The House resumed from May 2 consideration of the motion that Bill , be read the second time and referred to a committee.
Mr. Speaker, I am here today to talk about an issue that touches the lives of every Canadian—how we die. It is not an issue we usually like to discuss, but with the Supreme Court's decision in the Carter case, it is now at the forefront of our government's political and health agenda. On February 6, 2015, the Supreme Court of Canada unanimously declared that the criminal court prohibitions on physician-assisted dying were constitutionally invalid. Changes will come into effect on June 6 of this year. All governments are preparing to respond.
Consultations with the public have made it clear that there is extensive support for the provision of medical assistance in dying. An Angus Reid research poll that was published earlier this month found that 90% of Canadians surveyed think that some form of assisted dying should be allowed. The government takes the Supreme Court of Canada decision seriously.
It is a deeply felt and sensitive issue for all Canadians, and we understand it is essential that implementation of this new legislation be undertaken with careful consideration. That is why the government has developed a framework based on empathy, appropriate protections for vulnerable Canadians, and the need for choice. Careful consideration has been given to the eligibility criteria, substantive and procedural safeguards, and recommendations for monitoring and reporting.
I also want to make it clear, however, that medical assistance in dying is not to be the only choice for a peaceful, dignified death. No matter where people stand on the issues surrounding medical assistance in dying, they all agree that we must improve palliative care. Palliative care is a multidisciplinary approach to health care for individuals and families who are living with a life-threatening disease as well as other conditions. It focuses on improving quality of life through the prevention and relief of physical and psychological suffering, with treatment plans tailored to the needs of the patient and the family.
Reports about the status of palliative care in Canada suggest that the delivery of and access to palliative care and hospice care varies greatly across Canada. This is due to differences in regional demographics, societal needs, organization of health care services, and levels of funding.
When asked, most Canadians indicate that they would prefer to die at home in the presence of loved ones. There is clearly a need to bridge this disconnect and for all levels of government to support the needs and desires of Canadians at the end of their lives to receive the most appropriate, timely, and compassionate care. The gaps in palliative care have been raised repeatedly over the years by a number of organizations. It is very clear that Canadians are looking to their governments for leadership to close these gaps.
In the past, palliative care in Canada has been delivered primarily in hospitals by specialists, and largely to cancer patients in the last stages of their illness. While many people still associate palliative care with hospitals and cancer patients exclusively, it can be delivered to a variety of patients and in different settings, including long-term care facilities or even one's own home.
It is estimated that the health system is currently unable to provide palliative care to 70% of those who could benefit from it. This is why our government is taking immediate steps to address this gap and work with the provinces and territories so that more Canadians have access to the care options that are right for them when they need them.
The government is currently funding the Pallium Foundation of Canada to support training in palliative care to front-line health care workers, and this initiative is complementing a previous initiative called the way forward. This is aimed at integrating a palliative-care approach throughout the health care system and across a range of providers and settings.
The federal government has also supported a number of initiatives to improve public awareness: health care professional education and training, national best practices, and standards and research. Federal investments in research also expand the depth and breadth of understanding of end-of-life-care issues and how best to address them.
Recently, the federal government provided $14 million over two years for the Canadian Foundation for Healthcare Improvement to support applied health services research, as well as the foundation's work to identify savings and efficiencies in the health care system, including a palliative care component. In budget 2016, the government also committed to making compassionate care benefits easier to access, more flexible, and inclusive for those who provide care for seriously ill family members, and more flexible parental leave benefits to better accommodate unique family and work situations.
As with other health care services, delivery of palliative care is mainly the responsibility of the provinces and territories. While each province and territory has some level of palliative care services, with some moving ahead with frameworks or strategies, there are wide variances both within and between jurisdictions. Many are focusing on integrating palliative care with other types of care across settings and services. However, Canadians' ability to access palliative care remains mixed, depending on where one lives.
The Government of Canada has committed to developing non-legislative measures that would support the improvement of a full range of options on end-of-life care. In the discussions with provincial and territorial governments toward developing a new health accord, our government has committed to provide $3 billion over the next four years to improve home care, including palliative care.
I firmly believe my own experiences with end-of-life care are not unique from those of thousands upon thousands of Canadians. Losing my grandfather John, my mother, Gaye, and my Aunt Babs is something that has never left me. These people were titans in my life. My mom and Aunt Babs taught me everything I know about being passionate and determined, about giving of oneself to others, and about what it means to be a woman. They both had such a profound effect on every day of my life. I am here totally because of their legacy of excellence.
Both of these women, who were so strong and committed to family and community, were so harmed as human beings by diseases that ravaged them. I learned what it meant to sleep on the floor day after day because they were afraid to be alone. I learned how to administer morphine and Ativan and that, if they even whimpered, I was to give more, as that meant they were still being torn apart inside.
I learned how to raise or lower a home hospital bed. I learned how important palliative care is, to have access to it, but these are things I wish I had never had to learn. From all of them, I learned in those last days that there was no peace; there was only pain. There was no dignity, only terrible uncertainty. There was not nobility in their suffering. I learned pity.
I am proud to stand in the House today and express my support for this critical piece of legislation. Not only does it respond to the decision by the Supreme Court of Canada in terms of amending the Criminal Code, but it also provides an excellent framework to facilitate the necessary changes to our health care system, which responds to this decision.
Our government has listened to Canadians. Our government has listened to the experts. We have developed an approach that we believe reflects this input. It is now time to move forward with this legislation so that individuals, families, and health professionals have more options for end-of-life care, including medical assistance in dying.
Madam Speaker, I am thankful to be able to add my voice to the discussion on Bill , medical assistance in dying.
The Supreme Court of Canada has put what I perceive as an inappropriate timeline on this House in regard to this legislation, because it has come to the conclusion that the Criminal Code of Canada is unconstitutional in making it illegal for anyone to cause the death of another person who consents to die or to assist a person to end their own life.
In speaking with a very concerned constituent last week who was in law school when the charter was enacted, the comment was made that the university law professors of the day assured a troubled graduating class that what is actually happening today would never happen.
We are now in a place where, in attempting to guarantee every person their charter rights and freedoms, we are endangering the rights and freedoms of others. A synergy of wisdom and selflessness is needed in balancing what is perceived as best for me in relation to what is best for others. Just because we can, does not mean we should.
As well, in determining if we should, it seems to me the wise approach would be to look at those who already did, and regret. This would require learning from recent history rather than pretending that what we are doing is somehow progressive, when it has already been proven to be a regressive decision elsewhere.
The Supreme Court has chosen to ignore its own previous decision on the issue, along with six different parliaments that have previously rejected assisted suicide. It appears that the plumb line is not what is best for society and humanity as a whole, but rather what is the latest progressive trend that is putting the strongest pressure on how we live and relate as a society.
I have been a pastor's wife, and a caregiver in hospitals and level 4 care homes. I have worked in a mental illness hospital. I have been an education aid for special needs children in kindergarten and high school students.
I am the daughter of a father with Alzheimer's, the grandmother of a high-achieving grandson with autism, and I have a loved one who is suffering with mental illness. I, too, am well aware of life's challenges. My personal belief is that life is sacred from conception to natural death, and the protection of the most vulnerable in our society must always be the determining factor in how we choose to govern and make laws in Canada.
This is the expression as well that has been sent to me over and over again from constituents in my riding and across Canada, and today we need to have a debate in this House that is very balanced and presenting all views from all people in Canada.
Life is challenging, and dying, far more often than not, is difficult for the one passing away and in some ways even more so for those experiencing end of life alongside the individual who is dying. I believe there is value in that as well.
The misfortunate reality of Bill is that it will cause far greater grief than it will appease. Making something legal does not make it morally right. People who request a physician-assisted death can be motivated by a range of factors unrelated to their medical condition. These factors can make some people vulnerable to request assisted death when what they want and deserve is better treatment and palliative care.
It needs to be pointed out that the Belgian euthanasia law does not apply to non-competent patients and it does not allow the deliberate shortening of their lives. The Belgium euthanasia law system, which Bill mirrors, has been proven to be abused and insufficient to monitor the decision-making process.
For example, the Journal of Medical Ethics published a research article written by Raphael Cohen-Almagor, a human rights activist and chair of the politics department at the University of Hull. His article “First do no harm: intentionally shortening lives of patients without their explicit request in Belgium” focuses mainly on published data concerning the practice of causing death without patient request in Belgium.
The research indicates that the practice remains common, resulting in over 1,000 hastened deaths without request each year, or 32% of the cases of euthanasia. Moreover, in almost half of those cases the doctors refused to report the matter to the overseeing body, despite a legal requirement to do so.
This example clearly shows the legislation is lacking an oversight by an independent third party before the patient is put to death. Sadly, but realistically, the safeguards in Bill are likely to be insufficient and ineffective in real life conditions.
Furthermore, Bill applies to those with physical or psychological illnesses who are experiencing enduring and intolerable suffering as a result of their medical condition. Our focus must first be on raising the quality and availability of high-quality palliative care as the humane way to relieve pain, loneliness, and fear for the end-of-life patient and to provide encouragement, direction, and support for loved ones through the natural process of end of life. Bill C-14 does not require a palliative care route be entered upon first, neither does it require the patient to have tried other treatments before requesting medical assistance to die.
As well, I am still deeply concerned for our medical professionals who have contacted me in great numbers who could face severe consequences if they do not assist an individual to take their own life, for whatever reason. No one in our country should be forced to affirm or provide a service that goes against their conscience. The federal government's law leaves this crucial issue for the provinces to deal with, allowing even more interpretations of the general wording.
There should be a structured national system to address the cases when a publicly funded health care organization or separate doctors are unwilling for any reason to provide aid in dying when the patient has requested it.
Furthermore, the bill extends the amendments to the Criminal Code for medical practitioners, nurses, and registered practical nurses. Such an approach is broader than any other jurisdiction in the world and makes it impossible to create a transparent national system.
It is necessary to take into consideration the psychological factors that Bill would actually influence and encourage. The secularism of our courts affirms a premise that everything is socially constructed, and as a result laws greatly shape the ethos of culture, affecting cultural attitudes toward certain behaviours and influencing moral norms. Medical assisted dying laws send a message that in certain conditions suicide is a reasonable and appropriate way out. The problem is that this message will be received not only by those who have painful, terminal illnesses, but also by those who are tempted to think they can no longer go on.
