Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to join the debate on Bill C-7, an act to amend the Criminal Code, specifically section 241 of the Criminal Code. That is the provision of the Criminal Code that makes it illegal to counsel a person to commit suicide or to aid someone to do so.
In the absence of more recent amendments, in the previous Parliament there was Bill C-14 in response to the Carter decision by the Supreme Court of Canada. In that case the court found that the plaintiffs' charter rights had been infringed upon by a strict interpretation of section 241.
Interestingly, Bill C-14 from the previous Parliament stated, as one of its objectives in paragraph six of the preamble:
...permitting access to medical assistance in dying for competent adults whose deaths are reasonably foreseeable strikes the most appropriate balance between the autonomy of persons who seek medical assistance in dying, on one hand, and the interests of vulnerable persons...on the other;
The relevant provisions in the Criminal Code included that language. It states that qualifications for MAID, including with respect to the person:
their natural death has become reasonably foreseeable, taking into account all of their medical circumstances....
All of this is about to change because of the Truchon decision.
I am speaking to Bill C-7, a bill that would eliminate the reasonable death forseeability safeguard and expand MAID, medical assistance in dying, to a larger number of people. I have been encouraged to speak to the bill because of the many letters and correspondence I have received from people in my constituency.
I have received some letters in support of expanding MAID, but the vast majority of the letters I have received encourage me to speak against expanding the availability of medical assistance in dying.
Correspondence that I am receiving from constituents repeat two basic themes. First is that the reasonable forseeability of death safeguard should be maintained as an effective defence of societal interests and Canadian values. Second is that more should be done to expand palliative care services.
To quote one person, let Canada be a society that is known for its modern and advanced palliative care services and not as a country that has ever expanding use of medical assistance in dying. We should alleviate the suffering, not eliminate the sufferer.
I am going to read quotes from two people who each made the effort to write me a letter.
The first is Dr. den Hollander, who states:
If Canada must allow MAiD in some form (and I wish it didn't), it is incumbent upon us to ensure that it is rare. Eligibility requirements should be tightened, not loosened. More safeguards are necessary, not fewer. Enforcement must be scrupulous, not relaxed. Without these protections, vulnerable people will be pressured by family members, friends and medical practitioners to MAiD.
The second is a woman named Ramona. She works in health care, including palliative care. She quotes a person to whose care she attended, and who died in the Langley Hospice facility, as saying, “I want to live well while I'm dying.” Ramona goes on to comment, “Surely this is what health care was created for, to support people while they are alive, not to speed up their death.”
This is the tenor of the input I am receiving from my constituents.
Behind Bill C-7 is the Superior Court decision in Truchon. The plaintiffs in that case argued that their constitutional rights had been infringed upon by the now amended section 241 of the Criminal Code. They argued that the Carter decision, on which Bill C-14 was based, did not require that a person's end of life be reasonably foreseeable, and that is a true statement. That is not what the Carter decision required.
Secondly, they argued that the legislated end of life requirement violated the right to equality, under section 15 of the charter, and the right to life, liberty and security of the person, under section 7 of the charter. The federal government, acting through the Attorney General's office, did the right thing at that time. It defended its law. That is what the Attorney General should do. Bill C-14 was the well-considered opinion of the previous Parliament. It was the law. The Attorney General must defend the law.
Remarkably, the Quebec Superior Court refused to accept the arguments advanced by the Attorney General. The Quebec Superior Court said that the court cannot accept the first two objectives advanced by the Attorney General regarding the affirmation of the inherent and equal value of every person's life and the importance of preventing suicide.
In the opinion of the justice writing that decision, those two principles were not the underlying philosophy of Bill C-14. It was all about protecting vulnerable persons from being induced, in moments of weakness, to end their lives.
Remarkably, the Attorney General of Canada did not appeal that decision. That is what should have been done. Any self-respecting Attorney General would appeal a decision that attacked the laws of Parliament. This Attorney General elected not to do that. Now we are in this position where we are under pressure to amend the law, when we should instead be following the directive of Bill C-14, and that is to have a comprehensive review of the whole legislation.
That is what we should be doing. What is the rush? The rush is caused by the Attorney General's failure to appeal this decision. It should have been tested through the court system, up to the Supreme Court of Canada.
With the reasonable foreseeability of death safeguard down, this is what we have left. An applicant for MAID qualifies if he or she has a serious and incurable illness, disease or disability; is in an advanced state of decline; or their physical or psychological suffering is intolerable to them, which is a completely subjective test. The reasonable foreseeability of death criteria is now gone.
Let us just test this against a couple of hypothetical situations. We can imagine that a person has Parkinson's or MS, or was in a terrible accident and is a paraplegic. Under this new regime, if it becomes the law, people who are not dying but who meet all the other criteria, however subjective they may be, will qualify for state-sanctioned suicide. One of my constituents has said that we should let Canada be a society that is known for its modern and advanced palliative care services, and not as a country that has ever-expanding use of medical assistance in dying.