous restrictions, including that a person seeking a medical death must be an adult, mentally sound and facing imminent death.
The current law does not permit people with illnesses such as dementia to give advance permission to be euthanized after they become unable to make their own decision. According to the justice ministry, approximately 200,000 people had responded to the survey as of Jan. 20. Federal Justice Minister David Lametti told reporters he expects to have a new bill before the House of Commons by the mid-February.
Canadian Physicians for Life, an organization of pro-life doctors, is encouraging its membership to pay attention to the survey and respond to the questionnaire if they wish.
“We have reached out to all our members,” Canadian Physicians for Life executive director Nicole Scheidl said. “What we don’t do is tell them how to fill the survey out, that is up to each individual.”
An issue of significant concern to Canadian Physicians for Life is feedback from people who claim family members are being pushed by some doctors to consider assisted suicide, even against their wishes.
“What concerns us is the amount of pressure that family members can face to consider (assisted suicide) as an option,” Scheidl said.
While the Euthanasia Prevention Coalition (EPC) is urging its members to take part in the online survey, Alex Schadenberg, the executive director of the coalition, says the wording of the survey’s questions make it clear that the federal government is leaning towards a much more permissive law.
“The language of the consultation questionnaire is not great, nonetheless, the questionnaire does allow you to leave further comments,” Schadenberg said.
And he urges opponents of a legal medically-induced death to use that opportunity for further comments to express opposition to assisted suicide in all its forms.
Schadenberg is concerned the law will be expanded to permit assisted suicide for the mentally ill, youth and other vulnerable Canadians. He has posted a guide on the EPC website with suggestions on how people who oppose legal euthanasia should answer the survey.
One issue continually raised by the EPC is the lack of direct oversight of a system of checks and balances to ensure assisted suicide regulations are being followed. He wants a review to
“verify that the eligibility criteria and safeguards were satisfied and in place.”
Supporters of assisted-death are also encouraging people to speak out and pressure the government to pass a law that is as permissive as possible.
Alexandra Da Dalt of Dying with Dignity Canada said the government must “pursue a rights-based approach as it considers changes to the 2016 assisted dying law.”
Her organization wants advance requests to be included in any changes to the law.
“The current ban on advance requests unfairly prohibits many people with capacity-eroding conditions such as dementia from accessing their right to a medically assisted death,” according to Dying with Dignity Canada.