A study by David Jones and David Paton proved that legalizing assisted dying in other states has led to a rise in overall suicide rates, both assisted and unassisted. This greatly undermines the work of suicide prevention organizations and programs.
As the Conservative deputy critic for veterans affairs and a member of the veterans affairs committee, I believe legalizing assisted suicide would only increase the challenges of providing mental health care and suicide prevention initiatives for those suffering from post-traumatic stress injuries.
I agree with my Liberal colleague from who spoke last evening that the government should at the very least postpone legalizing assisted death for at least five to 10 years, until it is absolutely clear what sort of impact it would have in all corners of Canada. His concern is well founded in regard to fighting the suicide spirit that needs to be healed on our reserves in Canada.
Another report in Current Oncology from 2011 summarized that euthanasia in the Netherlands has changed significantly in the 30 years since it was first adopted. It has shifted from medically assisted dying for people who are terminally ill to those who are chronically ill, from physical illness to those who suffer from mental illness, and then to those who suffer the psychological distress of mental suffering, and now to euthanasia of those over 70 who are simply tired of living.
The culture now is that euthanasia becomes expected while palliative care and functional hospice is gradually portrayed and felt to be “selfish”. That is a quote from the UK Daily Mail on September 24, 2013.
This implicates that the bill would not only affect those making a rational and deliberate choice to end their lives, but would also have a significantly wider impact on those who are required to provide such a service or their privilege and right to work in the medical field could be challenged, and also on wider social groups as a whole.
When facing a choice, which we are with the bill, where should the priority for us as legislators be? The imposition by the Supreme Court of Canada to invoke such controversial legislation, which is proven to be failing in other countries; the approach of the committee to manage witnesses and to make recommendations that go far beyond the Carter decision; and the need to first of all institute high-quality palliative care as an intrinsic value and an actual clear priority of the government are all valid reasons that I feel I cannot support Bill .
Madam Speaker, I am pleased to speak in support of Bill , which would address medical assistance in dying.
The government has listened very carefully to Canadians and reflected upon the invaluable contributions of the special joint committee of members of the House of Commons, senators, the external panel, the provincial-territorial expert advisory group, and many others throughout our nation.
The bill appropriately recognizes the autonomy of Canadians to choose medical assistance in dying, while also protecting vulnerable persons and respecting the Carter decision of the Supreme Court of Canada.
My remarks will focus upon the eligibility criteria and procedural safeguards, which together represent the heart of the bill.
As the has stated, the bill is aimed at addressing the issues raised by the Carter decision. The government has committed to collecting and analyzing evidence regarding how medical assistance in dying is working in practice and considering the findings of independent studies into additional issues that were not addressed in the Carter decision, which will be launched after the bill is passed.
Given the fundamental societal and medical issues that medical assistance in dying raises for our country, a cautious approach is in fact warranted. The stakes are just too high.
The bill contains five key eligibility criteria.
First, the bill would also require that the person requesting medical assistance in dying be at least 18 years of age and be capable of making decisions with respect to their health.
Several witnesses before the special joint committee, including the Canadian Paediatric Society, noted that medical assistance in dying raised unique considerations when it came to young people. Assessing a minor's capacity to decide to seek medical assistance in dying is difficult when the stakes are so high and the decision is irreversible.
Importantly, the committee also heard that there was in fact no Canadian pediatric data regarding requests for medical assistance in dying from young people or whether pediatricians would be willing to participate in this procedure. Prudence and common sense support further study of this very difficult issue.
With respect to capacity, this requirement means people must be able to confirm their choice at the time the medical assistance in dying is in fact provided. Therefore, the bill would not permit what are commonly called “advance requests”.
Permitting medical assistance in dying to be administered to a patient who is unable to express his or her wishes increases the risks of error and abuse. People who cannot express their wishes may want to continue living, even though they made a request at an earlier point in time.
Simply put, an advance request takes away the right of people to change their minds when they lose capacity.
The proposed approach also recognizes that physicians and health professionals frequently struggle with interpreting and applying other evidence directives in general. Advance requests for medical assistance in dying would be even more complicated to administer. Clearly, there is a need for further study and evidence concerning advance requests.
The bill also contains eligibility criteria that people make a voluntary request for medical assistance in dying and that they do so with the benefit of fully informed consent.
These requirements are common sense.
Medical assistance in dying must not be an alternative in situations where patients might prefer a different treatment, but are not aware of it or they do not know their diagnosis or its likely trajectory. Nor must it be the product of external pressure or the person's belief that he or she is a burden or unwanted.
Next, the bill would require that the person be suffering from a grievous and irremediable medical condition. This is defined term that has several characteristics, including the condition is serious and incurable; the person is in an advanced state of irreversible decline in capability; the condition is causing the person enduring suffering; and the person's natural death has become reasonably foreseeable in all of his or her medical circumstances, without requiring a specific prognosis.
The bill intends to permit medical assistance in dying as a choice for Canadians whose lives are on a path toward their end. As the Supreme Court suggested in various places in Carter, medical assistance in dying is similar in nature to forms of end-of-life care, such as palliative sedation, or the withdrawal of life-saving treatment. This definition is intended to allow for flexibility for physicians and nurse practitioners to consider all of the person's medical circumstance.
Bill is clear that no specific prognosis of time remaining is required. Moreover, a person could qualify based on the cumulative effect of multiple conditions or medical circumstances that individually may not be fatal, but when taken together make the person's death reasonably foreseeable. For example, people in medical circumstances similar to those experienced by Kay Carter, Gloria Taylor, Sue Rodriguez, as well the people who have obtained individual constitutional exemptions across Canada since the Supreme Court's ruling this past January, would all be eligible under this bill.
However, medical assistance in dying is not a solution to all forms of medical suffering. Such an approach would raise unacceptable risks, particularly for vulnerable people throughout our society. Take the example of someone who is exclusively suffering from a physical or mental disability, but who is otherwise in good health and whose natural death is still many years away. Making medical assistance in dying available to people in these circumstances risks reinforcing negative stereotypes of the lives lived by Canadians with disabilities, and could suggest that death is an acceptable alternative to any level of medical suffering or disability. This risks undermining our efforts to combat suicide, a pressing public health problem that affects not only those who die by suicide, but also their families, friends, and overall communities.
Next, to ensure that Canadians can have confidence that medical assistance in dying is administered appropriately, the bill also contains the procedural safeguards generally in line with those recommended by the special joint committee. These measures would ensure that requests for medical assistance in dying would be made in writing, witnessed by two independent persons, and that there would be a 15-day wait period to guard against people making a decision too quickly, which cannot be reversed. In respect of the waiting period, there would be flexibility for situations where a person's death or loss of capacity was imminent.
Most important, the eligibility of the person would have to be assessed and confirmed by two physicians or nurse practitioners who are independent of each other. The person would also have the right to change his or her mind about receiving medical assistance in dying, including just before the procedure would be administered. These safeguards will be effective at protecting Canadians but will not be so burdensome that they will impede access.
Finally, the bill would require that the person be eligible for health services funded by a government in Canada. This requirement exists to ensure that Canada does not become a destination for people from around the world who visit the country solely for this purpose by obtaining medical assistance in dying. However, recognizing that Canadians often move from one province to another or sometimes live abroad for significant periods, the bill includes an exception to this requirement to ensure these people would not be excluded solely because they are subject to a waiting period or residency requirement for public health care.
Medical assistance in dying is one of the most challenging and complex social and legal issues of our time, particularly given our society's aging population. However, the government has embraced this challenge and has listened carefully to the diverse perspectives of Canadians.
The bill before Parliament today was crafted with both compassion and clear thinking, and represents thoughtful and principled legislation. It promises the autonomy of Canadians to choose medical assistance in dying, protects vulnerable persons, and respects the Supreme Court's decision.
I call on members of the House to support this bill.
Madam Speaker, I want to begin my remarks by acknowledging the delicacy, sensitivity, and grace that the subject before us requires. The subject matter of this debate, assisted dying, raises issues of the most profound importance, indeed of life and death.
They engage our deepest sentiments not only as parliamentarians but as humans. They involve our conscience, our morality, our ethics, our values, our philosophies, our spirituality, our individuality, and our dignity. I believe we must approach these issues with the utmost care, compassion, and respect, because Canadians have diverse and deeply held views on this matter, all worthy of consideration and deference.
The context of the debate is clear: death is feared, suffering is feared, loss of control is feared. With the advances in modern medicine, people today can, and indeed must, contemplate living without an acceptable quality of life, of being alive but not living, of possessing basic bodily functions without agency, without dignity, without hope.
At the same time, we fear the diminution of the sanctity of life, of the possibility of abuse of the vulnerable among us, embarking on a slippery slope that challenges long-standing foundational tenets of respect for the preservation of human life. This debate is about a fundamental collision of values, one which is based on the instinct to live and to preserve life in all instances, and the other premised on the right to control our inevitable passing as an inherent aspect of our individualism and personal liberty.
I hope that we treat the issues involved in this debate with the compassion and respect that they deserve, because we must simultaneously balance the notions of death with dignity with life with dignity. There will be no right or wrong here. There is only the possibility of compromise, understanding, and moving forward with as much wisdom and sensitivity as possible.
In many ways, we have taken an unfortunate path to the present. We are here by virtue of the legal process. It was based on a rights-based analysis and decision engendered by the mandate of a court, quite legitimately, because of a charter-based argument that challenged criminal provisions as violating individual constitutional rights.
We are not here because of a discussion based on faith, or conscience, or ethics. This has left many Canadians feeling rushed and robbed of the kind of full debate that perhaps ought to have been conducted on a matter of such social depth. As such, we are here debating not if, but how assisted death might best be implemented.
However, I do take comfort in the fact that the Supreme Court of Canada arrived at its decision unanimously, something that does not commonly occur. This gives me confidence that the most learned jurists in our nation were certain that we, as parliamentarians, can and must construct a system that allows Canadians to seek and obtain the assistance of their medical providers in ending their lives in tightly defined circumstances.
I would like to address my comments and thoughts on two areas: palliative care, and key aspects of this legislation. I am the health critic for the New Democratic Party and, as such, I approach this issue not only from a values or ethical or moral perspective, but from a health care point of view. I believe one of the most central aspects of the debate before us must revolve around palliative care. If we are honest, we will acknowledge that we as a nation have failed to construct the range and quality of end-of-life care that is essential to provide Canadians with the confidence they need to live their lives to the fullest extent.
