Thousands of responses to medically assisted dying survey swamp government website

In just over 24 hours, more than 37,900 Canadians filled out the federal government's new online survey on changing the assisted dying regime, according to the office of Justice Minister David Lametti.

The federal government has given Canadians two weeks to weigh in on changes to the assisted dying law

Federal Justice Minister David Lametti. A Department of Justice online survey on medically assisted dying has been overwhelmed by thousands of responses. (THE CANADIAN PRESS/Ryan Remiorz)

It seems a lot of Canadians have something to say about medical assistance in dying.

In just over 24 hours, more than 37,900 people filled out the federal government's new online survey on changing the assisted dying regime, according to the office of Justice Minister David Lametti.

The survey received so many replies, in fact, that the government's website has been struggling to keep up.

"We are aware that some people have experienced intermittent technical issues with the online questionnaire, due to the high volume of submissions," reads a notice on the Department of Justice website.

"If you are unable to submit the survey at this time, we encourage you to try again shortly. We apologize for the inconvenience."

Seeking feedback

Faced with a looming court deadline, the government has given Canadians just two weeks to weigh in.

One of the survey questions asks whether it should be mandatory for a patient to receive a third medical consultation with an expert before receiving permission to obtain a medically assisted death.

The survey also asks whether the federal government should change the length of the current 10-day "reflection period" between requesting and receiving a medically assisted death. (Exceptions to that 10-day period can be made for a patient whose condition is quickly deteriorating.)

Lametti, along with Health Minister Patty Hajdu and Employment, Workforce Development and Disability Inclusion Minister Carla Qualtrough, are also conducting roundtables on the law across the country.

In September, a Quebec judge declared parts of the federal and provincial laws on assisted dying unconstitutional.

Quebec Superior Court Justice Christine Baudouin said one portion of the federal law — requiring that a patient must face a "reasonably foreseeable" death before seeking medical assistance in dying — violated Canadians' charter rights. She gave the federal government six months to pass new legislation before the "reasonably foreseeable" criteria is suspended.

Lametti said the government hasn't ruled out seeking an extension from the court.

Contentious criteria

Even when the medically assisted dying law was first passed in 2016, some groups argued the "reasonably foreseeable" rule was too restrictive.

On Monday, Power & Politics host Vassy Kapelos asked Lametti whether the government made a mistake by not heeding those concerns at the time.

"I don't know if it was right or wrong,"  Lametti said, adding the government sought to strike a balance between individual autonomy and the need to protect vulnerable Canadians.

"We now have four years of experience. We now have a better, I think it's fair to say, a greater degree of acceptance across Canada of the practice of medical assistance in dying."

Outstanding issues

The government is still trying to deal with three questions left unaddressed by the new law: whether to allow Canadians to make advance requests for their own deaths, whether to grant so-called "mature minors" medically assisted deaths and whether the procedure should be available to those suffering solely from mental illnesses.

The government already has three independent reports on those issues, commissioned from the Council of Canadian Academies. The online consultation also asks for feedback on allowing advance requests.

"If there are any other issues that generate consensus at this moment, then we will consider adding those to the legislation as well," Lametti said.

If there's no immediate consensus, those questions will be part of a parliamentary review of the law and the state of palliative care in Canada, expected to begin in June.

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