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View David Anderson Profile
Madam Speaker, I have a number of petitions on two subjects.
The first consists of eight petitions, including an electronic petition, with almost 4,000 signatures. The petitioners call on the government to ensure that conscience rights of medical personnel are protected by passing Bill C-418.
View David Anderson Profile
Mr. Speaker, I have 17 petitions to present from seven provinces, including my own province of Saskatchewan.
The petitions address the issue of Bill C-14, which prohibits compelling health care providers or institutions to provide medical assistance in dying but lacks clarity for effective enforcement.
Bill C-418 would provide that protection and make it an offence to intimidate a health care professional for the purpose of compelling him or her to take part in the provision of assisted suicide or to affect his or her employment.
The petitioners call on the Government of Canada to ensure that the conscience rights of medical personnel are protected by passing Bill C-418.
View David Anderson Profile
Mr. Speaker, I have four petitions on three subjects. The first two petitions deal with Bill C-418.
The petitioners ask Parliament to support the bill. It would amend the Criminal Code to make it an offence to intimidate a medical practitioner, nurse practitioner, pharmacist or any other health care professional for the purpose of compelling them to take part in the provision of medical assistance in dying. It would also makes it an offence to dismiss from employment or to refuse to employ such practitioners for the reason only that they refuse to take part in that activity.
View David Anderson Profile
moved that Bill C-418, An Act to amend the Criminal Code (medical assistance in dying), be read the second time and referred to a committee.
He said: Madam Speaker, the first thing I would like to do is to thank the many people across Canada who have shown up to work on this bill. It has caught on across the country. It has restored my faith in the good judgment of Canadians and, hopefully, we will see that same good sense shown in the House and we can have some restored faith here as well.
I am here today to speak to Bill C-418, which is the protection of freedom of conscience act. I need to point out again that I am surprised at the way this has caught on and caught the attention of the Canadian public. We should thank many Canadians and groups for whom this is an important issue for their work on publicizing and advancing conscience rights in Canada.
To begin to understand Bill C-418, we need to back up a bit. The Charter of Rights and Freedoms has a number of sections in it. Section 1, of course, guarantees our rights and freedoms. However, immediately following that is section 2, which declares the most fundamental rights, and that begins with freedom of conscience and religion. In 2015, the Carter decision in the Supreme Court said that although section 7 of the charter provides for the right to die, it also explicitly said that no one is required to participate in or be part of it.
We then came to Bill C-14, the government's assisted suicide bill. It is a bill that attracted much attention and controversy and laid out the groundwork for the first round of assisted suicide legislation in Canada. Whether they call it euthanasia, medically assisted dying or assisted suicide, they are all different names for the same thing. Medical practitioners were divided on the issue of participating in ending the lives of Canadians. Whether we supported Bill C-14 or not, it was clear that many within the medical community were very concerned. They did not and still do not want to participate in this activity.
When Bill C-14 was passed, it included subsection 241.2(9) which did say, “For greater certainty, nothing in this section compels an individual to provide or assist in providing medical assistance in dying.” That was not adequate because it did not lay out an offence, there was no framework for it and there was no penalty in Bill C-14 if someone violated that. It ended up being nothing more than a statement in Bill C-14.
While the Liberal talking points have repeated this, and the Liberals also claim that everyone has freedom of conscience and religion under section 2 of the charter, this is not the reality that medical personnel are facing across Canada. In spite of the fact that on the surface the charter, Carter and Bill C-14 supposedly agree, the reality is that physicians and medical personnel in this country are being pressured to participate in something with which they fundamentally disagree and there is no protection provided to them.
Conscience forms the basis of medical professionals' motivation to pursue their particular field. Doctors practise every day with the knowledge that it is their conscience that motivates them to test the limits of their knowledge and skill. Medical professionals know that patient care will suffer if they are deprived of the ability to live with integrity and to follow their consciences. They know the importance of these beliefs to them and their patients better than anyone else.
For a great many Canadian doctors, the core of their conscience prohibits their participation in taking a life. Indeed, many doctors remain devoted to the black and white of the ancient Hippocratic oath, a pledge that prohibits the administration of a poison to anyone. Through the availability of assisted suicide on demand across Canada, threats to conscience are no longer confined to the theoretical or to the rhetoric of the courtrooms. They are increasingly present in the examination room as well.
