Mr. Speaker, it is a great honour to rise to speak at report stage of Bill C-14.
As I stated earlier in this House, it is unfortunate that the Supreme Court of Canada has taken it upon itself to force legislation to be written, which overturns thousands of years of our understanding of the intrinsic value and dignity of every human life.
The Supreme Court has done this, completely rejecting the fact that elected members of this House have rejected initiatives to legalize physician-assisted suicide on at least 15 occasions since 1991. Most recently, a bill to allow physician-assisted suicide was rejected in 2010 by a vote of 59 to 226.
It is not only that nine unelected judges have inserted themselves into a national conversation that should be initiated in this House of Commons, they have even lamented the fact that an extension was sought to give parliamentarians more time to properly study, discuss, and debate this issue of exceptional importance.
In their judgment of January 15, 2016, in granting an extension, the Supreme Court stated, “That the legislative process needs more time is regrettable, but it does not undermine the point that it is the best way to address this issue.”
Really? It is regrettable? It is regrettable to take more time to think soberly through this complex issue, to implement such momentous change, to destroy the very foundations of medicine, to turn upside down the time-honoured belief that it is fundamentally wrong to kill another human being, and all in the name of compassion?
In regard to the impatience on the part of the Supreme Court, Warren Perley wrote, in Beststory:
Common sense dictates that such momentous changes to the law governing assisted suicide should be based on the compass rather than the clock. Until this point, Canadians have never had access to legally assisted suicide. Instead they have relied on doctors and nurses to administer palliative care, which must include adequate pain management and, in rare cases, palliative sedation. Pro-euthanasia advocates argue this is euthanasia, but they are in error.
Changing laws in matters of such substantive and exceptional significance as assisted suicide should be made by the compass. I could not agree more. Unfortunately, we have thrown away our compass. We no longer need a compass. We now just pool our collective ignorance and decide on the basis of popular opinion to sail off in any direction that suits the winds of the day, rudderless.
One of Canada's indigenous leaders, Mr. Francois Paulette, a Dene leader and chair of Yellowknife's Stanton Territorial Health Authority states that indigenous people are bound by spiritual law, not man-made law. He goes on to state, “We don't play God.... God is responsible for bringing us into this world, and taking our life. It is pretty straightforward.”
Whether as a member of the indigenous community or not, for all Canadians, the crux of the issue before us today, and the source of the conflict and confusion, is the fact that the preamble of our Charter of Rights and Freedoms on one hand, and Bill C-14 on the other, are built on two opposite pillars: one made of gold, and the other of styrofoam.
The preamble of the charter states, “recognize the supremacy of God and the rule of law”. Yes, there is a compass. Yes, there is a North Star. Even our Canadian charter states that in Canada we do recognize this North Star, the supremacy of God.
Yet if we look at the very first paragraph of Bill C-14, we see a totally opposite starting point. Rather than the “supremacy of God”, we see “autonomy of persons”.
My contention is that these two opposite philosophies cannot coexist at the same time, if we are to continue to have true freedom and trust in our society. We may deny God, and man as his image bearer. We can try to kill both God, and man as man. We may press forward in a suicidal course, but it always ends in pure vanity, for we are surrounded inside and out by the reality of God and his order in every sphere of life.
We all know that there are necessary limits placed on the autonomy of humans. Yet on an issue as monumental as the issue of life and death, we are considering extending autonomy without stopping to think what such autonomy might do to our understanding of the value of human life.
Does this autonomy serve well those among us who, for dozens of reasons, find themselves vulnerable, voiceless, and open to abuse in the most extreme and final way possible, an unwanted hastened death?
The very fact that I can drive from my riding of Kitchener—Conestoga to Ottawa each Sunday evening is because the autonomy of all drivers is limited. Drivers heading to Kitchener occupy the north side of the 401 highway as they travel west, so I am free to travel unimpeded on my easterly journey in the southern lanes.
To allow autonomy in many situations in life is foolhardy, to say the least. Our freedom and trust is enhanced by strict limits on personal autonomy for the greater good of community. We could list many such restrictions on personal autonomy: quarantines for highly infectious diseases, such as ebola; prohibition of using highly toxic chemicals and pesticides on private property; the limitation on raising farm animals in the residential area of a city. In these cases and dozens of others, we recognize that the greater community good supersedes individual autonomy.
To retain limits on personal autonomy in the case of physician-assisted suicide is for the greater good of society. To remove the restriction on personal autonomy could very well lead to the crumbling boundaries that our Liberal colleague, the member for Winnipeg Centre, referenced a few weeks ago in the Chamber when he said, “We are in a sorry state. We have truly entered a new age, one of the throwaway culture where all boundaries are starting to crumble”.
I fear for the kind of Canada I will leave for my children and grandchildren if we rush blindly ahead with an endorsement of physician-assisted suicide. The risk to society is too great. The dangers are far too real.
There is no doubt that in spite of our best efforts to place so-called safeguards to protect the vulnerable among us, there will be situations where innocent Canadians will be killed without their expressed consent. There is no doubt in my mind that in spite of our best efforts to spin the difference between suicide and what we are now calling medical assistance in dying, there would be a correlating increase in suicide rates in Canada.
Aaron Kheriaty, associate professor of psychiatry, and director of the medical ethics program at the University of California at Irvine School of Medicine states:
The debate over doctor-assisted suicide is often framed as a personal issue of autonomy and privacy. Proponents argue that assisted suicide should be legalized because it affects only those individuals who--assuming they are of sound mind--are making a rational and deliberate choice to end their lives. But presenting the issue in this way ignores the wider social consequences.
What if it turns out that individuals who make this choice in fact are influencing the actions of those who follow?
He goes on to report that in states where physician-assisted suicide has been legalized, there has been an increase in suicide of 6.3% overall, but among those over 65, an increase of 14.5%.
The results should not surprise anyone familiar with the literature on the social contagion effects of suicidal behavior. You don't discourage suicide by assisting suicide.
Aside from publicized cases, there is evidence that suicidal behavior tends to spread person to person through social networks, up to three “degrees of separation” away. So my decision to take my own life would affect not just my friends' risk of doing the same, but even my friends' friends' friends. No person is an island.
Finally, it is widely acknowledged that the law is a teacher. Laws shape the ethos of a culture by affecting cultural attitudes toward certain behaviors and influencing moral norms. Laws permitting physician-assisted suicide send a message that, under especially difficult circumstances, some lives are not worth living – and that suicide is a reasonable or appropriate way out. This is a message that will be heard not just by those with a terminal illness but also by anyone tempted to think he or she cannot go on any longer.
Debates about physician-assisted suicide raise broad questions about societal attitudes toward suicide. Recent research findings on suicide rates press the question: What sort of society do we want to become? Suicide is already a public health crisis. Do we want to legalize a practice that will worsen this crisis?
I believe that life is always to be chosen over what some would call death with dignity. There is nothing dignified about deciding to end someone's life that is not worth living. If the patient has a need, let us address the need. Our goal should be to eliminate the problem, not the patient.
We need to be doing far more to address the needs of vulnerable Canadians. To that end, I have five proposed changes that need to be included in Bill C-14. Four of these have been accepted as amendments by others in the House.
First, the preamble should contain a statement indicating that suicide prevention is an important public policy goal, recognizing the sanctity of life as a societal principle.
Mr. Speaker, I see that I am out of time, so I will try to get my other points in when responding to questions.