We as a society have been remiss, slow to develop a system of palliative care that is so essential when we contemplate end-of-life issues. If we are to do our best to create the conditions where Canadians avail themselves of assisted death only in the rarest of circumstances, we must focus on achieving a number of things.
We must create pain-management programs to ensure that we have the widest possible resources to make everyone comfortable, regardless of their medical condition or proximity to end of life. We must develop home care resources to ensure that folks, especially seniors, can live their remaining days in the comfort of their personal surroundings, communities, memories, friends, and families.
We must construct palliative units across our country that allow people who are approaching their end to have environments that are comfortable, enriching, graceful, and interesting, and where spouses, children, families, and friends can be together in respectful private settings. They should have the very best medical care a developed country like Canada can muster. If we were to invest in world-class palliative care, we would likely see relatively few Canadians seeking assisted death.
Regardless of where one is placed on this debate, I think we all agree that we should be trying our best to encourage all Canadians to choose to live their lives to the fullest. This bill, the government, and its recent budget have thus far failed to identify and provide the resources needed to make a world-class palliative care system a reality in this country. Talk is not enough, and this must change. As New Democrats, we will work ceaselessly to press the government to allocate the resources necessary to build a world-class palliative care system across Canada. We will press the governments of every province and territory to work together to ensure that this system is available to all Canadians, regardless of where they live.
I have some key observations.
I personally believe that competent adults have the right to determine the conditions of their passing in the circumstances identified by the Supreme Court, namely where they face a grievous and irremediable medical condition that they find intolerable, and with a carefully designed and secure process that ensures their wishes can be ascertained with certainty. To the extent that this legislation deviates from that decision, it must be amended.
If it is truly the case that the prime successful litigant in the Supreme Court case, Ms. Kay Carter, would not be permitted a physician-assisted passing under this legislation, that is patently wrong. I believe we must tread extremely cautiously in this area and move very deliberately.
While I have listened carefully to those who favour a broad expansion of assisted death beyond the Supreme Court's careful parameters, I do not agree. In my view, care and caution are required in such delicate matters. Very difficult considerations accompany the issues of mature minors, psychological suffering, and advance consent. I believe it is the wisest course to engage fully with Canadians prior to legislating in these areas. We are moving from a society that has observed criminal sanctions for suicide and assisted death for centuries, to one which is constructing a system in response to the circumstances presented to the Supreme Court in the Carter case. In my view, this is sufficient for the moment, and we ought to focus our efforts on ensuring that the Carter principles are properly enshrined in law.
As the father of a child with special needs, I want to ensure that every vulnerable Canadian is fully protected with respect to all circumstances in this area. I am sympathetic to those who fear a slide down a slippery slope that puts vulnerable Canadians at risk, and I agree that we must ensure tight parameters are in place to prevent this. I believe that we can and must explicitly ensure that medical personnel and institutions have their rights of faith and conscience fully protected. Just as I believe that Canadians who wish to exercise their charter rights to access assisted dying must be respected, so too must those who choose not to be involved in such matters because of their faith or values not be compelled to do so. The constitutional rights of some Canadians must not be enforced at the cost and by the diminution of the constitutional rights of other Canadians.
I further believe that faith-based health institutions are direct extensions of the faith communities and groups that sponsor them and, as such, constitute expressions of values that are eminently worthy of protection. I believe we can ensure that all Canadians have access to their Carter rights while also protecting the equally important rights of those who may have conscientious objections to participating in any way in them.
In the end, it is my fundamental conviction that we as parliamentarians can and must craft legislation that reflects the best of who we are as Canadians: people who cherish individual rights and liberties, people who care deeply about each other, people who are compassionate and concerned with justice, and people who are dedicated to making our society one that is ruled by law, by wisdom, and by respect for all.
I will do my very best to reflect these values as we craft this important legislation for Canadians.
Madam Speaker, I rise today to speak to Bill , the medical assistance in dying bill.
To me, it is legislation that reflects where society is today. It is the right one for where the majority of Canadians are, and provides a strong foundation on which to build. It recognizes the inherent and equal value of every life, and honours the dignity and autonomy of an eligible person to choose medical assistance in dying under well-defined rules and conditions.
The introduction of this bill is big and represents a fundamental change in how we as Canadians view the right to life, liberty, and security of the person in Canada.
I confess that this is not an easy issue for me to talk about, but it is an important one to the residents of Davenport, the riding I am honoured and proud to represent. We as a society do not talk very much about death. It makes us nervous, and so this bill, which creates a framework to enable access to medical assistance in dying in Canada to those who are eligible, is a particularly sensitive topic.
I want to acknowledge that I have a large Catholic community in my riding, and many who believe that only God can decide when one dies, that death should be left in God's hands. On the other side, I have a number of groups within Davenport that think the proposed legislation does not go nearly far enough. Recognizing the blessed diversity of opinion, I invited community leaders to meet with me to discuss Bill , to hear from them their specific concerns.
What I found was that I had to remind many of them that in February 2015 the Supreme Court of Canada unanimously, all nine members, voted to strike down the sections of the Criminal Code that made it illegal for anyone, including a doctor, to cause the death of another person who consents to die, or to assist a person to end his or her own life. I reminded them that the Supreme Court proclaimed that the prohibition on physician-assisted dying infringes on the right to life, liberty, and security of the person in a manner that is not in accordance with the principles of fundamental justice.
The Supreme Court gave the government a certain amount of time to introduce legislation. That date is currently June 6, which is why we are here today. Just as an aside, I was curious to see how many times the Supreme Court actually voted unanimously, and it has done so only 35 times since 1979.
There was no question that medical assistance in dying would become legal in Canada. What had to be determined is what kind of legislation we were going to introduce.
The Supreme Court's decision meant an important shift in our society's perception of personal autonomy. It signalled that a person's sense of dignity is intricately tied to how one perceives his or her quality of life. The decision to allow Canadians the choice of medical assistance in dying sheds light on the evolving role of our health care system and the role of patients in decision-making.
Canadians are looking to their doctors and nurses to provide health care, and to help them maintain their quality of life. However, when that quality is no longer attainable, Canadians want to know that their health care providers will also help them when their choice is a dignified end to their lives.
In addition to the consultation, I have received many letters from residents in Davenport. There are those who believe there should be no legislation at all, others who think that the proposed bill is not strong enough in protecting the conscience rights of doctors or in protecting the most vulnerable, and a further group who worry that the legislation does not go far enough, that we as a government have been too narrow in our interpretation of the Supreme Court decision. I will address all these concerns in the next few minutes.
Let me first address those who do not believe there should be any legislation. What many may not understand is that if the Liberal government does not create a new law by June 6 of this year, it means medical assistance in dying is legal if it is conducted in a way that adheres to the considerations outlined by the Supreme Court in its Carter ruling. Canadians would then not have any national framework and no law, which in my opinion would lead to a wild west, where it would be up to any one person's interpretation of the Carter decision and a situation that I believe would be open to abuse.
In introducing Bill , the Liberal government purposely created legislation which as narrowly as possible adhered to the Supreme Court decision. It is narrow because this bill is meant to be a first step. It is meant to ground the legislation properly.
The legislation would do three things. It would allow physicians, nurses, and those who help them provide assistance in dying to eligible patients without the risk of being charged. It would also provide safeguards to make sure that those who receive medical assistance in dying are eligible, can give informed consent, and voluntarily request it. Finally, it would lay the foundation for the Minister of Health to make regulations to establish a process for monitoring and reporting on the use of medical assistance in dying.
I will pause for a second to reiterate the first point, because as mentioned, many have written to me to express their concern that the legislation as drafted does not protect the conscience rights of doctors. I want to be clear that there is nothing in the legislation that compels any medical practitioner or authorized nurse practitioner to provide medical assistance in dying or to refer a patient to another medical practitioner. The legislation is meant to balance access to medical assistance in dying while respecting the personal convictions of health care providers.
The legislation is also clear on who is eligible. A person has to be mentally competent, 18 years of age or over, make a voluntary request, and give informed consent to receive medical assistance in dying. They have to have a serious and incurable illness, disease or disability, be in an advanced state of irreversible decline in capability, experiencing and enduring intolerable suffering as a result of their medical condition, and be on a course toward the end of life. Death would have to be reasonably foreseeable in all of the circumstances of the person's health.
Protective measures are also a key part of the legislation to ensure that patients eligible have given informed consent. Patients have to make a written request for medical assistance in dying and have it signed by two independent witnesses. Also, two independent medical opinions have to confirm that the patient meets all the criteria. These first two criteria are intended to ensure that requests for medical assistance in dying are truly voluntary, that they reflect the wishes of the patient and are not made as a result of external pressure or coercion.
Too many of my constituents have said to me, “My dad was in the hospital. We kind of felt forced that maybe we would want to sort of end things.” I said that this legislation does not help with that. The patient has to make a written request. It has to be signed by two independent witnesses, and there has to be two independent medical opinions.
In addition, the second criterion also helps to reassure the medical practitioner who would provide medical assistance in dying that he or she is acting within the scope of the law and consistent with reasonable medical knowledge and skill.
The other criteria for patients to be eligible are that there is a mandatory 15-day waiting period; the patient has the right to withdraw a request at any time; and consent must be confirmed immediately before medical assistance in dying is provided. It is a very thoughtful protocol with very strong safeguards.
As part of this legislation, the foundation is also laid for the to establish a process for monitoring and reporting on the use of medical assistance in dying. We need to know, and Canadians need to be satisfied, that the system is operating as planned to respect the autonomy for eligible individuals while protecting vulnerable people.
Public trust and transparency in the implementation of medical assistance in dying are essential. This monitoring and reporting system will also be able to signal any issues or unexpected consequences.
Monitoring would also ensure that high-quality comparable Canadian data are generated so that any future discussions about changes to the medical assistance in dying system could be made based on the best possible evidence. Indeed, there will be a review of the legislation in five years, which could bring about changes that reflect the data gathered in this period.
For those who believe that this legislation has not gone far enough, there is a commitment to independent studies into three key issues that the Supreme Court of Canada in Carter declined to address. The first was the eligibility for persons under the age of 18. The second is the advance request. The third is requests for medical assistance in dying solely on the basis of mental illness.
It is also important to mention that palliative care, ensuring that all Canadians live as well as possible until their death, is equally important to this government. Just yesterday the stood in this House to reaffirm our commitment to $3 billion over four years for home care.