That is why I believe it is time to take action in defence of conscience rights that have stood the test of time for generations. Therefore, Bill C-418 seeks to amend the Criminal Code to do two things.
The first is to make it an offence to intimidate a medical practitioner, nurse practitioner, pharmacist or any other health care professional for the purpose of compelling them to take part, directly or indirectly, in the provision of physician-assisted suicide.
The second provision makes it an offence to dismiss from employment or to refuse to employ a medical practitioner, nurse practitioner, pharmacist or any other health care professional for the reason only that they refuse to take part, directly or indirectly, in the provision of physician-assisted suicide.
My bill would provide the teeth that Bill C-14 acutely lacks. The Liberals' attempt to provide protection for doctors consisted solely of a rudimentary clause, which stated, as I said earlier, that nothing compels someone to provide or assist. However, the provision lacked the teeth needed for its effective enforcement, as evidenced by the ongoing pressure that is being exerted on physicians, particularly by their regulating bodies.
I guess the question is whether these protections are really necessary, and I would say that they are. Throughout the legislative process, I have spoken to doctors who feel overt pressure to leave family medicine because of their conscientious beliefs. I have heard of palliative care doctors in Ontario who have stopped practising altogether. Nurses who feel increasingly bullied are choosing to shift their focus or retire early. I have had personal conversations with people who work in old folks' homes who explain they do not want to participate in this but are increasingly feeling pressured to do so. The pressure on these professionals exists and they are looking for relief.
What is more, regional associations such as the College of Physicians and Surgeons of Ontario have introduced regulations compelling conscientiously objecting physicians to participate by providing what they call “effective referrals” for physician-assisted suicide. A recent court decision has upheld this directive, contravening the assurances provided in Carter v. Canada and creating an even more urgent need among physicians for protection. This is in spite of the fact that in this situation in Ontario I am told that the majority of physicians support an allowance for conscientious objections, but the college has not taken that position.
As strange as it sounds, the recent court decision refers to the college's suggestion that if physicians do not like to participate then they can find other areas of medicine to take up. This is unusual, particularly in a situation where we have such a shortage of physicians and medical services. The college suggests that if they do not like participating they can take up things like sleep medicine, hair restoration, sport and exercise medicine, skin disorders, obesity medicine, aviation examinations, travel medicine or perhaps become a medical health officer.
For many of us across this country, particularly those of us in rural areas, we know there is an increasing lack of physicians in an increasingly challenged medical system. I find it passing strange that the college would be the one suggesting such a thing for its physicians. The answer does not have to be to do it, find someone else to do it or get out of medicine. Medical personnel and resources are scarce. Why would one try to force people into doing what they believe to be wrong? The example of the province of Manitoba and its conscientious objection legislation shows there does not need to be compulsion in the medical system when it comes to this issue.
My bill does not address the social acceptability of euthanasia and assisted suicide; that is not the point of it. Protecting physicians' conscience rights is not at all a physicians versus patients scenario. By protecting physicians' conscience rights, patients' rights are enhanced. Bill C-418 is about protecting the fundamental freedom of conscience and religion guaranteed to all Canadians in the Charter of Rights and Freedoms.
Parliamentarians from all parties cannot ignore the groundswell of support this bill has received from average Canadians who believe it is time to stand up for doctors and health care providers who are not willing to leave their core ethics behind when they are at a patient's bedside. This is not theoretical. I have had photos sent to me of the revolving TV screens that we see in hospital wards, with pictures of what seems to be a physician's hand gently resting on the arm of a senior citizen, touting assisted suicide as a medical service whereby physicians or nurse practitioners help patients fulfill their wish to end their suffering and a phone number is provided. Interestingly, it makes no mention of palliative care or other ways to reduce pain and suffering. It makes no mention of access to counselling.
With government, the courts and health care facilities promoting access as a right, should not those who object be allowed to have that fundamental freedom of conscience that is so important?
