Paul Tuns:

The left-leaning Canadian magazine The Walrus published a lengthy article on the pro-euthanasia lobby group Dying with Dignity Canada (DWD Canada) illustrating its influence on the government.

Written by Miranda Schreiber, “The lobby group that owns the conversation around assisted deaths,” the 3400-word in-depth report provided what Alex Schadenberg, executive director of the Euthanasia Prevention Coalition, called “important information about the financing and positions of DWD Canada.”

Schreiber describes DWD Canada as “the country’s biggest pro-MAiD lobby group” but that it is “so well-funded that it wields disproportionate power over the debate” which means “the voices of less powerful parties can be neglected.” She writes, “Some critics believe public conversations around MAID are skewed in Dying with Dignity Canada’s favour” and “when it lobbies to expand access to assisted dying, few have the resources to push back.”

DWD Canada lost its charitable tax status in February 2015 for “serious non-compliance issues” which led them to take an overtly political stance, just as Parliament was considering legalizing euthanasia and doctor-assisted suicide following the Carter decision. In 2018, they regained their charitable status after the Supreme Court threw out the Revenue Canada rules that restricted charities to spending no more than 10 per cent of their funds on political activity. That same year, DWD Canada received a $7 million donation from the estate of David Jackson, a Vancouver businessman. By comparison, in 2014, DWD Canada received a total of $946,000 in donations.

Duff Conacher, co-founder of the Democracy Watch, a left-leaning watchdog, told The Walrus, “Being handed $7 million without having to spend any money raising it would make any group (a) top lobby group (in Canada) right away on any issue.”

In 2020, while still registered as a charity, DWD Canada registered with the federal government as a lobby group.

Their activism has included hosting then Justice Minister David Lametti as a speaker, meeting with cabinet ministers to lobby for the passage of Bill C-7 in 2021, proposing amendments to Health Canada for changes to the existing law on so-called Medical Assistance in Dying, and making recommendations to the Parliamentary Special Joint Committee on Medical Assistance in Dying (AMAD) as it reviewed issues relating to euthanasia. DWD Canada’s activism has centered on expanding eligibility for MAiD including to “mature minors” and permitting advance directives to be euthanized, and how to assess and record euthanasia requests and deaths. While Dying with Dignity Canada was allowed to address AMAD, no national palliative care organization was allowed to address the joint committee.

DWD Canada also hosts webinars on euthanasia for physicians.

The Walrus reports that donors to DWD Canada now include, “TD Canada Trust, Rogers, Google Ads, Mackenzie Investments, Telus, Sun Life Financial, RBC, and Pfizer.” Pfizer, a large pharmaceutical company, Schreiber reports, “makes three of the drugs recommended by the Canadian Association of MAID Assessors and Providers to facilitate MAID.”

Schadenberg said, “The Euthanasia Prevention Coalition has built a large supporter base (and) some of our donors are making very generous donations, but unlike DWD we do not have large gift donors who are willing to make huge donations.”

Furthermore, Dying with Dignity Canada received $222,077 in government funding in 2020 and $204,655 in 2021, according to Charity Intelligence Canada. Jeff Gunnarson, national president of Campaign Life Coalition, told The Interim that “it doesn’t look right when an organization lobbying the government also receives money from the government it is lobbying.”

Schadenberg says “money buys influence,” noting Schreiber reported, “By virtue of its financial resources, Dying with Dignity Canada has a higher degree of access to politicians than most palliative care workers or activists are able to get.” Schreiber reported DWD Canada “works with prominent PR firms such as Blackbird Strategies and, previously, Impact Public Affairs.” These firms helped arrange 35 meetings with elected officials and non-elected officials in Ottawa in 2022 and 2023 as the government was considering how to implement euthanasia for mental illness and as it was carrying out a statutory review of MAiD’s implementation.

Trudo Lemmens, professor of law and bioethics at the University of Toronto, told The Walrus, “I don’t know of any bioethics’ debates . . . where the government has felt so comfortable appointing or basically promoting the view of specialists associated so directly with a lobby group in favour of one side of the issues.” Lemmens added, “Lobby groups and advocacy groups are obviously part of the political landscape,” but there should be “a certain distance between interest groups and decision makers” that seems to be lacking between the Trudeau government and Dying with Dignity Canada. Lemmens said DWD Canada, “established strong connections in the political and medical establishment (and) their strong funding base has enabled them to have a disproportionate impact on the legal developments and the public discourse.”

The Walrus reported that DWD Canada has 15 paid staff at its headquarters, 13 people on its board of directors, five advisory councils, and ten local chapters. Schreiber noted that many palliative care groups do not have the resources to match Dying with Dignity Canada when it comes to lobbying and “the power differential is even more extreme” for disability activists.