Mr. Speaker, I am happy to stand today to add my voice to this debate. I think it is a particularly important debate. It is an important subject, and I think there are a lot of issues that need to be discussed.
I am going to confine my comments to issues I have with the bill, things I am concerned about, and my genuine belief that the government will take a very collaborative approach to this legislation. If we take a collaborative approach to this legislation, Canadians will have trust and faith that we developed legislation to actually address their needs and protect their concerns.
Speaking of concerns, I have a number of them. I will start off by talking about what I consider to be a significant lack of consultation.
This legislation will come up for review in June. It is the five-year mandated review of the legislation. My understanding is that the government has applied for a four-month extension with respect to the implementation of this legislation, which the Quebec court struck down.
If we have this four-month extension and have the mandated review of the legislation scheduled in June, what is the rush? Why have we rushed to introduce legislation prior to that mandatory review, which would, of course, be extensive and broad and far more in depth than any consultation that has been done with respect to the current legislation? My understanding is that there was only about two weeks of public consultation for this legislation. In my opinion, that is woefully deficient given the gravity of the topic we are discussing today.
This is my first real concern. What is the hurry? What is the rush? The court has given us more time to do this, and I believe we should be taking the time to go through the mandatory review and consult with Canadians, and then decide on the path forward. That is my number one concern.
I want to mention that I will be sharing my time with the member for Langley—Aldergrove. My thanks to the page for bringing that to my attention. She is doing an excellent job.
The next thing I want to talk about is palliative care. The minister has made comments in the House today espousing the great investments that are being made by the government in health care, but has not really talked about any specific investments with respect to palliative care. I think that is a critical thing to look at when we discuss this legislation. I want to remind the minister that Bill C-277, an act providing for the development of a framework on palliative care in Canada, was passed in the previous Parliament in 2017, and clearly states in the preamble:
Whereas the Final Report stated that a request for physician-assisted death cannot be truly voluntary if the option of proper palliative care is not available to alleviate a person’s suffering;
This was passed by Parliament, so if we are looking to expand the scope of medically assisted death without also expanding the availability of palliative care, we are doing an incredible disservice to Canadians, because the availability of palliative care in this country is poor at best. I am going to speak about this personally just for a moment.
Both of my parents suffered from terminal cancer. My mother was not able to get into a palliative care facility because there was no palliative care facility available for her, so she passed away in the hospital. My father was also not able to get into palliative care, but fortunately his illness was longer than my mother's, or unfortunately, depending on how one looks at it, and we were able to get private home care that eased his suffering and made sure he was being taken care of. However, there was no way that he was going to be able to get into palliative care within the scope of his illness.
This is affecting Canadians from coast to coast to coast, and the minister has rushed to introduce this bill. Why would the minister not have introduced corollary legislation, or legislation in tandem, or announced increases in funding for palliative care?
In my riding of Dufferin—Caledon, there is a fantastic hospice for palliative care. It is called Bethell Hospice. It only has approximately 15 beds. That is the palliative care option in my riding. For approximately 200,000 people, there are 15 palliative care beds.
Members can imagine that there is a significant number of people who are not able to get into palliative care. Therefore, the option of medically assisted death becomes far more attractive for someone who is not able to enter into a palliative care facility.
I will repeat that it is clearly a violation of legislation that was passed by the House. When people do not have the option for proper palliative care, their consent for a medically assisted death is significantly in question. I am extraordinarily concerned by the lack of any plan by the government to deal with investments in palliative care.
The minister has suggested that there are significant safeguards in place for people who suffer from any type of mental illness. However, I am not sure what those safeguards are. She suggested that just having that condition would exclude someone from obtaining a medically assisted death. What is the definition of that? How are we proving that is the only issue?
There is no requirement for individuals to go to a psychiatrist in order to assess that they are not suffering from a severe bout of depression. In my own life, I have gone through extraordinary stages and phases of depression during which I actually did not want to live anymore. I was not seeing a psychiatrist at the time. Would I have then been able to avail myself of these services while I was in a period of particular darkness? We know that mental health is an issue that is rampant throughout this country.
Again, I will go back to my first point, which is: Why are we rushing to do this? Why are we not taking the time to go through the five-year review? We need to take the time to find ways to make sure we are safeguarding all Canadians in providing them the option of medically assisted death, if they want it, but also ensuring that people who are choosing this, maybe because of a lack of palliative care, or maybe because of underlying mental health issues, are going to be protected.
These are some of the major concerns I have with respect to this piece of legislation.
Going back to the consultation, two weeks for online submissions with respect to concerns by Canadians is not anywhere near a sufficient amount of consultation. My understanding is that it was mostly online submissions. This is not a way to get the pulse of Canadians with respect to a very significant issue that is going on in this country. I will continue to ask why there was not a longer or broader consultation.
I know this matter will be studied at committee, but having been a member of Parliament now for going on five and a half years, I understand the extreme limitations at committee. We will often have a panel of six witnesses. Those six witnesses will each get their 10-minute statement, and then members of Parliament might get a six-minute intervention to try and raise an issue.
If one is going to suggest that a committee study will be far broader in scope, or somewhat more encompassing than the mandatory statutory five-year review, I will respectfully disagree with that submission.
Committees absolutely do great work, but they also suffer from an extreme pressure of legislation and time. To suggest that one or two weeks or three meetings at committee is sufficient time to analyze, debate and discuss this legislation, I do not think that is the correct answer. We should be putting this legislation off until we have the mandatory five-year review in June, which would allow us to have a far more expansive discussion with respect to all of the issues that are being discussed in the legislation.
These are my comments and concerns with respect to the legislation. I certainly hope the government will listen to these concerns, act collaboratively and co-operatively, and not try to drive this legislation through without listening to legitimate concerns that are being raised by members of the opposition.