The minister is working hard with her counterparts across Canada on the next version of our health care accord, and high-quality palliative care for all Canadians is a key part of their deliberations.
I also should mention that one of the great positive side effects of introducing this legislation is that we are having a wide discussion on a national level. We need to be discussing this issue fully and we need to be understanding it.
In closing, I want to quickly thank and commend the great work that was done by the Special Joint Committee on Medical Assistance in Dying under the great leadership of my colleague, the MP for . I also thank the and the for their excellent work in introducing this legislation.
Bill is meant to be a legislative foundation on which we will build moving forward . It recognizes the inherent and equal value of every life, and it honours the dignity and the autonomy of an eligible person to choose medical assistance in dying under well-defined rules and conditions. It is the right legislation for Canadian society today, and I will be supporting this legislation.
Madam Speaker, I must say at the outset that the prayer we began our session with this morning, that we would be mindful of making good laws and serving Canadians, has never meant so much to me, and I think many of my colleagues here today, anytime it has ever been said from the Speaker's chair.
I would like to thank my colleagues and members opposite for their thoughts and words on this deep, ethical, moral, legal, and religious question. While I may not agree with all the points that have been made thus far, I do not doubt for one second that the comments of all members are truly heartfelt, genuine, reflective, and respectful.
Unfortunately, I do not have time to address all the concerns of the bill, such as, but not limited to—as my colleague the member for has so eloquently articulated—the poisonous change in our cultural mindset the bill will likely encourage, reducing the value of life to a measure of ability or function rather than its inherent worth and dignity, and causing Canadians who would never have considered taking their own life before to do so.
As the member for mentioned, the bill would be under expansionary pressure from the day it comes into effect, and where we could end up is troubling.
The peril that I do not think has been fully addressed is that in which those in vulnerable communities could find themselves.
As I said, because time is limited, I am going to focus upon two issues, but again, my serious concerns are not limited to these alone. First is the regrettable absence of more discussion and action on palliative and hospice care as a precursor to this legislation. Second is the need and the duty of all members here to respect and protect those physicians and health care professionals who object on conscience.
Before I get into these two points, I want to offer my reflections on where we have come from on this issue.
It was only six years ago that we debated the same issue and voted down the private member's bill, Bill , of a former member of this House. It should be noted that this was the second attempt at the same private member's bill by the former member, who had previously introduced Bill .
I will say that I voted against and spoke out against the bills, not only because of my own personal convictions, but also because of my steadfast belief that those bills did not uphold the moral obligation we have as parliamentarians to protect the vulnerable and the inherent dignity of all life.
Bill and Bill were seriously flawed because they sent us down a path of unintended consequences. They were that slippery slope that has so often been spoken of here in this chamber, regarding the debate of ethical dilemmas that our families, doctors, and health care workers would face.
My reservation then is sustained today. Why is there not more emphasis on palliative care?
Is it not better to support quality palliative and end-of-life care for Canadians, so they will never need to think that euthanasia or assisted suicide is the only option, or better option, for their suffering?
Is it not our duty to uphold the value and dignity of life in this manner?
In my own home community of Hamilton, we have outstanding organizations like Emmanuel House and the Dr. Bob Kemp Hospice, which work on a daily basis to make end of life better for people. I know hospices are doing outstanding work in all the communities across this country.
I recognize that, in the view of the Supreme Court's Carter decision, we are faced with a new reality, one where we need to respect its decision vis-à-vis the charter rights of those in dire circumstances while still ensuring the dignity of life is upheld. However, I am very concerned that there was no further investigation, no rigorous effort to enhance palliative care and invest in hospice construction, in advance of this legislation or in conjunction with it.
While the federal government's response to the Supreme Court's Carter decision makes reference to the need to support improvements of a full range of end-of-life care options, it does little about it, other than acknowledging it as a non-legislative response.
I do not think that is good enough, and I believe all Canadians do not think that is good enough either.
Instead of a vague reference to a multi-year health accord that would include home care and palliative care as one option, where was the commitment in the throne speech? Where was the commitment in the budget?
If the commitment is serious, why is it not backed up with funding?
This is the missing piece. If we are going to go down the legislative path of physician-assisted dying because of charter rights, then we in this place have a duty, and the Government of Canada has a duty, to have first acted upon palliative and hospice care.
That was the viewpoint of two Senate studies, which I cited back in 2010 when I spoke out against Bill . First, in 1995, there was the Special Senate Committee on Euthanasia and Assisted Suicide that in its report, “Of Life and Death”, made a number of recommendations to improve access to palliative care services, standards of care, and training of health care professionals.
In 2000, the Standing Senate Committee on Social Affairs, Science and Technology tabled another report, titled “Quality End-of-Life Care: The Right of Every Canadian”, which again recommended a strategy and vast improvements to palliative and end-of-life care, as well as support for family caregivers, home care, research, and surveillance.
It breaks my heart, and I know the hearts of all members in the House, that people are suffering. Just this past summer, in the middle of the election campaign, I watched my own younger brother succumb to the ravages of lymphatic cancer, and I was grateful for the care, understanding, and compassion of everyone at Emmanuel House, the hospice where he stayed in his final days.
I know that this bill attempts to address those individuals who have given up hope; yet I believe there are, most often, better ways to address their suffering. It is our obligation to do everything possible with palliative and hospice care, to give a modicum of hope, comfort, and peace to those suffering at the end of their lives and to their families who are also suffering. Once again, I believe this discussion should have preceded this bill.
The final point I want to touch on today is one that I know other members have already raised, but please allow me to amplify their concerns. That is the protection of physicians' conscience rights and, quite frankly, those of the other health care professionals and caregivers on a doctor's team who might be placed in the circumstances that this bill would allow.
First, I do not think there is a shred of doubt that we must offer clear and indisputable protections to those who object on ethical, moral, or religious grounds. In these matters of life and death, that is more than the right thing to do; it is the only thing to do.
Second, I believe that, to send this important signal to the medical community, families, individuals who are suffering, and all Canadians, these conscience protections for physicians must be included in the bill itself, and not just in the preamble. The bill needs to include a punitive measure for those who would seek to pressure, force, or coerce anyone to assist someone in taking his or her life.
I am thankful for the opportunity to offer these reflections. I know every member of the House will be doing a lot of thinking, soul searching, and prayerful consideration as we grapple with this legislation. I sincerely hope and pray that we continue to do so with extreme caution and care. God bless Canada.
Madam Speaker, I listened closely to all of my colleagues.
Yesterday, I participated in the committee's hearings. This is my first opportunity to speak in the House.
I have just 10 minutes, but I would like to start by saying that everyone here is caring. Everyone is concerned about the well-being of people who are at the end of their lives, and everyone wants the best for them. However, just because we want to care, that does not necessarily mean that we do what is best for people. We are not necessarily doing what is best for someone if we infringe on a person's autonomy and self-determination.
In the moral sense of the term, human dignity is connected to respect for self-determination. That should be the basis of our debate. Yesterday, in committee, I heard people say that we should consider a person's dignity in relation to their illness. They were talking about whether the person is wearing diapers, which is just frightening. Only that individual can make judgments about their own quality of life, and we cannot compare one life to another.
By way of introduction, since Bill is quite similar to part of the Quebec law, I would like to provide some context regarding the basis of that law. At the request of medical specialists and other civil society groups in Quebec, in the fall of 2009, the Quebec National Assembly created a deliberative space in order to give people the opportunity to express their views on an issue that could not be more personal: their own end of life.
From that moment on, the status quo was no longer an option for Quebec parliamentarians. Five years later, on June 5, 2014, the National Assembly passed Bill 52, The Act Respecting End-of-Life Care. One aspect of that act is medical assistance in dying.
This work was guided by two premises. First, my death, like my life, is my own. Second, the autonomy bestowed on a person by law through the principle of self-determination and its corollary rule of free and informed consent, which applies in biomedical contexts, is never questioned throughout that person's life, even in times of weakness or extreme emergency. Why then would things be any different at the end of a person's life?
Why would a person's right to self-determination be taken away because he or she is terminally ill? On what grounds would that be done? Is there any more personal and unique time in a person's life than the moment of death? What more could we wish than for a person to be able to calmly and peacefully pass on into death without any fear of suffering or any actual suffering? Is that not what we all hope for and what we would wish for any human being?
The consensus that was reached in Quebec was to make these premises part of a continuum of care, so that palliative care and euthanasia, two realities in the history of this issue, would no longer be set in opposition to each other. Why pit palliative care and euthanasia against each other? This question has been implicit in many of my Conservative colleague's speeches, because unlike in Quebec, we did not hold a debate on the right to die, which used to be associated with passive euthanasia.
People had to fight for the right to die. At the time, paternalistic doctors tended to focus on the curative aspect, and people were dying from the chemotherapy, not the cancer. Over the years, there has been a shift from passive euthanasia to palliative care. Human beings have thus acquired the right to die.
Palliative care is about taking a holistic approach to end-of-life care. This concept was developed by Cicely Saunders, in England, and dates back to 1967. Why should a request for assisted dying arising out of a positive experience of care near the end of one's life be considered a failure? The dying process has started and is irreversible.
A person might wake up one morning and decide that he or she is ready to give up. A person might also decide that that is not the case and that he or she wants to go on living, and die a slow death. The Quebec legislation in no way precludes one or the other, because it places end-of-life care in a continuum of care.
For more than 30 years, palliative care was considered the only way to die with dignity at the end of one's life. It became apparent that such care did not meet every need. Most requests for medical assistance in dying are made as part of the process of palliative care. Very rarely does a person who receives a terminal diagnosis from a doctor immediately request an injection. If so, it all depends on the stage of the cancer. The patient might be put on anti-depressants and told to get his or her affairs in order. There are things that a person needs to do before dying.
One of the difficulties with Bill is that it groups together two realities under medical assistance in dying. One is covered by Quebec, namely euthanasia and end-of-life care, which includes palliative care; the other is assisted suicide. This choice is causing the conceptual confusion that leads to the impasse in our debates.
Assisted suicide is not euthanasia. The difference is that a person can be at the terminal phase of a degenerative disease without being near death. A person can suffer tremendously without being in a situation of reasonably foreseeable natural death.
