Madam Speaker, I am thankful to have this opportunity to speak on Bill C-14, an act to amend the Criminal Code and to make related amendments to other acts.
Assisted suicide is a grave matter and has serious implications for all society, in the short term and in the long term. Based on the experiences of countries like the Netherlands and Belgium, which have legalized assisted suicide, we can know with great certainty that vulnerable populations, such as seniors, youth, and those who struggle with mental illness, will inevitably be put at risk.
Legalization of assisted suicide has also greatly undermined the public trust in the medical system in these countries. That is why I am opposed to legalizing assisted suicide.
Bill C-14, in its current form, leaves segments of society vulnerable and provides no protection for professionals or institutions, and undermines the credibility of our health care system and the important work that health care providers do to help people live.
I urge members to take great care with this legislation and to weigh every word to ensure that our most vulnerable people are never placed at risk.
In the past, this House has debated capital punishment, another means in which to take a person's life. Capital punishment was rejected, in part because the risk of ending one innocent life was one life too many. Should that same principle not guide us in our debate today?
Ray Pennings, co-founder of Cardus, recently expressed the importance of this in an editorial, writing:
While every word in a legal definition matters, the language of this debate matters in a broader setting. How do we as a society understand personal autonomy and the taking of one's life? How do we distinguish between a group of teenagers on an aboriginal reserve entering into a suicide pact, after deciding that life is not worth living, from citizens with a terminal diagnosis, fearing they've become a burden to their families and society, who similarly decide that death is preferable to life?
The debate is hardly new, but there are distinctions that can be made which require care and a precision of language. It is concerning that the utilization of language is heading in the opposite direction.
Mr. Pennings goes on to demonstrate this shift in the two Supreme Court of Canada cases. In the 1991 Rodriguez decision, which upheld the prohibition against assisted suicide, the term “assisted suicide” was used 92 times. However, in the 2015 Carter decision, in which the Court came to an opposite conclusion, the term “assisted suicide” was used only 23 times, while the term “assisted death” was used 24 times.
When we look at the current legislation before us, we see that the term “assisted suicide” does not appear at all, the term “suicide” appears only seven times, and the phrase “medical assistance in dying” is used 72 times.
In 20 years, we have progressed from recognizing the value and dignity of life and making every effort to discourage people from suicide, to now offering assisted suicide as a form of health care and calling it “medical assistance in dying.”
While I find many parts of Bill C-14 alarming, I want to start with this shift in the language. It is misleading to use “medical assistance in dying” in the context in which this bill does. Medical assistance in dying is not helping people choose to end their lives. Medical assistance in dying is what the medical community calls palliative care or hospice care.
As Canadians, we are blessed to live in a country that has a great health care system, with many physicians who care deeply about helping their patients live fulfilling and healthy lives. When circumstances change and patients are facing an incurable deadly disease, these same doctors use their medical knowledge to relieve pain and suffering through end-of-life care. This is real medical assistance in death.
That is why I believe amendments are necessary to correct the hijacking of real health care. First, Bill C-14 should be amended to replace “medical assistance in dying” with simply “assistance in dying”. This would separate assisted suicide from health care.
Second, to complement the removal of medical terms from Bill C-14, I recommend amendments that allow for licences to be given to individuals through the Department of Justice that allow them to assist others in ending their life. This would eliminate the requirement of the medical community to be involved, as well as any concerns around the conscience rights of doctors. Licensed individuals, including doctors who wish to participate, could assist in the assisted suicide process and allow our health system to remain focused on its primary objective of providing health care to all Canadians.
Third, I believe the eligibility for assisted suicide in Bill C-14 must require that individuals seeking assisted suicide first be provided with counselling or psychological services and a legal judicial review.
There are a number of amendments that I believe are also critical for the bill, but many of them have already been raised by my colleagues. I want to return to what is truly at the heart of this debate; that is, protecting vulnerable members of our society and reducing the suffering of those who are dying.
This has been raised by many members from all sides of the House. Helping people die with dignity is not, and never will be, achieved through legislation of assisted suicide. Rather, helping die well can only be achieved through improving our focus upon palliative care. Every Canadian has the right to quality health care, and this includes high-quality palliative care.
That is why I have seconded a motion on palliative care tabled by my NDP colleague, the member for Timmins—James Bay. This member has pointed out often that there has been no real commitment by the government to palliative care.
I was recently moved by a comment from my colleague in the other House, Senator Betty Unger, a registered nurse, who wrote:
Access to palliative care is as much a Charter right as access to physician-assisted dying.... [M]ost people will acknowledge that there is something terribly wrong when a government does more to guarantee that the living can die, than to ensure that the dying can live.
I would call upon the government to demonstrate that it views palliative care as much as a charter right as assisted suicide.
Assisted suicide and euthanasia is one of the issues that influenced my decision to run as a member of Parliament. It is an issue that also concerns many of my constituents.
Earlier this year, I sent out a survey to my constituents on assisted suicide and euthanasia. Over 92% of my constituents responded that they were opposed to assisted suicide being available to children. The vast majority also took the time to express they opposed assisted suicide for all people, not just children.
My constituents also expressed concern that doctors must be given conscience protection, including Michelle, who wrote, “Doctors take an oath to save lives, they should not be asked to end them by patients or families' choice”.
Opposition to assisted suicide in my riding also crossed party lines. Amy wrote me, “As a Liberal supporter, I feel torn on these issues. I can understand both sides. However...this issue seems almost equivalent to legal murdering”.
On the issue of pain and suffering, Maggie wrote to me, “Having seen friends and family make decisions in the midst of pain and weariness, and having been through deep depression and weariness of emotional pain; I know that clear good decisions are never made in the valleys of life. I've come through wanting to end my life and experienced more joy than I [ever] thought...possible”.
My constituents also include 14 first nation communities in northern Alberta. During the special joint committee hearings earlier this year, Dr. Alika Lafontaine, who is the president of the Indigenous Physicians Association of Canada and who also works throughout northern Alberta, said:
What we are pleading for in indigenous communities is not medically assisted dying. That already exists in more ways that can be counted. What we are pleading for is medically assisted life.
Indigenous physicians want to help indigenous people live, not die.
Dr. Lafontaine also expressed that there have not been “meaningful consultations with indigenous peoples” and that “the effects of creating a literal program where patients intentionally die within the medical system will further disengage and disenfranchise indigenous patients and families”.
Earlier this year, I asked the Minister of Health about the consultations, and she admitted that the Liberal government did not consult directly with indigenous organizations on assisted suicide legislation.
Indigenous leaders tell me, “Nothing about us without us”.
I am deeply concerned about the impacts that legalizing assisted suicide would have on the indigenous communities.
Finally, the topic of suffering is often raised when discussing suicide. The argument is made that assisted suicide should be made available to all who suffer, even children. Proponents will argue that life with pain and suffering is undignified life and, therefore, assisted suicide should be available to anyone suffering pain.
I could not disagree more. People's dignity is not tied to their circumstances, but comes from the very fact that they are human.
More important, our health care providers are incredibly talented at helping patients manage pain. Even when it comes to children in palliative care, doctors are not—I repeat, not—seeking assisted suicide as a solution.
Dr. Stephen Liben, director of the Montreal Children's Hospital's pediatric palliative care program, said:
There aren’t these children that are asking to please die now. It never happens.... The last thing I need as a palliative care physician for children is a euthanasia law—the last thing....
This would not be an extra tool for relieving suffering at all, it would only muddy the waters and make things more confusing.
I cannot support Bill C-14 at this time, but should significant amendments be made in the protection of conscience rights of health care workers and the removal of health care references, I would consider support.