Doctor-assisted suicide survey 'designed to manufacture fear'

​A group pushing for a new federal law to govern doctor-assisted suicide is ripping into a federal survey gathering input on the controversial issue, saying its questions are designed to "manufacture fear."

Critics say government is using consultations and advisory panel to obstruct right to end one's life

Wanda Morris, centre, seen reacting in February with colleagues to the Supreme Court's physician-assisted suicide ruling, says a federal advisory panel's survey on the issue is designed to create apprehension by including things like questions about teenagers. (Chris Young/Canadian Press)

A group pushing for a new federal law to govern doctor-assisted suicide is ripping into a federal survey gathering input on the controversial issue, saying its questions are designed to "manufacture fear."

The questionnaire, launched Friday, is one part of an external process set up by the federal government to help respond to the Supreme Court of Canada's landmark ruling last winter on doctor-assisted death.

Wanda Morris, the chief executive of the group Dying With Dignity, said she's disappointed in the online survey, which she had hoped would seek information in an impartial, unbiased way.

"The federal government has moved from inaction to obstruction," Morris said Friday in an interview. "The questions are clearly designed not to elicit information, but to manufacture fear."

The Supreme Court's decision recognized the right of clearly consenting adults who endure intolerable physical or mental suffering and wish to end their lives with a physician's help.

One question in particular Morris cited dealt with the question of whether a hypothetical 17-year-old with a full and complete understanding of his or her condition should be able to receive a doctor's help to die.

But the Supreme Court decision dealt only with adults, not emancipated minors, Morris noted.

Advisory panel criticized

Last month, the Conservative government established a panel of outside experts to canvass the attitudes and opinions of ordinary Canadians and key stakeholders in order to establish key findings and options for the federal justice and health ministers to consider.

The makeup of the panel drew fire from a number of groups, notably the B.C. Civil Liberties Association, because two of its three members were federal witnesses who argued against assisted suicide when the case was heard.

The survey poses a question about people age 17. The Supreme Court's ruling only applies to adults, however. (ep-ce.ca)

Harvey Max Chochinov, the chairman of the external panel, dismissed Morris's concerns about the survey, denying that the panel is biased or that the survey is designed to sow seeds of doubt.

"For now, my interest is in getting as many Canadians as possible to go online and provide their perspective," Chochinov said.

"If the tool were biased, Canadians would see through that immediately. I would encourage them to go to the online tool and really to decide for themselves."

The panel's members have the utmost integrity and are taking their roles "very seriously," he added.

Tory MP wants issue on election agenda

In February, the high court gave Parliament one year to come up with a set of laws to govern assisted suicide.

Conservative MP and assisted-death advocate Steven Fletcher predicts the most likely outcome to the court decision is there will be no new federal law and provincial governments will wind up setting their own rules and protocols governing assisted death.

Conservative MP Steven Fletcher, who has been paralysed from the neck down for nearly two decades, gave solemn instructions to his surgeons before a dangerous operation in 2012. (Fred Chartrand/Canadian Press)

He is still pushing for the issue to be part of the election conversation.

The Winnipeg MP released a new book on Friday, Master of My Fate, that chronicles his own struggle to live with a catastrophic disability and his attempts to force Parliament to deal with the politically explosive issue.

Fletcher has a very personal connection to his cause.

In 1996, a run-in with a moose left him paralysed from the neck down and forced him to come to grips with the realization that "the body he inhabited — the body that was too strong to die — would at the same time have no strength to help death come for him," as he puts it in the book.

He faced it again in 2012 when the metal rod attaching his head to his spinal column became dislodged and pierced his throat, requiring dangerous surgery.

Fletcher, a cabinet minister at the time, made his own choice crystal clear to his surgeons: "If something happens during this operation that will damage my brain and leave me cognitively impaired, please stop the surgery and walk away from the table," he recounts in the book.

"I do not want heroic measures taken to keep me alive under such circumstances."


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