I want to close with a quote from “The Imperative of Conscience Rights” by the CRFI. They write:
The outcomes of the current controversies that engage freedom of conscience will not only signal the extent to which Canadians can conscientiously participate in public life—in other words, whether they can live in alignment with who they are and what they stand for in matters of morality. These outcomes will also speak volumes about who we are and what we stand for—as a society. Suppressing beliefs with which we disagree or that we find offensive in the name of tolerance and liberalism is a contradiction in terms. The fact that the state has deemed something legal does not remove a person’s freedom to express her moral opposition to it. This freedom is not absolute, but its roots—integrity, identity, and dignity—are necessary for human flourishing. These roots must therefore be top of mind whenever limitations on freedom of conscience are proposed. We believe that governments should only limit this human right if there is a compelling justification.
View David Anderson Profile
Madam Speaker, I can tell my colleague opposite that the OMA, as far as I know, has come out in favour of protecting the conscience rights for the doctors who are part of its association, so the college and the OMA are not on the same page on this one.
The college in Ontario has brought in a much stricter set of guidelines, if we want to call it that, than virtually anywhere else across Canada. Manitoba has brought in a conscientious objection law, which would allow physicians to opt out of this and make it much simpler for them to do that. In Ontario, the requirement is that they “must effectively refer”, which are the words that are used. Many people feel that they just do not want to participate at that level and in this day and age of electronics, there are many other ways that people can access the information. There are a number of other suggestions out there about how that might be done.
The point of this bill is, first of all, to give the conscience protection that people need if they want to be able to continue to do their work.
View David Anderson Profile
Madam Speaker, I actually believe that we can. It has been done in other places across the country, but there are numerous ways that people can come to information about assisted suicide or medical assistance in dying. There are certainly a number of options open as to how they might access that information. The question is whether physicians are obligated to refer that, to provide that, or if they can opt out and give them another way to find that information. We believe that is very possible.
View David Anderson Profile
Madam Speaker, the interest in this bill has been surprising to me. There are some bills that really catch people's imaginations across the country. There are other ones that we really have to work hard to try to get people to pay attention to. It has been surprising to me how people have taken this on. There is an onslaught of petitions coming into my office every day and I am passing them on to my colleagues as well so that they can understand the interest that people in their ridings have in this issue.
People generally want to be fair to other people and allow them to have the capacity to operate off of the things they believe in. Every single one of us has a set of beliefs. We have a right to operate under our set of beliefs as long as we are not destroying somebody else's life or are in other people's faces. In this situation, we should be giving medical professionals, who operate every day from a sense of conscience in what they do, the opportunity to do that.
View David Anderson Profile
Madam Speaker, as I mentioned earlier, there are a number of options for people to find the information they need. There are many doctors and facilities that will provide this service if they want it, but there are other doctors and medical personnel who do not feel that assisting in someone's premature death is a part of the mandate of what they have been called to as physicians or medical personnel.
There are enough choices out there that people can have and we can allow those who disagree with this procedure to have their freedom of conscience and be able to live their professional lives in that fashion.
View David Anderson Profile
moved for leave to introduce Bill C-418, an act to amend the Criminal Code (medical assistance in dying).
He said: Mr. Speaker, it is my honour today to table the protection of freedom of conscience act. The purpose of this is to protect the rights of health care professionals who conscientiously object to participation in medical assistance in dying, making it an offence to intimidate or try to force a health care professional to be involved in this activity. It also makes it an offence to fire or refuse to employ a health care professional for refusing to take part, either directly or indirectly, in the provision of medical assistance in dying.
I believe it is time to stand up for the doctors and health care providers who are not willing to leave their core ethics behind when they are at a patient's bedside. Access to medical assistance in dying and the right to conscientious objection are not mutually exclusive.
View David Anderson Profile
Madam Speaker, I am splitting my time with the member for Sherwood Park—Fort Saskatchewan.
I am a little confused as are some people here with the back and forth. Conservatives take Bill C-14 very seriously and we want to debate it. I was surprised a little earlier when it seemed the Liberals wanted us to go all night, through the night. I assume that means they would like to speak during the day and then leave the opposition to speak at night when supposedly no one is listening. I think a reasonable compromise was suggested a couple of minutes ago, which is that we extend the hours to midnight, during which time we would have serious debate on this issue.
