Madam Speaker, I am thankful for the opportunity to address the House on this very important issue and to continue to act as a voice for those who continue to be ignored.
The government is acting as if rushing the legislation through in order to meet the Truchon deadline is its number one priority. Canadians are suffering because of the pandemic, and while people and businesses continue to fall through the cracks, the government is prioritizing expanding access to euthanasia over providing Canadians with the support they need. Shockingly, it is rushing the bill through before the mandated five-year review of the euthanasia regime in Canada has even taken place. This is reckless and this recklessness will cost people their lives.
The Truchon decision is not a binding legal decision for the House of Commons, but the government is choosing to act as though it is, despite calls from this side of the House to appeal it. When we are dealing with something this serious, with stakes as high as life and death, it is imperative that the process is not rushed by a lower provincial court decision. Our vulnerable citizens deserve better. In all honesty, this deadline is nothing more than smoke and mirrors.
Amazingly, Bill C-7 would not only expand access to euthanasia to those for whom death is not reasonably foreseeable, but goes beyond Truchon by eliminating necessary safeguards that are in place to protect the vulnerable. By removing the 10-day reflection period, people nearing the end of their lives can receive medical assistance in dying on the very same day they request it. That means, in essence, for many Canadians, their worst day will be their last day.
I would like to point out an important statistic from the “First Annual Report on Medical Assistance in Dying in Canada” presented in 2019. In this report, it states that as of the date of its release, 263 Canadians who had requested MAID ended up withdrawing their requests. Because of the current 10-day waiting period, 263 Canadian lives were saved. It is clear these people felt they wanted to die on the day the request was made, but decided days later that they wanted to keep on living.
Had the 10-day reflection period not been in place, 263 Canadians would have had their lives ended prematurely. Maybe it was a phone call from an old friend, meeting with a family member or good news from their physician that caused them to change their minds. It does not matter. The point is that they did. Why does the government want to rob Canadians of the opportunity to make that decision? It justifies the need for Bill C-7 with the Truchon decision, but where in Truchon does it say that?
Another important safeguard that Bill C-7 seeks to eliminate is the requirement for final consent. This is one that truly frightens me. The reasoning behind the removal of this safeguard is the fact that a person may lose the capacity to consent to euthanasia before it is carried out if a person's illness advances causing significant cognitive decline. Therefore, people can give advance consent to have their lives ended should they lose the capacity to make such a difficult decision.
It fascinates me that we all agree that if a person is unable to provide advance consent to sexual activity, and that person is taken advantage of when not having capacity to say no, a crime has been committed. However, the government believes people can provide advance consent to have their lives ended, even if they lose the capacity to say no when the procedure takes place. The problem with the principle of advance consent is that it is impossible to know what people's desires are if they are unable to communicate them. We cannot know if a person in that state truly wants to die. Maybe the individual has had a change of heart and wishes to keep on living at the time MAID is administered, but just can't say that. That is horrifying.
The risks associated with the removal of the 10-day reflection period and the requirement for final consent are too serious for me to accept. We should remember that the stakes are as high as life and death. The government needs to protect vulnerable Canadians. It needs to ensure safeguards are in place. The removal of these safeguards puts their lives in danger.
I would like to remind the government of the voices it ignored in its rush to meet this unnecessary deadline, the voices of disabled Canadians, their doctors and advocates. I remind members of the words of Krista Carr, the executive director of Inclusion Canada, who said that this bill is disabled Canadians' “worst nightmare”. There are also the words of Catherine Frazee, who said that the bill tells people like her that their lives are not worth living.
How about Dr. Heidi Janz? She told the justice committee that the bill “will result in people with disabilities seeking MAID as an ultimate capitulation to a lifetime of ableist oppression.” Roger Foley bravely told the committee from his hospital bed that, if the bill passes, he will not survive and the Parliament of Canada will have his blood on its hands.
I am here in the House to remind the government of the words they refused to listen to. The stream of euthanasia access for those who are not dying is ableist and dangerous. These are not my words. These are their words.
Doctors who work with disabled Canadians made it very clear at committee that a 90-day waiting period is simply not enough time. They explained that suicidal ideations are very common when someone experiences a catastrophic medical episode, but with good care and support they are almost always overcome.
In my last speech on the bill, I introduced the House to Kristine Crowley's story. Since her spinal cord injury 33 years ago, Kristine has lived the kind of life that most able-bodied people dream of, but it took her years after her injury to feel great again. She worries that people like her will decide to end their lives when they are at their lowest point.