The Supreme Court has asked legislators to provide a framework for assisted suicide. This is what the Supreme Court told us in section 7:
Insofar as they prohibit physician-assisted dying for competent adults who seek such assistance as a result of a grievous and irremediable medical condition that causes enduring and intolerable suffering, ss. 241 (b) and 14 of the Criminal Code deprive these adults of their right to life, liberty and security of the person under s. 7 of the Charter. The right to life is engaged where the law or state action imposes death or an increased risk of death on a person, either directly or indirectly. Here, the prohibition deprives some individuals of life, as it has the effect of forcing some individuals to take their own lives prematurely, for fear that they would be incapable of doing so when they reached the point where suffering was intolerable.
That is what we have been asked to do, and that is what we need to figure out.
Madam Speaker, it is good to be here today to speak to Bill . One of the principles we have in the House is that legislation is best built on a very solid foundation, and this bill does not have that.
What the Supreme Court ruled years ago on the Rodriguez case was very clear. However, just over a year ago, as with so many other decisions and so many other directions, the Supreme Court reversed itself. If it had really good underlying reasons for doing that, it would have been fine, but the justification for it was very interesting. It was a mistake in perception as set forward by the Supreme Court. The justices called it a changing matrix of social and legal facts which brought them to their conclusion. I and others are concerned that this makes our laws, including the interpretation of charter rights, dependent upon the opinions of a very small group of people. I will talk a bit more about the matrix of social and legal facts in a few minutes.
From my perspective, this is not an improvement. Many of my colleagues on both sides of the House have shared their concerns about Bill , with some supporting it and others opposing it. However, a number of things are missing in the bill, and we need to have further discussion about. I heard a few comments earlier about the timeline, how pressured it was, how we needed to get this done and that this basically was prohibiting us from taking the time needed to discuss these things a bit further and with a bit more depth.
There is no clear definition of what irremediable means. The bill talks about that being the requirement for someone to qualify for physician-assisted dying.
I am concerned about the expansion of this process to nurse practitioners, so it would not just include physicians. People have asked why medical personnel are even involved with this. They have asked whether there is not some other place this can be done so people do not have to be concerned that when they go into the hospital for medical care, rather than receiving a positive side of medical care, they receive a very negative side of it.
There is a criminal exemption for those who perform euthanasia, but there is no protection for those who do not want to participate. A number of people are very concerned about what is called conscience rights and the lack of protection for that in the legislation.
There is a lack of clarity around psychological conditions and how that may come into play with this issue. One of the things that really concerns a lot of people is the lack of a vulnerability assessment, taking the time to find out if people are being pressured or whether there is some vulnerability that is bringing them to the point where they have made a decision that may be wrong for them.
Some people have called for a prior judicial review. There is no mention of that in the legislation.
Also, there is a lack of clarity on data collection. This has been an issue in a number of areas. Will we see good data collection? Will someone keep a good set of records on what goes on with this process?
We often have heard the concern that there is no clear commitment to palliative care. We just heard a member from the government talk about this. The Liberals made this commitment during the election campaign. They felt it was within their jurisdiction to promise $3 billion toward palliative care, but now, in the House, we hear them talk about how other jurisdictions are responsible for this. It sounds as if the Liberals are trying to avoid their responsibilities for this.
I would like to go back to the Supreme Court decision. It turned back the former position. It reversed it and it left us with an open field when it came to the issue of assisted suicide or assisted dying. The only thing the Supreme Court said in its ruling on Carter was that the person needed to consent and that the person needed to have a grievous and irremediable medical condition causing enduring and intolerable suffering. If we look at that, we see it leaves that whole area very open.
As I said earlier, good legislation should have a good foundation. I do not believe this does because of the Supreme Court decision. The foundation is the Carter decision and it hardly qualifies as a stable base on which to create good legislation.
I do not suppose we will get this done today, but we will come back at another stage on this bill. However. I would like to take a few minutes to talk a bit about the Supreme Court's recent decision in Carter v. Canada. It obviously is a very controversial decision and touches on a sensitive issue for many Canadians because there are very deeply held beliefs on both sides of this issue.
The Supreme Court acknowledged that the prohibition on assisted suicide was in general a valid exercise of federal criminal law. It also decided that the law went too far and it did not apply in cases where a competent adult with a grievous medical condition could consent to the termination of his or her life. I believe this decision is disturbing for a number of reasons.
The first is that the court ignored parliamentary consensus. In its decision, it claimed that the reversal from its earlier position in Rodriguez v. B.C. was necessary because of a different matrix of legislative and social facts. Yet, the purported differing matrix ignores the clear and unchanged parliamentary consensus opposing assisted suicide.
Between 1991 and 2012, nine private members' bills were introduced in the House of Commons, all seeking to amend the Criminal Code to decriminalize assisted suicide or euthanasia. Six were voted on and all of them failed to pass. When considering the matrix of legislative facts, the court gave weight to legislative developments in Belgium, Switzerland, Oregon, Washington, and the Netherlands, but it completely ignored the legislative record of Canada's Parliament.
Second, the court found no societal consensus in Canada on this issue. In her decision at the trial level of Carter v. Canada in the Supreme Court of B.C., Justice Smith wrote, “As to physician-assisted death, weighing all of the evidence, I do not find that there is a clear societal consensus either way”. Clearly whatever the change in that matrix of legal and social facts entails, it did not include a clear consensus from the people of Canada”.
This lack of consensus remains unchanged in the 22 years since the Rodriguez case in which the court stated, “No consensus can be found in favour of the decriminalization of assisted suicide. To the extent that there is a consensus, it is that human life must be respected”.
Clearly, the court found no consensus among western countries. While insisting again this matrix of legislative and social facts had changed since the last Supreme Court ruling on the issue, it acknowledged that physician-assisted dying remained a criminal offence in most western countries. Regardless, it chose to align itself with the minority of jurisdictions that allowed it.
I believe the court misinterpreted Parliament's objective in prohibiting assisted suicide. In its ruling, it put significant weight on the parliamentary objective of two sections, section 241(b) and 14 of the Criminal Code, which prohibit assisted suicide. The court asserted that these sections were put in place only to fulfill the state interest in protecting the vulnerable. However, in the earlier court case with Rodriguez, the court had said the objective of this section was not simply “protecting the vulnerable”, but also “preserving life”.
It had written, “In this case, it is not disputed that in general s.241(b) is valid and desirable legislation which fulfils the government's objectives of preserving life and protecting the vulnerable”. This position was reaffirmed several times.
By insisting that in Carter the purpose of section 241 was only to protect the vulnerable, the Supreme Court was able to conclude that this prohibition put people outside this class and that there were people who did not need to be protected by it. The court's conclusion was that the current law was over broad and grossly disproportionate to its objectives. That allowed it to say that Parliament needed to establish safeguards to ensure that those who truly wanted to be euthanized would be able to do that.
That interpretation tramples on the intention of Parliament to preserve life. Had it considered the full purpose of these sections of the Criminal Code rather than just that one objective of protecting the vulnerable, I think the outcome would have been very different.
I would make one final point before my time runs out. The court really leaves the definition of irremediable open to patient interpretation. The court decided that irremediable did not require the patient to undertake treatments that were not acceptable to them. In other words, although treatment may be available, the condition still qualifies as irremediable if the treatment is not acceptable to the patient.
I wanted to express my concerns. However, I think we will come back to some of the things the Supreme Court touched on as well in terms of the right to die being conflated with the right to life and some of the other issues.
Mr. Speaker, I am privileged to rise in this chamber in support of Bill , medical assistance in dying.
I am in favour of the bill, not only because it was mandated by the Supreme Court of Canada, but for very personal reasons. I believe it is a bill, a policy, that respects the rights of individual Canadians who are suffering unbearable pain. It respects their right to die a peaceful death.
I rise today to speak in favour of this bill on medical assistance in dying, not because of the Supreme Court's decision to strike down the criminal law banning medical assistance in dying, but rather for very personal reasons.
To begin with, the bill refers to medically assisted dying. It is not referred to as medically assisted suicide. My common definition of suicide, and I believe it is society's definition, is intentionally taking one's own life when death is not imminent. In the case of Bill , there are clear conditions that would qualify an individual for medical help in dying. This would include, of course, the reality that death is imminent for that individual.
Henceforth, I believe we should stop calling it suicide because it is clearly not suicide in the common form of our understanding. I also believe that there is no parallel with the very sad and tragic suicide epidemic that is occurring in indigenous communities across our great country. In my mind, one is an apple and one is an avocado. They should not be compared.
The whole debate around medically assisted death is deeply personal and has led to some very emotional discussions. For me, it has led to much personal reflection. Like many Canadians, like many people in these chambers, I have seen too many family members and friends suffer excruciating pain needlessly when death was imminent.
Very personal for me was an experience last August 2, the same day that the federal election was called, when my mother passed away. She was 96 years old and she had been living alone for the last 20 years. She had been living bedridden and in pain in a care home for the last five years.
My mother was a religious person and had a special relationship with her god. She prayed every day. She scolded me for not attending church as often as I should. Over the last 20 years her body deteriorated, but her mind and hearing stayed sharp. Over the last 10 years, my mother shared with me her desire to have her life end. Medical advances had helped her to live longer, but her quality of life had severely deteriorated. She had become completely bedridden in the last five years and, in the last four years, malignant masses and tumours had developed throughout her lower body. Constant pain set in, and pain protocol was established. My mother, tough as nails, continued to breathe, pray, and hope that God would come and take her away. The praying and hoping continued for years and years.
My mother was of sound mind. She was a religious person who was at peace with her god. Families, nuns, and a priest would visit her faithfully. They gave her comfort, but she continued to express to me that she wanted to die peacefully and comfortably. She wished that there was a way to end the unbearable physical pain that could no longer be managed regardless of the care she received. I wish she could have had that choice, and she should have had that choice.
My personal feeling is that the legislation does not go far enough. I would have preferred that those who are experiencing enduring and intolerable suffering, with no chance of ever improving during their lifetime, be allowed the opportunity to access medically assisted dying, under the strict conditions that we have imposed in the bill.
However, I also understand that the legislation shifts the paradigm in such a profound way that in the future we will be making reviews. The law will be improved, and evidence will be collected. I hope that myths will be dispelled, and individual human dignity, self-determination, and choice will be nurtured further.
This choice is the basis of our discussions today. We hope to offer this choice to individuals who, in their last moments on earth, are experiencing intolerable physical suffering as a result of a grievous and irremediable medical condition. The debate is not about suicide. It is about trying to ensure the dignity of the dying person. We make choices about the care we receive throughout our life, and it is unfortunate that this choice is taken away from us at the end of our life.
