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View Anthony Housefather Profile
Lib. (QC)
View Anthony Housefather Profile
2020-02-27 13:41 [p.1678]
Madam Speaker, I will be sharing my time with the hon. member for Pontiac.
I want to start by saying that this subject is no doubt difficult for many Canadians watching. It is one in which we try to reconcile our deeply held view that life is precious with the right to liberty and the right to make our own independent decisions. This is a place where parliamentarians need to reflect not only on our own values but on what our courts have said.
In the Carter decision, the Supreme Court determined that section 7 of the charter meant that our provisions in the Criminal Code on assisted suicide were invalid. It said there was a class of people who were entitled to have doctors and nurses assist them in dying, so in 2016, Parliament had to move forward with legislation.
I had the pleasure of being the chair of the Standing Committee on Justice and Human Rights at the time. I listened to witnesses who had a myriad of opinions. I listened to professionals from all sides, including doctors, nurses, psychologists, people representing the disabled, and groups that advocated the right to die with dignity. What we crafted was a law that attempted to bridge all of those gaps. We knew that this law would not be in place forever. We knew that we, as a society and a country, would learn from the experiences of that law and that we would move forward with changes.
Indeed, I was very pleased that the Standing Committee on Justice and Human Rights made some significant changes to the legislation. We carved out conscience protection for medical professionals so that they were not obliged to assist with medical assistance in dying if it violated their own conscience or their moral values. We said that the law needed to be looked at again five years later to look at various classes of people we had left out of the original law, such as mature minors and people suffering from mental illness, as well as to examine the issue of advance directives whereby people could make decisions before they declined into dementia.
We also required the review to look at palliative care and its availability across Canada, because the two issues are intrinsically tied together. We do not want people to ever make a decision that they need medically assisted death because they will be deprived of proper palliative care.
That review is coming up. I know that Canadians across the country will have the opportunity to pronounce on these issues.
However, our courts have made another decision.
In the Truchon-Gladu ruling in Quebec, the court ruled that a class of people were entitled to access medical assistance in dying in accordance with Carter. The legislation passed in 2016 had removed this class of people from the list of people eligible for medical assistance in dying. We must therefore remove the section that limits medical assistance in dying to people whose death is reasonably foreseeable. This amendment to the original law is designed to remove this class of people and to enable people who meet all of the other criteria to access medical assistance in dying, even if their death is not reasonably foreseeable.
I support that position because I have not only looked at the court decisions but have also walked the experience of Canadians over the last four years.
We have heard of people who were enduring grave suffering and who should have been entitled to medical assistance in dying because they met every aspect of the law, except that no one could say with reasonable certainty that their death would happen in the near future. We heard, from Canadians everywhere in Canada who fall under that class, that this is unfair. The courts in the Truchon case and in a number of other cases have hinted that this requirement is unconstitutional, so the government is moving forward to respect the court's decision in Truchon and remove from the law the requirement for death to be reasonably foreseeable.
However, the government is also adapting the law to deal with other difficulties that have arisen.
We never talked about, or if we did, it was rare, the issue of people deciding to prematurely end their lives because they were worried they would lose capacity at a future date. People should not shorten their lives because they are worried that a month later they will no longer have the capability or capacity to make that decision under the terms of the law. If it will give people an extra two or three weeks or an extra month with their family, we should do that.
Therefore, the law is being amended to allow people to offer consent to a medically assisted death even if they lose capacity, but it also establishes safeguards. In the event they get to that date and they no longer wish to have medically assisted dying, even if they have lost capacity, by any word, any gesture that is not involuntary, then the pre-consent will disappear.
I want to clarify this, because it has been talked about a great deal today. This is not an advance directive. These are people who already know exactly what their illness is, they are already suffering from this illness, they are in an advanced state of decline, they have no ability to relieve their pain by medical treatment reasonably accessible to them and they have, after being reviewed by two medical professionals and declaring before an independent witness, decided they want to offer consent to end their lives on a certain date, even if they have lost the capacity to consent.
This is a really important change, and I credit the government for doing so.
I also want to look at the issue of how we have handled that class of people whose death is not reasonably foreseeable. We have established a 90-day waiting period in that case. We have not made this something that could happen in the 10 days that was previously reflected under the law. We have done so with due seriousness. We understand the differences and the challenges that the issue poses for people when their death is not imminent.
For example, people could have a catastrophic event that occurs and their circumstances change suddenly. We want them to have a proper reflection period before moving forward with medically assisted dying. We also understand and have made the exception for those people who may lose the capacity to consent during that 90-day period.
The amendments to the bill reflect well where Canadian society has gone.
I do want to say that when we passed the legislation in 2016, very few jurisdictions around the world allowed medical assistance in dying. It existed in Belgium, the Netherlands, Uruguay and five or six U.S. states.
We were one of the first countries in the world to allow medical assistance in dying. For that reason, we chose to take things slowly.
This new amendment to the original law takes us to a place where Canadian society has moved. Canadian society, much more than in 2016, accepts and supports medically assisted dying, because they have watched the practice happen. We have seen the challenges we have confronted with the existing law and we have taken steps to improve the law and comply with the Truchon decision.
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