Mr. Speaker, I thank my colleague for sharing his speaking time with me. It is small consolation, since the members of my political party were excluded from the committee formed to produce a bill.
Today, I can only say that we are witness to a sad chapter in the history of “parliamentary” democracy in Ottawa and in the House of Commons. I would even say that it is the product of a deplorable process, in both form and content.
Quebec has been cited often as an example. I followed and participated in that process. It was a process that aimed for transpartisanship, not just in words, not just in spin, but in actual fact. The goal of that transpartisanship was to achieve the broadest possible consensus.
Obviously, there was no Carter decision. Consequently, the Quebec government and the opposition parties included what was a step forward with regard to the problem of end-of-life care. They included medical assistance in dying in a continuum of end-of-life care, which is a provincial responsibility, by the way. They combined what was always considered distinct, that is, palliative care versus euthanasia, and they said that from then on, Quebec would provide end-of-life care. Obviously, that would take place in a palliative care setting, because there would no longer be any point to curative care. When someone goes to palliative care, recovery is no longer possible.
At that point, they said that there would be palliative care, in which a person can die voluntarily at the conclusion of his or her end-of-life process, which is irremediable and already under way. The person is then in the terminal phase of life. If, one morning, the person, having received the appropriate palliative care, is completely at peace and ready to let go, this is not a failure of palliative care. That could be considered what we might wish for everyone here, that is, to be on one’s death bed, utterly serene, ready to let go and at peace with oneself. Palliative care can also lead to that.
That is what Quebec decided to do, but it did not do so in the way the Liberal Party chose to do it. The Liberals steamrolled parliamentarians, and this bill was controlled by the executive from beginning to end, with the excuse that June 6 was a deadline that could not be circumvented. At the moment, we are well aware that with all the pitfalls and problems in this bill, it is impossible to meet that deadline.
The government should have, with the assent of all parliamentarians, given us the means to act and found ways of doing things properly instead of gagging people, since we know full well the deadline will not be met. We are told that it is very serious, but I must point out that the Morgentaler decision was struck down and declared unconstitutional as far back as 1988, but as far as I know, it is still in the Criminal Code, and we have not descended into total chaos in that area.
We have to move forward, but let us not get carried away. With regard to form and content, the question we have to address at this stage is the minister’s unproven claim that her bill passes the charter test.
In the Morgentaler decision, the judges struck down the abortion law based on just one of the principles, just one of the rights affirmed in section 7 of the charter: “Everyone has the right to life, liberty and security of the person”.
Since the judges in the Carter case decided that three rights had been unreasonably infringed, namely the right to liberty, the right to life and the right to security of the person, it would suffice for just one of these rights to be infringed for it to be unreasonably infringed and for section 1 to fail to save the minister’s law.
Now, I asked her the question several times. I asked her to show me how a grievous and irremediable disease or disability that causes a patient intolerable suffering does not unreasonably infringe the right of that patient to security of the person. According to the government’s bill, to have access to medical assistance in dying, this person will have to either go before the courts, or go on a hunger strike so as to approximate the totally deplorable, inhuman, vague and unconstitutional criterion of reasonably foreseeable natural death.
The government never made an effort to accept even one of the amendments, however unimportant, from the opposition. It amended its bill on its own. I have never seen an attitude so contemptuous of the legislature. If this is the legislative democracy and the legislative powers of the House of Commons, it is hard to swallow, especially on a subject as sensitive as this one.
However much we boasted, if we were that sure of ourselves, we still had the option of referring this to the Supreme Court. It is true that it is not up to the Supreme Court justices to make the laws. However Parliament did nothing for the last 40 years. Eventually, certain citizens won a judgment. The only solution recommended over the last 40 years was palliative care, as if that were the answer to all our problems.
The Carter decision must not resolve only the end-of-life issue, but also the assisted suicide issue. There are people on the other side of the House who do not even differentiate between suicide and assisted suicide, which is in fact decriminalized. These are not the same realities. Suicide is not irremediable as long as the person has not acted out. A suicidal state can be corrected. There are people who are able to help these persons; there is therapy and medication.
However, when a person is suffering from Alzheimer’s, that is irreversible. If the government had agreed to remove this criterion, it would have corrected a number of shortcomings in this bill. In particular, it would have made it possible for any request to be made in advance, meaning that people could make a valid request before becoming incapable of doing so. However, the government is doing only as it wishes and is washing its hands of this.
The government is displaying political cowardice regarding the role it is obliged to play in the House. It is not the democracy of judges that we are demanding, but rather a democracy that respects the legislative power and the ability of legislators to define laws.
Also, let us stop trivializing things. It is our duty to make good laws that make sense. Judges, as custodians of rights and freedoms, have the duty to determine whether those laws are in compliance with the charter and the Constitution.
Therefore let us stop claiming that any law that leaves this place will necessarily be challenged and that the judges will have to make a ruling. What is absolutely inhumane is that the burden of litigation will fall on the shoulders of vulnerable persons and those who are suffering.
People who are vulnerable and suffering are precisely those the minister claimed she wanted to protect.