Now I will share the story of David Shannon. David suffered a spinal cord injury in a rugby scrum when he was 18 years old. He shared that after his accident he lay in bed close to death more times than he wishes to contemplate. David has gone on to have a career in non-governmental organization leadership and a law practice focused on human rights and health law.
I will share a comment from David:
I have accomplished a lot in my life. I've crossed our great country by the power of my wheelchair—coast to coast. I've jumped out of an airplane at over 25,000 feet. I've made it to the North Pole and planted an accessible parking sign. I’ve written a book, performed in plays and on TV. I’ve received my law degree and been a Human Rights Commissioner. And I am an Order of Ontario and Order of Canada recipient. I’ve loved and been loved. My proudest accomplishment is that I lived.
Several times during this debate, members on this side of the House have asked how many stories like this will never be told if Bill C-7 passes. I urge my hon. colleagues to truly understand what is being asked here. Much like the removal of safeguards, knowing that lives like those of David Shannon and Kristine Crowley will be cut short if this legislation passes is far too great a risk for me to accept.
Those who support the bill continue to fall back on the idea of autonomy to justify their willingness to ignore these risks, so I will read a comment from David Shannon addressing this:
What offends me most about Bill C-7 is that there is an implicit licence to promote death. And I ask, why is there not the promotion to pursue one’s autonomy? When someone is first injured, they are compromised. They need to know there are supports available, that life can be fantastic, not coerced to leave their life and loved ones behind.
When someone is first injured, they are compromised. When someone is compromised, their autonomy is impaired. It is in this compromised state that the government wishes to offer death to Canadians. I will also remind the House of the government's absolute failure to provide disabled Canadians with the care they need. I remind the House that it often takes much longer than 90 days to even see a specialist. I remind the House what the Minister of Disability Inclusion told the justice committee: It is easier to receive MAID in this country than it is to receive a wheelchair.
Not only are we offering death when a patient's autonomy is most compromised, but we are coercing patients to die by failing to offer them care. I have asked this before, and I must ask it again: Do we really want our legacy as members of Parliament to be the Parliament that offered patients death before we offered them care? That is where we are headed with this legislation.
Once again, on behalf of disabled Canadians, their doctors and their advocates, I am begging members of the House to stop this attack on Canada's disabled community. They have been crystal clear about the ultimate abuse that their community would be subject to if the bill passes. I am begging members to hear their pleas. We know the abuse we can expect in the future, so the government will not be able to say it did not know, just that it did not listen.
We have been warned in no uncertain terms about what will come, but now I would like to speak about the abuse that is already happening.
Gabrielle Peters, a journalist who lives with a spinal cord injury, wrote the following in a recent open letter to Canadian senators. “I know that Bill C7 must be stopped because I know passage of this bill will result in preventable deaths of disabled people. I know this because I know those already happen. I know they already happen because I was almost one of them.”
The government is rushing to eliminate safeguards for euthanasia when the current safeguards are not even being adhered to. According to bioethicist Dr. Jaro Kotalik, it is evident provincial and territorial authorities are not fully engaged in their role of monitoring, enforcing and reporting on the performance of the MAID program, which they are expected to do according to federal laws and regulations.
This is clear from Roger Foley's testimony to the Standing Committee on Justice and Human Rights. His caregivers, who he depends on for every comfort and necessity of life, have suggested four times that he opt for MAID. Roger's death is not reasonably foreseeable, so this is completely illegal.
It is incredible that on the International Day of Persons with Disabilities, every Liberal MP voted against protections for persons with disabilities being added to Bill C-7. Even the Minister of Disability Inclusion, who expressed in the Senate pre-study that she shares some of the concerns of disabled Canadians, voted against our amendment.
Let me remind the House what the UN Special Rapporteur on the rights of persons with disabilities said on her visit to Canada: “I am extremely concerned about the implementation of the legislation on medical assistance in dying from a disability perspective. I have been informed that there is no protocol in place to demonstrate that persons with disabilities have been provided with viable alternatives when eligible for assistive dying.”
The opposition tried to address that concern by moving an amendment in committee requiring that patients have meaningful access to care before MAID can be administered. I remind the House that the Liberal members voted it down.
Let me share another concern raised by the rapporteur. She said, “I have further received worrisome claims about persons with disabilities in institutions being pressured to seek medical assistance in dying, and practitioners not formally reporting cases involving persons with disabilities.”
Earlier I referenced the 2019 Health Canada report on MAID. While some of the statistics therein were helpful, there were clearly some issues with the report, namely the lack of any mention of abuse. The information collected was self-reported by MAID providers, so uncovering abuses was unlikely. We know there has been abuse; that much is clear. Cases like Roger Foley's, as well as those of many others, make this undeniable.
