Consultation aims to strike a balance on assisted dying

Discussions on how to update eligibility requirements for medical assistance in dying are starkly different now that doctors have experience with the practice, says Justice Minister David Lametti.

“What exists now that didn’t exist in 2016 is a group of highly professional, highly caring and sensitive practitioners who have put into place practices for medical assistance in dying,” Lametti said.

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“We have four years of their collective experience,” he said. “And none of that was there before and I think there is a great deal of acceptance now also amongst providers.”

The federal government launched online public consultations this month to gather Canadians’ thoughts on key issues related to medical assistance in dying, such as eligibility, safeguards and advance requests. The survey closes Monday night (Jan. 27, 2020).

The government is working to comply with a Superior Court of Quebec ruling that concluded it is unconstitutional to allow only Canadians who are already near death to seek medical help to end their lives.

The Quebec court gave the government until March 11 to amend the current law, which took effect four years ago following a landmark Supreme Court of Canada ruling that struck down the previous prohibition on doctor-assisted death.

Lametti said he hopes to have draft legislation ready in February.

“Conceivably, we could ask for an extension,” he said, “but we want to see what the reaction is of our fellow parliamentarians or fellow members of the House of Commons. There might be room for consensus passage.”

If there’s sufficient consensus on the issues, he said, they could be dealt with in the coming round of amendments, rather than waiting for the parliamentary review.

“So we’re really just polling Canadians as best as we can to see if there’s a societal consensus on those other issues,” Lametti said.

“Otherwise we have a five-year review that’s going to start in June on those larger questions. We still plan to go ahead on that.”

The government’s online questionnaire suggests the amendments won’t be as simple as just removing the foreseeable-death provision. It asks Canadians to consider whether other restrictions should be implemented to ensure a balance between a person’s right to choose to end their life and protecting vulnerable people who could be pressured into early deaths.

The consultations are meant to help the government strike a balance between honouring the personal wishes of people to choose a peaceful and painless death, while protecting those who feel vulnerable, including Canadians with disabilities and seniors.

“We do have to strike an appropriate balance,” Lametti said, noting that there is “a sector of the population that sees itself as being vulnerable to being influenced.”

> As of Wednesday, 229,281 people had responded to the online questionnaire. The survey closes Monday at 11:59 p.m. PT. You can find it here: justice.gc.ca/eng/cons/ad-am/index.html

ceharnett@timescolonist.com

— With files from The Canadian Press

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