It is true that the Supreme Court's decision in Carter v. Canada made physician-assisted death legislation necessary. I believe many of us have spoken to the fact that the timelines are anything but ideal. Would I have preferred to have another six months of debate, consultation, and discussion in order to make this reality? Of course, I would have preferred that. I believe every member in these chambers would have preferred that.
However, it is also true that there are people who feel that this legislation does not go far enough. There are also people who are opposed to physician-assisted death entirely. I have had many discussions with constituents on this issue.
I represent Saint-Boniface—Saint Vital, a riding with many Catholic constituents, and they have all made their views very clear.
Everyone, regardless of their position in this debate, wants to ensure the protection and dignity of individuals. The notion of dignity, which has come up several times in these chambers, is highly individual. Personal history, personal beliefs, and personal health situations all define what dignity means to the individual, and I might also add the right to self-determine.
Dying with dignity is a personal choice that needs to be respected. This bill is necessary. As a society, we must make sure that the best care possible is available to all our fellow Canadians.
This is an important moment in our history, where consultation has not only played an important role in the past but will play an important role into the future. I applaud the government for undertaking vast consultations across Canada and abroad to ensure that this legislation defends people's choices and freedoms in a way that protects the most vulnerable. It also supports personal convictions of health care providers.
I further congratulate the government on taking the time to continue the very important consultations and discussion surrounding mature minors, people who suffer from mental illness, and people who would like to arrange advance directives.
I would like to add that I fully support the government's commitment to a full range of options for quality end-of-life care, including palliative care, an area in which the St. Boniface Hospital, in my riding, is a leader. This bill establishes responsible measures to promote a standard approach to medical assistance in dying across Canada. It recognizes the inherent value and the equality of every human life.
The proposed legislation sets the framework for medically assisted dying across the country. It also provides a review in five years. It is balanced, responsible, and a very compassionate response to a very difficult, very personal issue.
Mr. Speaker, rarely in this parliamentary life are we called upon to debate such an important subject, an issue that requires such seriousness, rigour, sensitivity, and compassion.
With that in mind, I want to begin by commending the professionalism of all my colleagues in the House, who, from the beginning of our study of Bill , have set partisanship aside and have made this debate more of a discussion, rather than a debate per se.
The subject that we are being asked to deal with today is one that invariably raises sincere emotions and touches a nerve with all of us, not only here in Ottawa, but all across the country. Developing a framework for medical assistance in dying means striking a balance between implementing a right with such irrevocable consequences on the one hand, and protecting vulnerable people with regard to that right on the other hand.
What right are we talking about? It is the right of a competent adult, who freely consents and suffers from a grievous and irremediable illness causing intolerable suffering, to die at the time of their choosing and with the necessary assistance and medical support. This is a right guaranteed by section 7 of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms, which states that everyone has the right to life, liberty, and security of the person. This right was unanimously recognized by the Supreme Court of Canada on February 6, 2015, in the Carter case. This right protects life, because the absolute prohibition in section 14 and paragraph 241(b) of the Criminal Code on aiding or counselling another person to commit suicide made individuals suffering from grievous and irremediable illness feel that they were forced to take their own lives prematurely out of fear that the progression of their illness would make it impossible for them to do so and that their suffering would become intolerable.
The absolute nature of the blanket prohibition on medical assistance in dying deprived people of a portion of their life that they could otherwise have enjoyed. This right also protects the liberty and security of the person.
As the Supreme Court explained in paragraph 66 of its decision in Carter, by denying people the right to request a physician’s assistance in dying, the Criminal Code is interfering with “their ability to make decisions concerning their bodily integrity and medical care”. The Criminal Code thus trenches on liberty. Since that option was not available to Canadians, they had to endure intolerable suffering, which also impinged on their right to security of the person.
Although the Supreme Court recognized that medical assistance in dying is one of the rights guaranteed under section 7 of the charter, those rights are not absolute. Limitations and restrictions can be placed on those rights, according to the principle set out in Oakes, which is based on section 1 of the charter. The principles in question are those of minimal impairment and an important government objective.
Bill C-14 must be examined through that lens. Although people with grievous and irremediable medical conditions should be given the right and means to die with dignity, that is not an absolute right. We also need to protect vulnerable people, people who are unable to provide informed consent, and people who could be subject to undue pressure.
My position could evolve, as I continue to listen to my colleagues and constituents and as I continue to reflect on this topic.
However, I think that it is a good idea to exclude minors and people with mental illness from this bill. Like many members in the House, and like the Quebec National Assembly when their work was complete, I think that including minors would have created some virtually insurmountable problems with respect to consent, as my Conservative colleague from pointed out.
With respect to people with mental illness, I think that in the absence of full and informed consent, the sanctity of life must prevail. Since such consent is nearly impossible to obtain under the circumstances, it is prudent to exclude people with mental illness from the bill.
Conversely, I think that some aspects of the bill raise some questions. One aspect is the notion of a death that is reasonably foreseeable, which the government wants to introduce, even though this notion was not in the Carter decision.
The court recognized that not having access to medical assistance in dying could cause intolerable suffering and, therefore, impinges on the individual's right to security of the person.
I also think that individuals who are suffering from a grievous and irremediable medical condition but who are not at the end of their life, which unfortunately is the case for many people in Canada, are therefore being deprived of the right to security and integrity of the person.
I am afraid that with this addition, one of the appellants in Carter would not have had access to medical assistance in dying. I am not certain either that such a restriction minimally impairs a charter right, as seen in Oakes.
Second, although I am aware that there is a need for robust protections and that the bill includes many, which is a good thing most certainly, I have doubts about the protection provided by the provision in paragraph 241.2(3)(h), which stipulates that immediately before medical assistance in dying is provided, a patient must reiterate his or her free, informed, and full consent.
Doctors would have to stop administering medication, such as morphine, which eases the patient's pain, in order to obtain this full consent. I fear that this provision will create excessive suffering for individuals at a moment when they want to gently leave behind their overwhelming suffering.
Third, I was not convinced that advance consent was a good idea, but I was enlightened by my colleagues. Although I am still not convinced, I welcome the government's willingness to study the issue further.
Lastly, like many of my constituents, I think medical assistance in dying must be brought into the broader context of end-of-life care. To that end, I also welcome the promise to invest $3 billion over four years in home care.
I believe that, like the bill, this is a step in the right direction, but it is not the final destination. I will vote in favour of this bill at second reading, and I encourage my colleagues to do the same.
Mr. Speaker, today I rise to discuss Bill .
As we well know, Bill is the government's response to the Supreme Court ruling in the Carter decision last February. The court gave the government a total of 16 months to form legislation, so here we are in the House today, debating the bill.
I was pleased to see that the bill included many recommendations provided by my Conservative colleagues in their dissenting report from the special joint committee report on this issue. However, I do not believe the bill in its current form is good enough.
I have benefited from listening to my colleagues' speeches, and appreciate the passion each has shown as they discuss Bill in the House. Indeed, I have made my own consultations with various interested parties in my riding of , and look forward to sharing them with you.
We have received many suggestions and comments on the legislation, both from parties that believe the bill is too restrictive and those who believe it is not restrictive enough. Indeed, I am rather impressed that there was significant public interest on this bill, and I would like to continue to encourage people in who have not given their thoughts on this matter to write to myself or my office.
My voting position on second reading will be carefully considered from a balance of available information, including from the consultations I have held with interested stakeholders in my riding.
To begin, I would like to share some of my personal experiences. During my time as the Minister of State for Seniors, I had the opportunity to work with many groups who are devoted to protecting our most vulnerable and ensuring quality palliative care. The unfortunate reality is that there are many seniors who are not provided with effective end-of-life care. Instead, they are subject to elder abuse and are often pressured into making decisions to avoid becoming a burden to their families. This is tragic. It is absolutely imperative that we ensure that there are safeguards to protect seniors against such elder abuse.
A potential safeguard to protect financial abuse of elders, which is a very common and unfortunate form of elder abuse, is to simply prohibit any independent witnesses from financially profiting at all from the will or the estate of those who requested physician-assisted suicide. This was actually a recommendation from a group of constituents I met with recently. They pointed out that in the bill, the independent witnesses that have to sign the documentation to enable the physician-assisted suicide only have to know or believe they are not a beneficiary under the will of the person making such a request. Again, this is simply not enough.
Back in my riding of , I have been an active member of the Richmond Rotary Club. This club was instrumental in building the first hospice in Richmond. It was there that I and my fellow Rotarians witnessed first-hand the benefits quality palliative care can bring people. Life is valuable at every stage. One of my primary concerns with physician-assisted suicide is that it will only complicate end-of-life decisions. Individuals who are sick or need additional care will see themselves as a burden, and choose death to avoid placing further expectations on family members.
Instead, we need to be supporting family caregivers and demonstrating that every life is valuable.
As others have noted, there was no allocation in the budget for palliative care services. This is totally and absolutely unacceptable. This issue is quickly becoming more about access to death than access to life. It is absolutely essential that the government make a commitment to strengthen palliative care and encourage citizens to seek such care first. Palliative care provides death with true dignity and not a forced death, which is what physician-assisted suicide is.
Last year, I had the opportunity to meet with organizations such as the Council for Canadians with Disabilities, the CCD. I met with its representatives to discuss their concerns and the importance of protecting individuals with disabilities. More recently, they were able to appear as witnesses at the special joint committee to discuss their views on possible legislation. The CCD was very concerned with the recommendations provided by the committee and commented, “The permissive approach would put vulnerable people at risk”.
We cannot ignore the needs of our most vulnerable. It is crucial that the legislation reflect the concerns of groups such as the Council for Canadians with Disabilities to ensure all Canadians are protected.
I would like to share a few of the comments I have heard from my constituents over the past several months. I will emphasize that my repeating these comments in the House today does not mean that I endorse all of them, but rather, this is a reflection of the variety of comments received. I know as an elected figure this may be hazardous as I may be quoted out of context; however, it is my duty to ensure that these voices are heard.
A primary theme as a result of my consultations is that Bill would only decriminalize the act of physician-assisted suicide as performed by medical practitioners.
I will add that there would be no effects or changes to the Canada Health Act, nor would it instruct our provinces to provide this procedure as something to be covered under provincial medical insurance plans. In my home province of British Columbia, this is the medical services plan, the MSP.