That is why we are here today. It is interesting that the notion of freedom of conscience seems to be coming up more and more in our society. In the last couple of weeks, I have crossed paths with it in discussions separate from discussions around Bill C-14.
Yesterday, at the Subcommittee on International Human Rights, someone spoke about working with persecuted minorities and the question came up about what role freedom of conscience plays.
Last week, there was a forum in town about making the world safer for diversity. Dr. Os Guinness talked about how freedom of conscience has always been properly understood as the very first right. We can talk about life, liberty, and happiness, but without freedom of conscience, none of those other things actually exist in reality.
Everybody has beliefs that are important to them. I guess it is a common misconception we have that others have beliefs and I am the one who is unbiased. Each of us brings valid perceptions to these discussions and in our culture, until recently, it seemed that we were generally of the opinion that no one has the right to force anyone to work against their own beliefs.
It seems as we focus more and more on rights and less and less on responsibilities, we find ourselves pressured and I think we have to admit that we often find ourselves pressuring others on their values of conscience and the core values that people hold. It is beginning to affect every area of our culture. With the Carter decision, this has come to the forefront, because it is no longer just perceived discrimination that it is impacting, but it comes right down to the court's decision that having the right to kill oneself is a charter right.
I will take a bit of time to look at the Carter decision. It was a reversal of a previous decision, the Rodriguez decision. The court ruled that we now have, as Canadian citizens, a charter right to kill ourselves and we have the right to have others help us. There are very few guidelines that the court put on that decision. It talked about how the condition had to be irremediable and a grievous condition, basically beyond the person's decision to suffer through it. I could go into the criteria for that, which perhaps I will do a little later.
While the court decided one decision, it created a whole host of other complications. One of them, of course, is the call to reconcile physicians' and patients' rights. The question we are dealing with today is what role others have to play or do they play in that decision to prematurely end life.
Bill C-14 does not solve that. I was glad to hear the minister acknowledge that earlier. Conscience issues are becoming the biggest issues around Bill C-14. In this case, I would argue that the government has failed Canadians.
There is a legitimate question to be asked and I am surprised that it has not even been discussed—it is not discussed in other countries either—as to why medical personnel are expected to be involved at all. However, they are, and even though they are, most of them do not want to participate. The medical personnel whom I have talked to are not accepting of or enthusiastic about this. I have spoken with a number of doctors who say that if they are forced to participate in this, they are willing to leave the country, that they are not going to participate. For those of us who live in rural areas and have a very small supply of medical care, it is a frightening thing to hear one's doctor say he or she is prepared to leave if this is forced on him or her.
I want to talk about the protection of conscience in Bill C-14. The preamble states:
Whereas everyone has freedom of conscience and religion under section 2 of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms;
Whereas nothing in this Act affects the guarantee of freedom of conscience and religion;...
That is the preamble, which has no legal impact. There is no content within Bill C-14 that provides this balance.
The Senate committee heard some great testimony. The Justice Centre for Constitutional Freedoms said:
...the Court discussed and reiterated the conscience and religious rights of medical practitioners, stating that, “nothing in the declaration of invalidity which we propose to issue would compel physicians to provide assistance in dying.”
However, then it went on to say, “the Charter rights of patients and physicians will need to be reconciled. Thus, it is apparent that the Court intended Parliament’s legislative response to address the issue of medical practitioners’ conscience rights. Bill C-14 fails to do so.”
It is interesting to me that Bill C-14 actually provides protection for participants, but it does not provide protection for those who do not want to participate. There is an exemption for medical assistance in dying where it says that no medical practitioner commits homicide if they provide a person with medical assistance. It says that no person is a party to homicide if they do anything for the purpose of aiding in that. Then it says that for greater certainty, if the person has any reasonable, even mistaken, belief about any fact that is an element of the exemption, they have no legal responsibility for that.
I just point out that protection for participants has been included for those people who choose to participate, even if they are mistaken in what they have done. I can find no similar parallel protection for those who conscientiously object.
Some have said to pass it on to the provinces. We just heard that a minute ago from my colleague from the NDP. I would argue this is not a provincial issue. If it is, there will be a dozen different scenarios in this country and then the courts will get even more involved than they have been. It is a Criminal Code issue. Why would we give legislative protection in a bill to those who want to participate and then argue that Parliament has no right to legislate protection for those who do not want to take part?