Archie Rolland, 18 months before his death by MAID, was transferred against his will from a residence that provided highly specialized care to a geriatric long-term care facility that could not meet his needs. He said that it was not the illness that was killing him. He was tired of fighting for compassionate care.
Sean Tagert, a father with ALS, exhausted from battling for the care he needed to live at home, was told he would have to be placed in a long-term care centre hours away from his home community and family. He was unable to live the remainder of his days at home with his young son and felt the only option was MAID.
There are also the stories of Alan Nichols,Yvon Tremblay, Gabriel Bouchard, Tommy Sec, Jonathan Marchand, Raymond Bourbonnais, Candice Lewis and far too many more. Some of these people are still fighting for their lives and some of them already gave in to the pressure to die.
Why are there so many horror stories? Why is there such a lack of compliance? It is simple: There is a lack of oversight. Many doctors and family members of patients have told me their complaints lie dead in the water. There also exists a culture of severe bullying in medicine, so doctors are scared to speak up out of fear of losing their jobs.
A press release from back in March written by the Physicians' Alliance against Euthanasia said, “The pressure has been intense for many physicians, especially amongst palliative specialists, some leaving even before this latest development. Descriptions were made of toxic practice environments and fear of discipline by medical regulators.”
When I last spoke to the bill, the Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Justice asked me if I knew of any cases of pressure the led to prosecution. There are plenty of cases of pressure, just no prosecution. When complaints are made about abuse, there is virtually no avenue for recourse. If someone complains to the police, they are blocked from investigating by doctor-patient confidentiality. When complaints are made to the College of Physicians and Surgeons, they are not followed up on. Many doctors feel cowed into submission before complaints are ever made in the first place.
I attempted to find out from the Legislative Library of British Columbia how many complaints were lodged against doctors with B.C.'s College of Physicians and Surgeons regarding MAID. The response I got is as follows. “The College of Physicians and Surgeons of B.C. cannot disclose the existence of a patient complaint against a physician, unless the complaint leads to formal discipline. Therefore, the exact number of complaints to the college, whether related to MAID or not, is not possible to ascertain using public sources.”
The response went on to offer me a media scan of newspaper stories related to MAID complaints in the hopes this would be helpful. Imagine that: The only place where any information is publicly available on MAID complaints is in the media. Shame on us. Imagine the cases of elder abuse that are happening under this easy-to-cheat scheme. We have millions of elderly Canadians with no protection from this regime because there is absolutely no way of monitoring it.
Imagine the cases like that of my constituents, who attended a town hall I held when the MAID survey was open for submissions. Together with almost 100 people, we went through each question attempting to understand and respond in a thoughtful way. The more questions we answered, the more we all realized the issue was far too complicated and nuanced for a survey to be of any good.
Then a young father stood up and told his own story of being diagnosed with terminal brain cancer. In the town hall, he explained how he had become depressed following his diagnosis and sought counselling to help him cope with his new reality. Instead, his counsellor offered him MAID. He was shocked that in his darkest hour a professional counsellor would suggest the very thing that was extremely tempting for him, but not in alignment with his ultimate goal to live his best life to its natural conclusion.
The medical professional on our panel was shocked. This was completely illegal under current law and should have been reported, to which the young man said this: How does one even report it? Imagine that: This man, whose life was put in jeopardy, was completely unaware of even how to report the incident. The doctor said he could go online and write a complaint to the College of Physicians and Surgeons, and told him to do it right away. The young man replied that he did not have the energy. He was going through chemotherapy and was absolutely exhausted. He could not wrap his mind around anything extra at that time.
How many people are out there right now who either do not know who to file a complaint with or just do not have the energy or strength in them to fight? They are already fighting a battle with death and now we want them to go online and file a complaint they may not live to see to its conclusion.
Let me close with a comment from a constitutional lawyer, Derek Ross. He said:
In the face of ongoing evidence that the current procedural safeguards are not being followed, it is alarming that the government is seeking to remove many of those safeguards, rather than strengthen and uphold them. Who is investigating these findings of non-compliance? And who is collecting and consolidating this data? The Carter decision was premised on the assumption that procedural safeguards would be “scrupulously monitored and enforced”. The federal government bears responsibility for reviewing reported cases of non-compliance and ensuring that data regarding non-compliance is gathered and used to inform future policy decisions.
There are horrible abuses of the current MAID regime taking place, which anyone who is engaged with it will know. The bill is a nightmare to disabled Canadians and to physicians across Canada. The risks associated with it are too serious to accept, and the stakes are as high as life and death. We cannot get this wrong.