Madam Speaker, it is a great pleasure today to rise as the shadow minister of justice for the official opposition to speak to the government's Bill C-7. As I rise to speak on this bill, I do so with concern over some of the contents within it and even over the way it was presented to the House this week when, unfortunately, many of us read about the contents of the bill in the media, rather than seeing it first in this House.
The bill was intended to be a response to the Quebec Superior Court decision that was made on September 11, 2019. The decision stated that the law as it stood was too restrictive around the requirement for death to be reasonably foreseeable. The official opposition called on the government at the time to appeal the decision to the Supreme Court of Canada in order for Parliament to receive clarity about the parameters in which we would legislate, but the bill was introduced without that clarity.
Not only was the bill introduced without that clarity, but it goes far beyond what was required to meet the Quebec Superior Court's decision. I believe that is an affront to this Parliament, because when the previous bill, Bill C-14, was passed in the 42nd Parliament, the wisdom of this Parliament required that there be a statutory review of our assisted dying regime in Canada. That statutory review was and is to take place in June of this year.
It is in that review period that parliamentarians would be able to go more into depth on how the government's legislation has worked over the past several years and on how best to proceed. Rather than wait for that review, as it should have done, the government has decided to start making amendments to the legislation now, avoiding the in-depth review that is to take place shortly.
The reality is that when we are talking about this legislation, we are literally talking about the matter of life and death. This is an incredibly sensitive issue. Members on all sides of the house have diverse opinions on it, and it is because of this diversity of opinions and because of the sensitivity of this issue that the Quebec Superior Court decision should have been appealed to the Supreme Court of Canada for further clarity. However, as the government has now opened this legislation up, it is upon us as legislators to now highlight other matters that should be addressed and included.
My office has heard plenty from concerned Canadians about the lack of protection for conscience rights for health care professionals. This is particularly important now that the government is broadening medical assistance in dying to include individuals whose death is not reasonably foreseeable. Expanding medical assistance in dying to more patients could in fact diminish the number of medical professionals willing to take part in the process. The fact is that this expanded access could result in a heavy emotional burden on those health care providers.
None of us here can fully appreciate the burden put on those health care providers currently working in the system and providing medical assistance in dying. The fact is that there is nothing about ensuring proper support to health care professionals who provide this service and there continue to be no penalties for pressuring a medical professional into providing medical assistance in dying, nor are there penalties for punishing or penalizing a medical professional who does not participate in medical assistance in dying. This means there continues to be no real protection for conscience rights for health care professionals.
The issue of advance directives, now rebranded as a “waiver of final consent” by this government, is a complex one that poses questions of ethics and safety and issues with oversight. The fact that the legislation legalizing this is half a page of a bill shows a lack of care given to this issue. This issue rightly should have been discussed as part of the parliamentary review to take place this summer.
The process for the creation and execution of this agreement remains ambiguous. Further, there is a lack of clarity on the process for proceeding with an advance directive agreement upon the date selected. The process will only be stopped if a patient expresses a form of resistance, but we do not know what that looks like. What if they are simply confused or groggy at the time? Under the legislation, unless they resist, the process will still proceed.
The bill also removes the 10-day waiting requirement when a person's death is reasonably foreseeable. When I read in media reports before the bill was tabled that this would be included, I, like many of many of my colleagues and parliamentarians, questioned as to what prompted its removal. I still remain incredibly concerned as to why this was included. This is particularly true because there was already the ability to remove the 10-day waiting period if a person's death or loss of capacity to consent was imminent, so why proceed with the removal of a safeguard that Parliament saw fit to include in the previous legislation?
It is also confusing that Bill C-7 requires a 90-day waiting period when a patient's death is not reasonably foreseeable. Why add an extended wait period for one, but remove the wait period entirely for the other?
On the issue of whether a death is reasonably foreseeable or not reasonably foreseeable, there is no clarification or guidance for health care professionals. As a result, it is not up to them to make the determination as to what category to put a patient under. That determination will decide whether a patient can access medical assistance in dying immediately or if they will require a 90-day waiting period. This is an extraordinary amount of pressure that the government is putting on health care professionals across this country.
The changing of witness requirements under this legislation has also been mentioned. The law requires only one independent witness, which is down from two.
All of these changes lead to an expansion of the law in Canada far beyond what was addressed in the Quebec court decision, an expansion that should have required deeper reflection through the study that is to take place this summer.
For a moment, let us speak to a point that seems to be lost in this conversation: palliative care services in this country.
The reality is if the choice is between a lack of quality palliative care and medically assisted dying, that really is no choice at all. Unfortunately, over the past number of years there have been instances of patients feeling they were forced to choose death because of a lack of palliative care.
The story of Archie Rolland comes to mind. Archie was a Montreal landscape architect who chose to end his life rather than continue suffering at a long-term care facility that was failing to provide him adequate care.
He had ALS and had his life upended when he was forced to move from a Montreal hospital that specialized in treating patients with severe respiratory ailments to a long-term care facility for geriatric patients. Mr. Rolland did not want to go, but he was transferred against his wishes. He called the system “inhuman”. He felt he was not getting adequate care, so he chose death.
I do not think that this is any real choice at all. We must have the discussion in this country about palliative care because people must not feel forced into a decision on medically assisted death. Mr. Rolland's story makes it clear that there was a failure of the system to provide him with adequate care. We risk medically assisted death being seen as some sort of bureaucratic solution for people who require an extra level of care. In a country like Canada, that is simply not acceptable. The government risks expanding a culture of not valuing life, and we should all agree in this place that we must place value on human life.
In closing, the bill disrespects Parliament and the parliamentary process. With Bill C-14, parliamentarians did a significant amount of work in the House and committee in an attempt to build consensus. The work was challenged by the Quebec Superior Court, but rather than defending the will of elected representatives in court, the Liberals immediately backed down.
Now the Liberals are responding not just to that decision but are also undoing the work of the joint committee on Bill C-14 by adding new measures.
Many of these issues should be dealt with in the summer when we have our scheduled parliamentary review. This is a complex matter that requires proper scrutiny and debate.