In general, there seemed to be a considerable amount of confusion about whether the provincial governments would actually provide this procedure and whether they would indeed pay for it.
One stakeholder group mentioned it wished to invoke the notwithstanding clause to maintain the previous provisions of the Criminal Code. This group found the terminology of what constituted a terminal illness to be a slippery slope and that unendurable pain could be mitigated with quality palliative care. As it realized that this was generally not a realistic approach with the existing government, it also mentioned that it was hoping for a robust protection for health care providers and facilities to act according to their conscience.
There were many other comments, but I have only 10 minutes for this speech, so I will state again that I have been pleased with the amount of interest we have received from engaged citizens and stakeholder groups on Bill . I will be making my voting decision after giving the people of the maximum period of time to send their feedback.
I would like to end my speech with a short story. Many members of my family are health professionals. Even among those who are young, many desire to grow up to be doctors or nurses. When I ask my young nieces and nephews why they want to be a doctor, I always receive the same simple answer, “I want to save lives.”
Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to speak to Bill , which would enact a federal legislative framework to permit medical assistance in dying across Canada.
Medical assistance in dying is a deeply personal issue for all Canadians, as we have witnessed. As parliamentarians, we must consider a diverse range of views on this complex issue. I know that we all take this responsibility very seriously.
The starting point is, of course, the February 6, 2015 decision of the Supreme Court of Canada in Carter v. Canada. The court unanimously held that the criminal laws prohibiting physician-assisted dying interfere with liberty and security of the person by denying grievously and irremediably ill individuals the ability to make decisions concerning their bodily integrity and medical care, and leaving them to endure intolerable suffering.
The court also held that the laws deprive some people of life by forcing them to end their lives prematurely for fear that they would be incapable of doing so when they reached a point where their suffering was intolerable. The court accepted that the criminal prohibition on assistance in dying furthers a pressing and substantial legislative objective, that of preventing vulnerable individuals from being induced to die by suicide against their will in a moment of weakness.
However, the court concluded that a permissive regime with properly designed and administered safeguards was capable of protecting vulnerable people from abuse and error, and that the absolute prohibition went farther than necessary to achieve its objective. The court appropriately left the task of designing this new regime to Parliament.
The proposed legislation responds to the Carter ruling by enacting a new legal framework for access to medical assistance in dying, including the safeguards that the court called for in order to minimize the potential for errors and abuse.
The court did not define the term "grievously and irremediably ill", but the proposed legislation does define it in a manner that is consistent with these circumstances. Specifically, the person must be in an advanced state of irreversible decline in capability. The person must have a serious and incurable medical condition. The person must be suffering intolerably. The person's death must have become reasonably foreseeable, taking into account all of the person's unique medical circumstances.
Canadians would have the comfort of knowing that they would be able to get the assistance they need if they are suffering intolerably when their capacity declines as they approach the end of their lives.
Like so many honourable members who have stood in this house to debate this difficult legislation, I have my own personal story that makes this issue all the more relevant. My mother, Eleanor Anderson, spent over 10 years in a wheelchair after suffering a massive stroke at the age of 69. She had to learn to walk, talk, eat, everything right from scratch. Then it happened again, another stroke five years later. She fought back again, but with each stroke a little more of her was taken away.
She never wanted to feel helpless. During those years in a wheelchair, my mother would try her best to do everything on her own, whether it was dressing, loading the dishwasher, or simply wiping down the kitchen counter. During those years, she never wanted our sympathy.
Despite her tenacity, she knew the day would come when she could not fight any longer. She made it very clear to my father, to me, and my brother that if the time came and she was not able to do much more than lie in a bed, she wanted to drift away peacefully. As expected, what we all feared eventually happened.
She continued to have small strokes, losing mobility and function with each one, to the point that she could no longer sit up in her wheelchair, talk, or even eat. We were not even sure if she knew any of us anymore. She pulled out the feeding tube that kept her alive, to the point where the doctors said they wanted to insert a tube in her stomach. That was not the life my mother wanted, and so we said no. We had to let her go. Doctors agreed it was best, and said she would only last a few days.
We asked that she be moved to palliative care at another hospital. Ironically, they said they could not move her because she would not make it, that she would die en route, and so she lay in that hospital bed, and we watched her slowly starve to death.
She would last 12 days, and her death was anything but peaceful. It was the most excruciating experience I have ever been through, and nothing prepared me or my family for her death. I know my mother would have agreed that this legislation is a step in the right direction. She would have wanted to be able to communicate her desire to die with dignity. However, she would have also wanted her family to follow through on her wishes.
Twelve years later, my dad said to me, after catching an infection, “I just want to close my eyes and not wake up”. That is exactly what happened. He was gone two days later. He got his wish. However, I know that many people are not as fortunate, and it is for those people that we must be prepared to lend our voice.
said this in her speech to the House:
...every person, every story, is unique. However, much is shared in common: the hope to die in peace; the desire to be respected; and to have personal autonomy and dignity honoured by family and health care providers alike.
went on to say that her experience as a family physician reinforced her sense that we must—
Mr. Speaker, I think it is very important to rise to speak to Bill , today and on other days of debate.
As my colleagues probably know, I am a health care professional. I still work at the hospital a few times a month, mainly in emergency and intensive care. This is important to me. End-of-life care is very important, which is why I supported a motion that my colleague from moved during the previous Parliament. That motion dealt with a national palliative care strategy.
To begin, I would like to highlight two or three points from the Supreme Court decision that I think are particularly important to this discussion. The decision states:
...the prohibition [of medical assistance in dying] deprives some individuals of life, as it has the effect of forcing some individuals to take their own lives prematurely, for fear that they would be incapable of doing so when they reached the point where suffering was intolerable.
And by leaving them to endure intolerable suffering, it impinges on their security of the person.
It is important to mention that the Supreme Court decision underscores the government's responsibility to address the suffering that people experience. It is also important to understand the difference between suffering and pain. Pain is a physiological reaction to stress, such as an injury. Suffering has to do with an emotional experience.
Take, for example, a very painful event such as childbirth. That pain is associated with a positive emotional experience, the birth of a child. That event does not necessarily cause suffering, but it does cause significant pain.
A person might also have a minor injury that can cause extreme suffering because of the emotional experience associated with it. I think it is important to make that distinction.
These days, we have excellent therapeutic ways to alleviate pain. Opiates were long used, but now we also have patient-controlled analgesic pumps. We can even offer continuous palliative sedation, similar to what intensive care patients receive when they are intubated to ensure that they do not feel any pain. There are a number of extremely effective ways of alleviating pain, in addition to non-pharmacological methods. We have a good range of treatments to offer patients who are in pain.
It is possible to alleviate the suffering that comes with an emotional experience such as the end of life or an end-of-life diagnosis without resorting to medical assistance in dying. In that case, palliative care is an option. The bill applies to adults with a serious and incurable illness, disease, or disability who are in an advanced state of irreversible decline in capability and whose natural death has become reasonably foreseeable.
Obviously, we are talking here about people who are at the end of their lives, people who need palliative care. The purpose of palliative care is to ease the suffering of both the patient and the family. Palliative care helps ensure that people are cared for properly, and that they have the help they need to get through the grieving process and the hardship associated with illness.
We want to take away all the pain, but we also want to provide support for the family.
Optimal palliative care helps not only the patient but also the whole family, so that the patient's death can be as peaceful as possible for everyone involved. We are going about things the wrong way by providing medical assistance in dying when the palliative care offered in Canada is not yet optimal.
When palliative care facilities are underfunded and need to try to drum up donations every year, they are unable to offer optimal palliative care. Most of these facilities can only take patients who are expected to die in less than three months. However, people can often live much longer than that with a terminal illness and they need a lot more support.
Moreover, in many rural areas, palliative care beds are reserved through surgical units. That means that nurses who are taking care of palliative care patients also have to take care of seven or eight other patients. Nurses are therefore unable to respond quickly or spend as much time as they should with the families, and the patient's death does not go the way he or she would like.
For people who do not have the means or who do not want to die at home, unfortunately the hospital is often the only other option when palliative care beds are not available. This is not an easy experience, and it can create suffering because patients do not always have all the support they deserve.
There has been a lot of effort in recent years to remove some natural processes from hospitals. One example would be the birthing centres that have been set up. The thinking is that it would be better for mothers to go through pregnancy and childbirth a little more naturally in a setting other than a hospital, as long as there are no medical complications.
The same thing is being done with death, which is a natural process. It is being taken out of hospitals to make the experience much more positive, in a place other than the medical setting of a hospital.
Hospices try to remove all traces of hospitals. They have hospital beds, but they try to use the patients' own bedding, have large windows, and help patients forget that they are not at home.
Unfortunately, no matter how hard the palliative care facilities work, they are often underfunded. For example, the Maison du bouleau blanc, in my riding, has four beds, only two of which are subsidized. It therefore relies on donations to maintain its other two beds. It has a large room with big windows and a shower, but this is the only room that the facility has been able to convert to an ideal palliative care room.
These people cannot afford nurses. The people who work there are extremely dedicated practical nurses. However, they have some legal limits. For that reason, all the protocols regarding doctors working with palliative care facilities had to be updated, in order to ensure proper care for the patients.
We could address a number of shortcomings and avoid making the patients suffer. If someone who receives a terminal diagnosis knows that they will receive good palliative care as their condition worsens, they may not choose to take their own life prematurely. This would therefore help protect the right to life.
However, as long as do nothing on palliative care, we are working backwards. We cannot reverse the life-based medical model to allow for medical assistance in dying if our palliative care services are not as good as possible or accessible to all Canadians, regardless of where they live, even if they live in a remote region.
Since I am out of time, I would be happy to take questions from my colleagues.
Mr. Speaker, indeed this is a heavy subject for most Canadians. Physician-assisted suicide is definitely weighty. There were laws that we thought were sufficient, but it is as a result of the Supreme Court deciding the law is not sufficient that we are in this predicament today of having to find some alternatives.
