Toronto Star

On assisted suicide, Ottawa isn’t listening

- BOB RAMSAY Bob Ramsay is a Toronto communicat­ions consultant and founder of Ramsay Talks. His wife, Dr. Jean Marmoreo, is on the medical advisory committee of Dying With Dignity.

Ottawa recently announced an expert panel who will consult with Canadians on doctor-assisted dying. This panel will guide the government in how to respond to the Supreme Court’s ruling in February that if you’re enduring intolerabl­e pain or mental anguish, you can ask a doctor to end your life.

On the surface, the expert panel, the consultati­ons and the reporting all sound laudable. But here, death is in the details. First the panel: there’s no doubt they’re all experts. In fact, psychiatry professor Harvey Max Chochinov, law professor Benoit Pelletier and disability advocate Catherine Frazee all have peerless reputation­s in their fields.

Unfortunat­ely, not only are two of these three — Chochinov and Frazee — outspoken opponents of the right to die with dignity; they were the very witnesses who argued in the Supreme Court on Ottawa’s behalf, against the right to assisted dying.

Visions of foxes in henhouses dance in my head. Imagine how comfortabl­e you’d feel in putting forth your model for assisted suicide to these panel members.

Actually, you won’t get that opportunit­y with the assisted suicide panel. Because there will be no conversati­ons allowed, let alone debate between the panels and the public — unless you intervened in the Supreme Court proceeding­s or are a medical group like the Canadian Medical Associatio­n.

I believe for the first time in Canadian history, all ideas will be limited to an online forum. I can see why Ottawa did this: assisted suicide is a hugely emotional issue, and what better way to tamp down those emotions than to forbid faceto-face contact and force everyone to the medium that strips emotion clean.

But before you can get onto the panel’s website and offer up your opinion, you’ll need to qualify first. Here’s what the website says: “In the coming weeks, the panel will launch a series of online tools, including an interactiv­e questionna­ire. Through these tools, participan­ts will be able to learn more about euthanasia and assisted suicide, as well as palliative care, and consider key perspectiv­es and issues, before providing their input to the panel.”

It seems the panel knows how outrageous this is when they ask in their own FAQs: “Why is the list of those individual­s and organizati­ons who will be directly consulted so limited?” Their answer? “The panel’s terms of reference state that all consultati­on activities, both direct and online must cease during the election period. Organizati­ons that could not be invited for direct consultati­ons because of the panel’s time constraint­s are encouraged to make a submission to the panel through the online consultati­on tool.”

So, to be clear: The Supreme Court decision came down on Feb. 6. It took Ottawa 161 days to set up their panel. The federal election is on Oct. 19 and the official election period must begin at least 36 days before the vote, i.e. Sept. 13. That means they have at most 58 days from July17, the day the panel was announced, to consult with the thimbleful of organizati­ons who are allowed to speak with them, and to read through all those online submission­s (including from First Nations, Inuit and Métis people who will also not be allowed to speak directly to the panel and who know a thing or two about suicide in all its forms).

The panel will submit its report to Ottawa “in the fall,” safely after the federal election.

Will the report be made public? No one really knows.

Will Ottawa be required to act on the panel’s recommenda­tions? Of course not.

Now we may rail that Ottawa’s tactics are undemocrat­ic, partisan, nasty, vindictive and worse. But such complaints are as water off a duck’s back. My complaint is different. I’m angry at Ottawa for the perverse politics of its approach to this crucial moral issue.

After all, a nationwide Ipsos Reid poll taken late last year revealed that 84 per cent of Canadians are in favour of assisted suicide.

That leaves the Tories appealing to a “base” of 16 per cent of Canadians, not nearly enough to win them a majority, let alone a minority in the upcoming election.

Worse still, this “most comprehens­ive Canadian survey ever undertaken on the public’s perception of dying with dignity,” also revealed that 85 per cent of healthcare profession­als support assisted suicide (no surprise), and that 85 per cent of members of the disabled community support it (big surprise), and that 83 per cent of Roman Catholics support it (huge surprise).

But the biggest surprise of all is in the support for assisted suicide from among Conservati­ve voters: 77 per cent of them are in favour of it.

Will the report be made public? No one really knows. Will Ottawa be required to act on the panel’s recommenda­tions? Of course not

 ?? ADRIAN WYLD/THE CANADIAN PRESS FILE PHOTO ?? Justice Minister Peter MacKay says panellists tasked with reviewing the highly controvers­ial issue of doctor-assisted suicide will not dictate the final outcome of the government’s response to the Supreme Court’s decision.
ADRIAN WYLD/THE CANADIAN PRESS FILE PHOTO Justice Minister Peter MacKay says panellists tasked with reviewing the highly controvers­ial issue of doctor-assisted suicide will not dictate the final outcome of the government’s response to the Supreme Court’s decision.
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