The executive director of the Christian Medical and Dental Society said at the Senate committee:
...what our members cannot do is perform or participate in what is referred to as medical assistance in dying. To be clear, by participation, I also mean playing a role in causing death by arranging for the procedure to be carried out by someone else through referral.
He went on to say that the current preamble respects the personal conviction of health care providers, but it does not have any legal weight, and that no foreign jurisdiction in the world has legalized assisted suicide and euthanasia and then forced their health care workers in hospitals, nursing homes, and hospices to act against their conscience, their mission, or their values. He said that to force providers to act in this way in Canada would actually be to violate section 2 of the Charter of Rights and Freedoms.
It is necessary that the federal government legislate protection of conscience rights for health care professionals in order to respect the charter and to protect our existing health care system. Federal legislation would send a clear signal to provinces, organizations, and the courts that the right of conscience must be protected.
I argue that because medical personnel and supervisory groups cannot and will not agree, Parliament should set those guidelines, and they should be set in the Criminal Code.
A minister said a little earlier today that the protection is in the charter, not in the Criminal Code, but I think that is exactly the concern that Canadians have. The charter interpretation has gone 180° on the issue of assisted suicide, and there is nothing keeping that from happening as well on section 2 of the charter.
We need conscience rights. What are they? They are the right not to participate, the right not to be forced to refer. They are a fundamental freedom guaranteed by section 2 of the charter.
We need to protect the health care system. As I mentioned earlier, I have been told by physicians that they are prepared to leave if they are going to be forced into this, and they are not prepared to go against their own conscience. The Ontario college is making a big mistake in thinking that it can force doctors to do this against their conscience. I am not sure why it thinks it needs to control others who are just trying to do the right thing.
There were other suggestions that we heard a little earlier. For example, what is wrong with allowing patients to transfer their medical care to a doctor of choice? How about a directory of doctors so people can identify doctors who provide such services? We live in an electronic age, that should not be difficult. It would give Canadians confidence they could find medical personnel who would not be acting contrary to their care.
We need to protect the charter right of health care professionals. We need to make it a criminal offence to intimidate or coerce the health care professional to take part directly or indirectly in assisted suicide or euthanasia and to make it a criminal offence to dismiss anyone from employment for taking that position.
As I wrap up, I just want to come back to the point that no person should be put in a position where his or her private rights, which are guaranteed by the charter, are removed by force. Nothing is more fundamental than being able to live out that which we believe, especially if that belief is aimed at supporting and preserving life.
View David Anderson Profile
Madam Speaker, I do not think that is difficult to reconcile. When the member is saying the majority agree, I do not know that I would agree with that. However, that does not negate the obligation and the requirement to have conscience rights for those who do not. For the majority who are agreeing, obviously that is not an issue for them, but that is not what we are talking about today.
We are talking about that group of people, whether it is a minority or a majority, who have said, “I am involved in the medical profession. I do not want to participate in this. I am not prepared to do that”. I do not know that it is so difficult in this day and age to be able to provide that opportunity for people to say, “I'm backing out of this. There are other people who have made a choice that they will participate and take part in this”, and allow them to do that as well. I do not think it is a difficult decision to make.
We actually have Bill C-268 by one of our members that talks specifically about the provisions that would be acceptable and very useful in that situation.
View David Anderson Profile
Madam Speaker, we have a motion before us today with a few basic points, and it seems to me that conscience rights for health care professionals are a fundamental freedom, and I argue that they are guarded and protected under the Charter of Rights and Freedoms. However, the failure to protect those conscience rights within our health care system cannot do anything but damage our health care system.
We have a private member's bill, Bill C-268, that addresses these issues and specifically talks about giving people the opportunity to be able to exercise their freedom. I appreciate the minister's attention to this bill. Earlier today, though, she said that this does not create a duty that was not there before. I would argue that actually it does, because this is new ground. This is completely new ground that we are going into. There has never been an expectation in the medical community before that health care providers need to participate in causing death. There are new duties being created here that are not being addressed by Bill C-14 that need to be. We need to stop, take a look at it, and then try to reapply some of those things that are important in terms of conscience rights.
