Mr. Speaker, as parliamentarians it is incumbent upon us to draft responsible legislation that protects the sanctity of life, protects those contemplating suicide and protects vulnerable peoples. These are principles that were outlined in the preamble to Bill C-14, the landmark legislation that governs assisted dying in this country. These are principles that, although largely restated in Bill C-7, are being watered down and undermined by this legislation.
As recently as the early 1990s, in the landmark Rodriguez case, the court ruled that there was no constitutional right to assisted dying in this country. The Carter decision overruled that previous decision, and now Parliament has the difficult task of balancing the autonomy of Canadians with our responsibility to create safeguards for vulnerable Canadians. It is one of our most sacred responsibilities to protect the lives of our citizens. We need to get laws on assisted dying right.
The adoption of medical assistance in dying after the 2015 election is an event I am very familiar with. I had the honour of serving under the member for St. Albert—Edmonton as he took the lead as the Conservative vice-chair of the Special Joint Committee on Physician-Assisted Dying. During this time, I was involved in all aspects of the committee that was making recommendations on a new law. I heard from all the witnesses, and I listened to all deliberations regarding what direction our country should take.
That committee recommended a radical departure with very few safeguards. These recommendations did not reflect the testimony of experts, but instead the political agenda of special interests.
The Conservative minority report provided at the joint committee was entrenched firmly in the principles of the Supreme Court's decision in Carter, and included recommendations that were laid out by key witnesses, such as the former president of the Canadian Psychiatric Association, Dr. Karandeep Sonu Gaind. It outlined key principles for us on the issue of physician-assisted dying.
These included not accepting the provision that assistance in dying be provided to those under the age of 18, in line with the Carter decision, which stated that only competent adults should be allowed access to assisted dying. We also did not accept the extension of medical assistance in dying for those suffering exclusively from mental illnesses. We did not believe that any mental illness is irremediable, as the Canadian Psychiatric Association stated.
We also did not believe in the validity of advance directives to allow Canadians to consent to an assisted death far in advance of its administration. This change would stand opposed to the express will of the Supreme Court of Canada, which ruled that consent must be contemporaneous with the time of death.
We also recognized the lessons of the Quebec experience, as the first jurisdiction in this country to legalize euthanasia. In its regime, medical assistance in dying could only be rendered on adults with a severe, incurable physical illness, characterized by an advanced state of irreversible decline.
I believe many Canadians can sympathize with this limited exception for assistance in dying; however, even these safeguards have proved to be short-lived. Barely five years later, the courts and the government have decided that these safeguards are far too restrictive.
How did we get here today? Barely had the ink dried on Bill C-14 before proponents of expanded assisted dying launched their campaign to eliminate necessary safeguards.
As a Conservative who strongly believes in the sanctity of human life, Bill C-14 was a difficult pill to swallow. However, it was one that I believed upheld many of the values that I hold and the values that many of my constituents hold.
The previous legislation recognized that we must tread carefully with this new reality of assisted dying. It introduced safeguards that limited mature minors, those with exclusively mental illnesses and those whose deaths were not reasonably foreseeable.
I believe this is where the majority of Canadians are, and I believe the government largely got the balance right under Bill C-14. Unfortunately, there are a radical, vocal few who want to undermine even these protections and push this country headlong into a permissive regime for assisted dying, a regime that, as we know from international experience, has resulted in the deaths of vulnerable people.
If we continue to go down this road and liberalize all safeguards, we will continue to see mistakes and deliberate actions that end the lives of vulnerable people. This new legislation outlined in Bill C-7, although not taking these large, radical steps that I outlined, is opening the door to a wider radical departure from principles like the protection of the vulnerable and the sanctity of human life.
I am particularly concerned about the inclusion of the term and policy of advance consent.
The Supreme Court of Canada was very clear, crystal clear, that an assisted death should only be administered with the consent of a person at the time of death. We know that there are some cases where people fear losing their capacity to end their lives. However, we cannot allow the precedent of advance consent to gain legitimacy in our system. Advance consent in this legislation I believe is a Trojan horse designed to build the legal case to accept the adoption of advance directives.
Advance directives are a concept by which people can direct the actions of medical professionals after they have ceased to have the capacity to consent to an assisted death. Many Canadians are familiar with DNRs: do-not-resuscitate orders. DNRs are a completely ethical and morally acceptable practice, whereby a patient can designate that no action should be taken to attempt resuscitation. By respecting the will of the patient and not acting, medical professionals are allowing the patient to die a natural death. Medical professionals can also hasten the natural death of their patient through pain remediation. I believe this is also an acceptable practice.
I support do-not-resuscitate orders, and I think many Canadians are being deliberately misled into believing that an advance directive is the moral and ethical equivalent of a DNR. It is not. An advance directive does not ask medical professionals to withhold action allowing a natural death. It requires medical professionals to take direct action to immediately end the life of the patient.
This is a leap in practice that goes far beyond what I believe is ethical. It undermines one of the greatest medical principles: first, do no harm. I can imagine, in a not-so-distant future, someone with dementia or Alzheimer's who had previously written an advance directive, believing that life would be not worth living with this disease. Imagine in the future that we had the medical expertise and the breakthrough pharmaceuticals that could make life better for those suffering. How can someone consent to have life end without contemporaneous consent at the time of death, when they cannot know what their quality of life will be?
It introduces a high level of subjectivity to the question about what kind of life is a life worth living. This is a dangerous question that will lead us down a lethal road, a road that I do not think anyone wants to go down today. I believe it is unethical and dangerous to allow someone's life to be ended by an advance directive or consent, even with the meagre protections offered in Bill C-7, which includes a provision that no resistance be shown. There is still a threat of abuse. If people are unable to understand and consent to death, how are they supposed to know to resist when someone comes to administer their death?
Parliament is being rushed into liberalizing a practice that is not even half a decade old. Its members lack the experience, the data and the moral understanding to press forward with such a life-and-death issue. I am disappointed that the government abdicated its responsibility to stand up for vulnerable people when it chose not even to appeal the Quebec court's decision to the Supreme Court of Canada. What better court to clarify what safeguards are acceptable than the very court that originally dealt with these significant matters?
Instead, the government has given Parliament little time to contemplate such an important issue. Canadians are still catching up to the reality of assisted dying being legal in this country, and now we are foolishly pressing forward before we can fully understand the impacts of this legalization.