Madam Speaker, I am glad to be able to rise this evening to speak to these amendments from the Senate on the medical assistance in dying bill.
It is unfortunate that we have such a short amount of time to talk about these amendments, because this is quite literally a matter of life and death. I would think the government, on something as serious as this, would want to spend some time thinking about these changes, which are far outside the scope of the original bill.
Let me talk about the purpose of the Senate. The Senate was put in place at its inception as a mechanism to look at the legislation from the government of the day and decide whether it was good for Canada. If not, it was to provide fixes for it and send it back. Clearly, what has happened with Bill C-7 is far beyond that.
The unelected members of the Senate have come with items like MAID for people suffering only from mental illness, advance directives, and all kinds of things that were beyond the scope of what was presented. That is not its role, and the government, by accepting these things outside of its scope, is really putting ideas in the minds of the senators to encourage them to continue to do what is not their role.
Let us go through the amendments one at a time. The first one allows those with only mental illness to have access to MAID and says we will talk about it in a while: not in 18 months, but in 24 months. This is really unacceptable. After the first medical assistance in dying legislation was brought in, the Liberal government put together consultants and a panel from the Council of Canadian Academies. This was done by the honourable Jane Philpott and the hon. member for Vancouver Granville, to study whether people with mental illness only should have access to MAID.
That working group could not agree that this was a good thing to proceed with. It was quite concerned about whether people with mental illness really had the capability to give informed consent. It was concerned as well that we were going down the wrong path. Even the Netherlands, which has such a broad euthanasia range, only allows people with dementia to have medical assistance in dying, and there is still a ton of controversy with that. Even the Netherlands has not gone down this very dark path.
The Centre for Addiction and Mental Health issued a report to the government and said:
Canadians themselves are divided on the issue of MAiD, and most do not support making it available to those with only mental illness.
If the government is not going to listen to Canadians when they say this is not what they want, that is a concern.
These experts from CAMH also said:
The federal government should not make an amendment to MAiD legislation for people with mental illness as their sole underlying medical condition at this time due to a lack of evidence that mental illness is an irremediable medical condition in individual cases.
CAMH also expressed:
The concern is that many individuals with mental illness...[may have] impairments in [their] reasoning capacity that [would] make it difficult for them to connect their symptoms with their illness, fully understand the risks and benefits of treatment, and/or make...decisions based on personal goals and values.
With that, the Liberal government should be listening to Canadians who do not think this is a good idea, the mental health experts who do not think this is a good idea and the many people who are suffering from mental illness.
Not to be coarse, but the reality today is that people who only have mental illness as their condition can already commit suicide. In fact, sadly, thousands of Canadians are doing it, and thousands more are likely to do it as a result of the failure of the government to address the pandemic and restore the economy. People are losing their businesses and their livelihoods, and they have been under lockdown. This is a very serious condition.
A time when the government is talking about suicide prevention is no time to be saying, “Let us put extra help in here so people can have medical professionals assist them in their suicide efforts.” That is offensive at the very least.
The second amendment has to do with the review of the MAID regime. Absolutely, I see the government wants to have a review, but the fact is, there was a review in the first legislation, and the government did not do it. That was unacceptable and should have been addressed then. I do not think we need a new formula on how to do a review. I think we just need to do the review.
The third amendment is about collecting race-based data regarding MAID. I see in the discussion of this and it has been mentioned that we collect this kind of data on other things, such as palliative care. Well, palliative care, as members know because my private member's bill on palliative care was unanimously supported in the House, is a topic that is near and dear to my heart. In fact, the framework on palliative care to get consistent access for Canadians was begun because the data shows that where there is good quality palliative care, 95% of the people choose to live as well as they can for as long as they can.
However, sadly, this government has prioritized the killing of people through medical assistance in dying and de-emphasized palliative care. When we talk about people who, maybe due to their race and social standing, do not have good access to palliative care, we are talking about 60% of Canadians left without any access. That certainly should have been the priority for the government, instead of expanding the regime to help people end their lives.
I see that the clarification of neurocognitive disorder not being considered a mental illness was rejected as an amendment. The justice minister clarified in his testimony that the exclusion is not intended to capture neurocognitive disorders that are due to Alzheimer's or Parkinson's disease. Well, the justice minister has a habit of needing to clarifying things, because what is in the bills is never clear enough. We saw that in Bill C-6 where a clarification had to be put on the website about the definition. It was not in the bill, but it needed to be done because of the hurry with which these things are brought forward. I think that we need to take the time to get things right and not rush.
With respect to the advance request amendment, I would say that the same group that was put together to consult on this issue consulted on advance consent. The government already had this information, and it was not recommend that we go with advance consent. There were concerns about a few things.
First of all, who decides what is intolerable suffering when the person has lost capacity? When do we take action? How do we prove that it is informed consent? How do we make sure there is a third party responsible to enforce the decision if there is a disagreement after the person has lost capacity? These were the issues that had been brought forward, and they were ignored altogether in this discussion. I would add that Belgium and Luxembourg only allow advance consent when a person is permanently unconscious, and so that should be a consideration.
I would be remiss on the palliative care discussion if I did not do a plug for the Granfondo Cycle of Life fundraiser in my riding on April 9 at 7:30 p.m. Members can get details from my web page.
The other topic of discussion is about the work that needs to be done to actually make sure there are alternatives. We talked about the need for mental health supports and the need for palliative care. These are important considerations.
In short, I feel that the Senate overstepped its bounds with the amendments that it brought. I feel that the government should have appealed to the Supreme Court with the Quebec decision in the first place. Certainly, the government should not be expanding the scope of medical assistance in dying without doing its due diligence on the review that was originally desired, and spend more time listening to what Canadians want and what the people who are going to be impacted are feeling.
With that, it is clear that I will be voting against these amendments, as well as the medical assistance in dying legislation that has been brought forward.