View David Anderson Profile
Madam Speaker, it is good to be here today to speak to Bill C-14. One of the principles we have in the House is that legislation is best built on a very solid foundation, and this bill does not have that.
What the Supreme Court ruled years ago on the Rodriguez case was very clear. However, just over a year ago, as with so many other decisions and so many other directions, the Supreme Court reversed itself. If it had really good underlying reasons for doing that, it would have been fine, but the justification for it was very interesting. It was a mistake in perception as set forward by the Supreme Court. The justices called it a changing matrix of social and legal facts which brought them to their conclusion. I and others are concerned that this makes our laws, including the interpretation of charter rights, dependent upon the opinions of a very small group of people. I will talk a bit more about the matrix of social and legal facts in a few minutes.
From my perspective, this is not an improvement. Many of my colleagues on both sides of the House have shared their concerns about Bill C-14, with some supporting it and others opposing it. However, a number of things are missing in the bill, and we need to have further discussion about. I heard a few comments earlier about the timeline, how pressured it was, how we needed to get this done and that this basically was prohibiting us from taking the time needed to discuss these things a bit further and with a bit more depth.
There is no clear definition of what irremediable means. The bill talks about that being the requirement for someone to qualify for physician-assisted dying.
I am concerned about the expansion of this process to nurse practitioners, so it would not just include physicians. People have asked why medical personnel are even involved with this. They have asked whether there is not some other place this can be done so people do not have to be concerned that when they go into the hospital for medical care, rather than receiving a positive side of medical care, they receive a very negative side of it.
There is a criminal exemption for those who perform euthanasia, but there is no protection for those who do not want to participate. A number of people are very concerned about what is called conscience rights and the lack of protection for that in the legislation.
There is a lack of clarity around psychological conditions and how that may come into play with this issue. One of the things that really concerns a lot of people is the lack of a vulnerability assessment, taking the time to find out if people are being pressured or whether there is some vulnerability that is bringing them to the point where they have made a decision that may be wrong for them.
Some people have called for a prior judicial review. There is no mention of that in the legislation.
Also, there is a lack of clarity on data collection. This has been an issue in a number of areas. Will we see good data collection? Will someone keep a good set of records on what goes on with this process?
We often have heard the concern that there is no clear commitment to palliative care. We just heard a member from the government talk about this. The Liberals made this commitment during the election campaign. They felt it was within their jurisdiction to promise $3 billion toward palliative care, but now, in the House, we hear them talk about how other jurisdictions are responsible for this. It sounds as if the Liberals are trying to avoid their responsibilities for this.
I would like to go back to the Supreme Court decision. It turned back the former position. It reversed it and it left us with an open field when it came to the issue of assisted suicide or assisted dying. The only thing the Supreme Court said in its ruling on Carter was that the person needed to consent and that the person needed to have a grievous and irremediable medical condition causing enduring and intolerable suffering. If we look at that, we see it leaves that whole area very open.
As I said earlier, good legislation should have a good foundation. I do not believe this does because of the Supreme Court decision. The foundation is the Carter decision and it hardly qualifies as a stable base on which to create good legislation.
I do not suppose we will get this done today, but we will come back at another stage on this bill. However. I would like to take a few minutes to talk a bit about the Supreme Court's recent decision in Carter v. Canada. It obviously is a very controversial decision and touches on a sensitive issue for many Canadians because there are very deeply held beliefs on both sides of this issue.
The Supreme Court acknowledged that the prohibition on assisted suicide was in general a valid exercise of federal criminal law. It also decided that the law went too far and it did not apply in cases where a competent adult with a grievous medical condition could consent to the termination of his or her life. I believe this decision is disturbing for a number of reasons.
The first is that the court ignored parliamentary consensus. In its decision, it claimed that the reversal from its earlier position in Rodriguez v. B.C. was necessary because of a different matrix of legislative and social facts. Yet, the purported differing matrix ignores the clear and unchanged parliamentary consensus opposing assisted suicide.
Between 1991 and 2012, nine private members' bills were introduced in the House of Commons, all seeking to amend the Criminal Code to decriminalize assisted suicide or euthanasia. Six were voted on and all of them failed to pass. When considering the matrix of legislative facts, the court gave weight to legislative developments in Belgium, Switzerland, Oregon, Washington, and the Netherlands, but it completely ignored the legislative record of Canada's Parliament.
