Madam Speaker, medical assistance in dying, or MAID, is complex. It is a deeply personal and difficult topic, yet this past January alone, more than 300,000 Canadians took part in the online public consultation to have their say. Many others, including experts and family members of loved ones who received MAID, took part in round-table discussions.
We also heard how the legislation is working from many of the conscientious health care providers involved in delivering this service. Canadians are engaged and aware of the importance of bringing the compassionate, sensible measures contained within Bill C-7, an act to amend the Criminal Code (medical assistance in dying).
This bill builds on the foundation laid by the current legislation on MAID, passed by Parliament in June 2016, and extends eligibility for MAID to persons who, while suffering intolerably, may not be at the end of life. This bill respects the Truchon decision and supports the autonomy of Canadians wanting to make an informed choice to end the suffering they face as a result of serious illness, regardless of whether their condition is life-threatening in the near term.
Respecting the autonomy of Canadians while protecting the safety of vulnerable people remains our central objective. That is why Bill C-7 proposes a two-track approach to safeguards, based on whether or not a person's death is reasonably foreseeable.
We have proposed to ease certain safeguards that had the unintended consequence of creating a barrier for someone accessing MAID whose death is deemed reasonably foreseeable, and we will introduce new and modified safeguards for eligible persons whose death is not reasonably foreseeable.
Bill C-7 would permit the waiving of final consent for persons at the end of life who have been already assessed and approved to receive MAID, but who are at risk of losing their decision-making capacity before it can be provided. There was very strong support for this type of amendment from Canadians, experts, health care providers and their professional regulating bodies.
Our government recognizes the importance of data and science-based evidence in the decision-making process. That is why this bill proposes that we expand data collection through the federal monitoring regime to provide a more complete picture of MAID in Canada.
I would like to note that following the Truchon decision there has been widespread speculation about the potential for persons solely with mental illness to be eligible for MAID. However, many stakeholders in the mental health community have expressed deep concern about this possibility. They feel this option directly conflicts with important treatment principles, which are that there is always hope for recovery and that people can live fulfilling lives with a mental illness.
From the perspective of many health care providers and many health care specialists, assessing eligibility for such individuals poses numerous challenges. Mental illnesses are not generally considered to be incurable, which is a requirement under the current law. In addition, the trajectory of such conditions can be more difficult to predict.
In light of the multiple challenges we heard and the lack of support from the practitioner community who would bear the responsibility for conducting eligibility assessments, this bill does not permit MAID for persons whose sole medical condition is a mental illness.
This decision was not taken lightly. It in no way implies that suffering associated with mental illness is any less severe or more tolerable than that associated with another medical condition, such as one arising from a physical condition. Rather, this decision reflects the many uncertainties underlying this question and a concern that allowing MAID in these circumstances could place Canadians at risk.
We recognize that there are proponents who support MAID eligibility for persons solely with a mental illness. However, in light of the Quebec court decision and the compressed time frame for legislative amendments, there is insufficient time to fully address this topic and determine whether a regime that allows access to MAID for persons whose sole underlying condition is a mental illness is viable.
For these reasons, we are adopting an incremental and cautious approach. It is our view that this issue should be explored as part of the parliamentary review process, which is expected to begin later this year.
It is easy as parliamentarians and as legislators to lose the human element of what we do and to focus on talking points and politics, but these compassionate and sensible measures have come from extensive consultation with Canadians, experts and folks who have lived with the unintended consequences of the original legislation.
These are folks like the late Audrey Parker, a Nova Scotian who wanted to spend just one last Christmas with her family but ended her life through MAID two months prior, while she could still give consent.
I want to take this time to read some of Audrey Parker's final posts into the record so they will be preserved in Hansard, because this legislation includes her amendment. As my colleagues in the House debate, discuss and study the bill, I want them to remember that there are many folks like Audrey across Canada who deserve this autonomy and this compassion.
“This is my last note to you. I can tell you I loved my life so much and I have no regrets. I feel like I’m leaving as my best self and I’m ready to see what happens when I die today. I’m hoping for something exciting to happen but I guess I won’t know until the time is here.
“The one thing I’m happiest about, is that I finally found ‘my people’ during my lifetime. I’ve even met new people that I already adore near the end of my journey so it’s never too late for anything in life.
“In the spirit of teaching and sharing, I’d like to leave you with some words that explain my position with MAID.
“When the MP’s debated MAID federally, someone decided to add late stage consent as a fail-safe to ensure no one dies at the hand of another.
“There are four categories of MAID candidates.... Of the four categories, the only one that is cut and dried is my category of Assessed and Approved. We are terminal, suffering outrageous pain and there is no time frame with using MAID. The kicker that makes it difficult is the late stage consent.
“As I near my death today, it is even more evident than ever before, that late stage consent has got to be amended and removed from MAID in Canada for my category of end users.”
“Dying is a messy business. I can’t predict when cancer will move into my brain matter or when something else big happens to make me more unwell. I and only I can make that decision for myself. It’s about living out every extra day that I can. No one including my doctor knows what the right day to die will be. Only I can know that as I wake each day. I’m not going to wait until I lose myself.... I wanted to make it to Christmas and New Year’s Eve... my favorite time of the year but I lost that opportunity because of a poorly thought out federal law.
“Had late stage consent been abolished, I simply would have taken my life one day at a time. If I noticed I was losing capacity, I would have taken control myself....and called my doctor to come assist me with my death. All I have to give is 24 hours notice so she can pick up the drugs from the drug store in my neighborhood. We were totally organized but the law tied our hands.
“This decision has to come from the patient. No one else. That’s why we the dying should be living day to day until we have to leave by invoking MAID.
“Be happy everyone and be kind to others.... Audrey.”
I ask that all members in the House support Bill C-7.