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View Garnett Genuis Profile
Mr. Speaker, some members have been asking me today about what is on my forehead. Do not worry, it is not the remnants of an inappropriate Arabian Nights costume and it is not the result of slipping and falling while changing a child's diaper. These are ashes. Once a year on what we call Ash Wednesday to mark the beginning of Lent, Catholics receive blessed ashes on their forehead and may be told, “Remember that you are dust, and unto dust you shall return.”
Although I oppose the bill, I will note that there is something poetic about discussing death on Ash Wednesday. I have had many conversations with passionate advocates of euthanasia-assisted suicide. They tell me that we should not be afraid of death, that death is a natural part of life. I agree with them that death ought not to be feared. However important we think we are in the House, from dust we came and to dust we shall return.
The tendency of modernity is to seek autonomy from and control over the world around us and to feel, as technology improves, that we are bound by fewer and fewer of the things that bound us in the past, this in both a physical and a moral sense.
In ages past and in other parts of the world, the idea that death was a solution to suffering was unthinkable because life was full of suffering and suffering was taken for granted. Hunger and disease were rampant and uncontrollable for the vast majority of human history. People had to find meaning and purpose independent of their physical circumstances and they recognized profound limits on their ability to control the world around them.
Our age is unique in its expectation for control, so much of the demand for euthanasia and assisted suicide is not about suffering, but it is about control. Most physical suffering can be addressed through effective pain management and palliative care. Illness and the use of pain management may involve the loss of autonomy and control or a change in capacity, which can be very scary.
The good news, belied by our modern assumptions, is that people often adapt to unexpected circumstances. While we want to control our lives in advance, we can often find meaning and happiness in circumstances that we had thought would be unendurable.
I did my master's dissertation on happiness measurement. One of the insights of this burgeoning field is that measurable happiness levels often adapt in negative circumstances much more and much faster than most people think. I might think that going mute would make me very unhappy, but if I did go mute, there is data to suggest that I would find ways of adapting and that my happiness would not be impacted nearly as much as I thought it might in advance. Of course, other people's happiness might be impacted if I went mute as well.
Part of our desire to control all aspects of our life is our tragic disinterest in generational wisdom. Many cultures, including first nations cultures here in Canada, revere elders for their experience and wisdom and give them pride of place in families and community. It is no surprise, in light of their reverence for the elderly, that many first nations people oppose this expansion. My friend, former Liberal MP Robert-Falcon Ouellette, once reflected that it sends dangerous message to young people when older people choose suicide.
Also on the question of autonomy, I think many of us would find that what makes life most worth living is not our sense of autonomy, but rather our presence in meaningful communities that affirm human dignity. We need to think about the impacts on communities that flow from this expanded euthanasia regime.
Suffering together has often been part of our experience of community. It is a tragedy that too often we shut people who are suffering out of public spaces. This loss of community rather than the initial cause is likely a source of great suffering and pain as well.
Think back to a time when we accompanied someone as they suffered. Unique, meaningful moments happen because of the intimacies that exist in moments of vulnerability and dependency. When people fear that they may be a burden, we need to say to them, “no, we love you, you are not a burden and rather we desire to share your burdens with you”. We cannot be a society characterized by happiness and meaning if we are not composed of communities of people who are willing to suffer with each other. The very word “compassion” comes from the Latin for “suffer with”.
In any event, we do not talk often enough about death. Nobody wants to be reminded that one day they will die and probably after, not before, their opinions have ceased to be of interest to anyone outside their family. There has been a lot of discussion in the context of the bill about the notion that for some people at certain points in time, death is or is not reasonably foreseeable. Surely death is reasonably foreseeable for all of us and hopefully we speak and we vote in a way that allows us to face our mortality with confidence.
It is good to recognize our own limitations and to seek joy and meaning in the midst of the inherent unpredictability of life while pushing for greater supports for those seeking to adapt to new and challenging circumstances.
We need better support for the inclusion of people with disabilities, and we desperately need improvements to pain management and palliative care. We must build communities. We must be a society which seeks to share each other's burdens so that nobody needs to feel like they are a burden.
In the time I have left, I want to note some of the history of this bill. Prior to 2015 we had various bills proposed in this place on this issue. In every case it was a majority of Conservatives, Liberals and New Democrats who opposed it. The legal situation changed in 2015 when the Supreme Court overturned the existing law. The expectation at the time of Carter was for a legal regime that would apply narrowly.
Some were concerned about this decision, arguing that any opening of the door on this issue would lead to a slippery slope once the sacred principle that doctors should do no harm was violated. Rates would escalate, safeguards would be ignored, and patients would feel pressure toward euthanasia and assisted suicide during moments of extreme vulnerability.
Others thought that it would be possible to allow this practice without initiating a slippery slope. They thought it would be possible to carve out a narrow hole in the usual practice of medicine that would remain narrow and limited.
In reality, the slide down the slippery slope has been dramatic, with annual rates increasing by five times between 2016 and 2019. I wonder if members have thought about how high they want this number to go. We are hearing many horror stories about people's experiences with the health care system in the context of euthanasia.
I look forward to sharing more of my concerns with the specific provisions of this legislation, as well as sharing some of those stories, when the House returns to this issue at the next point.
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