Second, the court found no societal consensus in Canada on this issue. In her decision at the trial level of Carter v. Canada in the Supreme Court of B.C., Justice Smith wrote, “As to physician-assisted death, weighing all of the evidence, I do not find that there is a clear societal consensus either way”. Clearly whatever the change in that matrix of legal and social facts entails, it did not include a clear consensus from the people of Canada”.
This lack of consensus remains unchanged in the 22 years since the Rodriguez case in which the court stated, “No consensus can be found in favour of the decriminalization of assisted suicide. To the extent that there is a consensus, it is that human life must be respected”.
Clearly, the court found no consensus among western countries. While insisting again this matrix of legislative and social facts had changed since the last Supreme Court ruling on the issue, it acknowledged that physician-assisted dying remained a criminal offence in most western countries. Regardless, it chose to align itself with the minority of jurisdictions that allowed it.
I believe the court misinterpreted Parliament's objective in prohibiting assisted suicide. In its ruling, it put significant weight on the parliamentary objective of two sections, section 241(b) and 14 of the Criminal Code, which prohibit assisted suicide. The court asserted that these sections were put in place only to fulfill the state interest in protecting the vulnerable. However, in the earlier court case with Rodriguez, the court had said the objective of this section was not simply “protecting the vulnerable”, but also “preserving life”.
It had written, “In this case, it is not disputed that in general s.241(b) is valid and desirable legislation which fulfils the government's objectives of preserving life and protecting the vulnerable”. This position was reaffirmed several times.
By insisting that in Carter the purpose of section 241 was only to protect the vulnerable, the Supreme Court was able to conclude that this prohibition put people outside this class and that there were people who did not need to be protected by it. The court's conclusion was that the current law was over broad and grossly disproportionate to its objectives. That allowed it to say that Parliament needed to establish safeguards to ensure that those who truly wanted to be euthanized would be able to do that.
That interpretation tramples on the intention of Parliament to preserve life. Had it considered the full purpose of these sections of the Criminal Code rather than just that one objective of protecting the vulnerable, I think the outcome would have been very different.
I would make one final point before my time runs out. The court really leaves the definition of irremediable open to patient interpretation. The court decided that irremediable did not require the patient to undertake treatments that were not acceptable to them. In other words, although treatment may be available, the condition still qualifies as irremediable if the treatment is not acceptable to the patient.
I wanted to express my concerns. However, I think we will come back to some of the things the Supreme Court touched on as well in terms of the right to die being conflated with the right to life and some of the other issues.
View David Anderson Profile
Mr. Speaker, my point was exactly that. It is the court that has brought us to this point, and the timeline is the court's timeline.
As one of my colleagues pointed out a little earlier, that deadline prohibits us from dealing with these issues as fully as we probably should. We have not had any discussion about the implications of the Supreme Court decision. We have never sat down and had those discussions.
The government has come forward, under pressure, with legislation that many people feel is inadequate. One of the areas I find very troubling is the lack of conscience protection, and I mentioned that a little earlier.
Many people in the disabled community are very concerned about the fact that there is no vulnerability protection. They do not want to see a development of peer pressure in society where people feel somehow obligated to participate in this activity.
There is a number of issues around this. The timeline we are on is not helping us to discuss and resolve those issues among Canadians.
View David Anderson Profile
Mr. Speaker, one of the things is that we are here. We are having the debate and discussion, and we are having it within the established timeline. We are trying to do a good job of setting up the guidelines and the safeguards on this issue.
The reality is that the acceptance of assisted suicide and euthanasia is not universal across the country. It was not something that was decided by the elected members of the House, those who are here to represent the people. It was decided by the Supreme Court of Canada. It made the decision that we had a charter right to this in Canada, so we needed to move forward with this legislation.
However, the Parliament of Canada needs to take some time to do this carefully to ensure we do it correctly for people.
There is a number of other things I had to say. One of them would have been about the slippery slope that countries find themselves on when they move into this area. We need to have a discussion about that as well. I do not hear members talking about this.
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