I will be speaking to some different issues. I would not say they are of the highest importance to me. I will speak about those issues a little later. However, I want to talk about a few of the issues that are not talked about as much. One of them is on page 11 of the bill, called “Deeming”. I will read from the act itself. It states:
For the purposes of this Act, if a member of the forces receives medical assistance in dying, that member is deemed to have died as a result of the illness, disease or disability for which they were determined to be entitled to receive that assistance
I will go to the next page, where it again says “Deeming”. This time it states:
For the purposes of this Act, if a member or a veteran receives medical assistance in dying, that member or veteran is deemed to have died as a result of the illness, disease or disability for which they were determined to be entitled to receive that assistance
I mention that today as a former member of the veterans affairs committee, which dealt with PTSD, with veterans who have experienced trauma as a result of war, as well as relatives who have suffered trauma and PTSD as a result of war. I am concerned about this clause in a dramatic way, due to the potential for it to be used as a way out for families. It could be a means of financial assurance, if the member decides it is a way out, that could provide sustenance for his or her family.
I feel it would open a door that was previously closed to members. We certainly respect the ones who have passed as a result of suicide, but I am concerned that this opens the door wider, to making it a somewhat legitimate exercise and to potentially doing it for families to receive benefit. We should be looking at more ways to help members of the forces and veterans with PTSD rather than giving them a doorway out.
The second issue I would say is a more significant argument for me, and that is the issue of compelling. Compelling has different forms. Compelling, as we heard from physicians who are friends of mine, and nurses, could be a doctor compelling a nurse to deliver a life-ending drug. Can a patient compel a doctor to end that patient's life? Does a senior feel compelled to end his or her life to lessen the financial burden to the family? Does a senior feel compelled to end his or her life to make room for others in hospital rooms and beds in our country?
I feel that there are a lot of arguments. I will first talk about the argument of a physician compelling a nurse. Certainly there is discussion within the bill to allow physicians to have the freedom to do what they wish to do based on their religious beliefs, or the basic belief that life is sacred and not wanting to take part in assisted dying. Most of us fully understand the way that the Supreme Court can be used as a tool. A citizen could use the Supreme Court as a tool if a doctor refused service.
If a doctor refused to assist a person to end his or her life, it would likely end up in a court, which I am sure will happen if this bill passes the way that it is. Doctors could be held to account, if a law is enacted that they have a responsibility to perform that duty for Canadian citizens. Likewise, if doctors feel compelled to perform that service, which is what we heard in testimony from doctors directly, doctors do not actually give the injection or do the duty of ending the life. It is passed on to another member of the medical staff, usually a nurse, and that person will be compelled by a doctor's order to deliver the life-ending treatment or drug. Those are huge issues, and any one of those breaks in the chain could potentially end up in a court. A particular member of medical staff would be ordered to enforce that care.
I will move on to the more general compelling of seniors and people who are ill in our society. I have two senior parents. May dad is 82 and my mom is 72. The last thing I would want would be for them to feel like they are a burden on our system. They have contributed all their lives. To this day, my dad still works as a carpenter out in the shop. He pays his taxes. A senior should not feel like he or she needs to end his or her life based on a health care system that needs more space or is just too expensive.
I love my parents, but that is not always the case across Canada. Different families do not agree as much as I do with my parents and there are frictions within families. Would some of these frictions within families be used to compel seniors to possibly end their lives because they have been made to feel they are a burden on our system? Certainly these are the what-if cases, but with 30 million people, these cases will arise, if they have not arisen already. It is deeply concerning to me that this is even an option.
Much has been said of late about the suicides in Attawapiskat and suicide in general and what the feelings are about suicide. I do not think we can sugar-coat it. We call it end of life and some other groups have called it different names, but it is suicide. It is the ending of someone's life.
What concerns me is an example of what could potentially happen. A group of individuals who feel they do not want to be on Earth anymore go into a physician's office and based on a psychiatrist's exam and review, they are warranted to end their lives. I am concerned this opens the door wide to an acceptance of suicide as a somewhat acceptable form of living in this world or ending one's life in this world. It is a huge concern for me.
Lastly, I will speak about why I do not think we need to be in this situation. It goes back to the notwithstanding clause. I had a conversation with a judge on a plane ride home to Vancouver. My comment to the judge was that as members of Parliament we were checked every four years during an election. Often we would see many different faces in this place. The people of Canada have checked us. Some have made it back and some have not. We see some new faces. They made it here because the people spoke.
What check is on the judiciary of our country? The response from this Supreme Court justice was that there was a check, the notwithstanding clause.
I know it is yeoman's work to even try to get this kind of law into some kind of acceptable form because of so many diversities, but we already have a law. It is the job of 338 members of the House of Commons to enact laws. It is the job of the Supreme Court to uphold those laws. My concern is that there seems to be a usurping of our particular body by the Supreme Court. I would challenge the government to look into that. It should look into whether we already have a law. A lot of us still accept the law for what it is. Rather than having a discussion about reforming and rewriting what is already there, we need to go back and really think seriously about it.
I certainly agree with most people here that palliative care needs to be better in Canada. We have all had passionate arguments about the sanctity of life. I believe all were created equal in this place.
However, we need to seriously think about either rewriting the law as it was, as Canadians have sent us here to do, or upholding the laws that are already in place by previous bodies of elected people to the House. We need to honour this place. This is the place where we make laws. It is not just we 338 individuals. We have been sent here to represent over 30 million people, and their voices need to be heard loud and clear.
It is a tough argument to have in this place. There are many issues on both sides that we all feel very passionate about, in whatever form that is, but we need to consider seriously upholding the laws currently in place.
Mr. Speaker, I did not mean to start off my remarks by commenting on this situation of closing debate and calling the question, but this is an absolute shambles, and is making a mockery of what is supposed to be an important debate among members. Most of us have the right to have a free vote on this issue. The Liberals are making a mockery of this place, and I for one am not impressed at all.
To get back to the topic at hand, it is important that we have meaningful debate on this issue. I want to participate on behalf of me and my constituents, and I am sure there are many other members of Parliament who want to do the same thing.
This is very important legislation for our country, and of course members of our Conservative caucus have been very active in the run-up to this debate. We have had some serious reservations leading up to how this bill was to be written. Those reservations were expressed in a dissenting report from the special joint committee that studied the subject. Now, many of us are relieved that the legislation echoed some of the recommendations included in the dissenting report, such as certain limits on minors, and of course, many of us do believe there has to be, according to the Supreme Court ruling, some provision in our law for dying with dignity. However, we do have some concerns, and I am going to express my own, regarding aspects of this bill.
Unfortunately, this bill opens the door to assisted suicide for people with mental health problems, and that worries us.
This bill includes a provision for psychological suffering. This would open a large door. I am worried about how this would apply to the mentally ill. How would this be applied in reality? Are we going down some slippery slope by including this provision for psychological suffering? I am sure there will be an approach to amend this particular section, but right now the amendment to the Criminal Code would add that illness, disease or disability, or that state of decline causes them enduring physical or psychological suffering that is intolerable to them and that cannot be relieved under conditions that they consider acceptable. This is the concerning provision, and I echo my other colleagues who have raised this issue as well.
Quebec has come up with its own legislation on assistance in dying. In Quebec's law, only people aged 18 and over with a serious and incurable illness who are in an advanced state of irreversible decline in capability can request medical aid in dying.
The attending physician must ensure that his or her patient has clearly consented to physician-assisted dying, ensuring among other things that it is not the result of external pressure, providing the patient with a full prognosis on the condition and possible treatment options along with likely consequences. The physician, under Quebec law, must also ensure the continuation of consent with interviews with the patient held at different times, spaced by a reasonable time having regard to the patient's condition. I would say that these are appropriate safeguards in the Quebec law. I would like to see similar safeguards in the Canadian law.
Another concern to us is in relation to the rights of conscience of physicians and health institutions.
We are very concerned about the conscience rights of medical personnel.
As mentioned in the dissenting report, section 2 of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms guarantees all Canadians freedom of conscience and religion. The dissenting report clearly states that there was near unanimous agreement among the witnesses that physicians who objected to taking part in physician-assisted dying for reasons of conscience should not be forced to do so. Although not obliged directly by this legislation to provide PAD, physician-assisted dying, the obligation to refer patients through an effective referral infringes on the spirit, and I would say the letter, of section 2 of the charter. I therefore believe that such a regime is unnecessary and note that Canada would be the first jurisdiction in the world to require an effective referral regime.
I believe there are better models that would protect the charter rights of physicians and provide access to physician-assisted dying, but under this legislation, physicians who conscientiously object to physician-assisted dying are required to provide information to their patients on how to access PAD and to advise the government of his or her patient's request. I believe this is unfair to the physician and this legislation does not sufficiently protect physicians' rights. I also believe that health care institutions that object to offering physician-assisted dying and related services should be exempted in accordance with the Supreme Court's determination that individual collective aspects of freedom of religion and conscience guaranteed under the charter are indissolubly intertwined.
In my home province of Ontario, the current policy of the College of Physicians and Surgeons is that it is a requirement not only to refer, but also to provide services that are within the standard of care of an emergency situation. Therefore, passing this legislation without conscience protection would mean that PAD would enter the standard of care and would fit within the existing policy framework of the College of Physicians and Surgeons in Ontario. It means that in my jurisdiction, there would be an effective right to force the physician to be part of this process even when she or he does not want to be part of the process. This is a major and grave concern to me and to physicians in my constituency as well.
The other issue that should concern us is whether this legislation respects the Carter decision and would it survive a charter challenge. I would say there is sufficient and grave cause to understand that this may not be the case. I would put it to my hon. colleagues, if we cannot pass legislation that could survive a charter challenge, why are we going through this process in the first place? Again, it makes a mockery of the situation.
I am hopeful that the government, as the bill moves forward, would accept amendments to ensure that everyone's charter rights are respected whether they be physicians or medical personnel, and that the charter rights of vulnerable persons be respected as well. We owe it to Canadians to get this right the first time, to protect the conscience rights of physicians and health professionals while respecting the parameters of the Carter decision.
Canadians expect us to work hard and do this right.
I want to acknowledge that the other point raised by my colleagues is a good one. Where is the palliative care money, the $3 billion in funding for palliative care? There is no mention of it in the budget. As they say sometimes in politics as in life, the devil is in the details. Where is the funding going to come from? How is it going to be allocated? It is absolutely imperative the government take decisive action on palliative care.
That ends my comments on the bill, but I want to reiterate that the shenanigans that went on before I rose are absolutely unacceptable to free and democratic debate on an issue of conscience for many members of this House, for all members of this House. I object to the motion being put forward in the way that it was. I object to the process that is being put forward by the government as it tries to shut down debate of members who want to advance their positions and those of their constituents.