Madam Speaker, I appreciate the opportunity to speak on Bill C-7, an act to amend the Criminal Code regarding medical assistance in dying, which was introduced earlier this week and dramatically expands the existing euthanasia regime in Canada.
This bill was introduced in response to a ruling made September 11, 2019, where the Superior Court of Quebec found, in Truchon versus the Attorney General of Canada, that it was unconstitutional to limit access to medical assistance in dying to people nearing the end of life.
I believe it is completely unacceptable that the government did not appeal the Truchon decision to the Supreme Court. Truchon struck down vital protections for vulnerable Canadians that the Liberal government put in place less than five years ago. Appealing this decision would have allowed us to get certainty on the framework within which Parliament can legislate.
The summary of the bill states that it amends the Criminal Code to:
among other things,
(a) repeal the provision that requires a person's natural death to be reasonably foreseeable in order for them to be eligible for medical assistance in dying...
It excludes mental health as an eligible reason to receive assisted suicide. It creates two sets of safeguards that must be respected before medical assistance in dying may be provided, which differ in application depending on whether death is reasonably foreseeable. It also creates an advance directive wherein a medical practitioner can proceed with assisted suicide without consent immediately before administering it, assuming all other criteria are met and the patient enters into an arrangement in writing with a medical practitioner or a nurse practitioner to cause death on a specified day.
While these changes are significant, it is the other things where I will focus most of my attention. In responding to Bill C-14 in the last Parliament and now to this bill, it has always been our priority, on this side of the House, to ensure that legislation permitting euthanasia and assisted suicide includes safeguards for the most vulnerable in our society, as well as for the conscience rights of physicians and allied health professionals.
Of all the proposed changes, I am most concerned about the removal of the 10-day waiting period. This was not a change mandated by Truchon. Rather, it is a deliberate choice by the Liberal government to strike down one of the most important safeguards for vulnerable people facing uncertain medical prognoses.
Nearly every one of us can think of someone in their lives, perhaps a friend, a grandparent or even a spouse, who has received a serious diagnosis. The emotional impact of hearing that news can be overwhelming for both the patients and their families. It can cause depression, anxiety and a great fear of the unknown.
I am sure many of us can also think of people we know who have received terminal diagnoses and went on to beat their illness and live for years afterwards. However, with the safeguard of a 10-day waiting period gone, such stories may be fewer and farther between.
Without having to take the time to come to terms with their situation, to speak to their families and to learn about treatment options from their doctors, many people will make emotional decisions based on fear.
Another amendment removes the need for two independent witnesses and allows health care workers to act as witnesses. People may not even hear another voice offering a different solution.
By making these changes, we diminish the extremely important role legislators play in contemplating all of the unintended outcomes and consequences and then protecting against them. We know very well that the current euthanasia regime has serious problems, that it has been abused and that it has been used as a tool of desperation after the failures of government.
Sean Tagert suffered from an advanced case of ALS that left him completely paralyzed, unable to speak and reliant on a ventilator. Despite these challenges, Tagert fought to stay alive so he could watch his son, whom he spoke of in lengthy Facebook posts, grow up.
Sean required 24-hour in-home medical assistance to stay alive. Initially the health care system provided him only 15 hours, leaving Sean to somehow pay hundreds of dollars each day. Eventually, even that was too much for the health authority. Health care authorities told Sean that he would no longer receive funding for home care, leaving as his only option institutional care at a facility hours away, separated from family and removed from the son he called his reason for living.
Sean appealed, but to no avail. He was going to lose his home care. Mr. Tagert fought long and hard for the rights of persons with disabilities and their families but in the end, he was driven by his desperate circumstances to believe that assisted suicide was his only option. He was “worn out”, in his own words. On August 6, 2019, he ended his life.
I am going to read from the statement his family posted at that time:
We would ask, on Sean's behalf, that the government recognize the serious problems in its treatment of ALS patients and their families, and find real solutions for those already suffering unimaginably.
“Real solutions” does not mean removing the safeguards for those who are the most vulnerable. It means providing true alternatives, be that palliative care, in-home care or the unique care needed.
It is not enough to simply put in legislation as we find here in proposed paragraph 241.2(3.1)(g), under Safeguards:
...[to] ensure that the person has been informed of the means available to relieve their suffering, including, where appropriate, counselling services, mental health and disability support services, community services and palliative care and has been offered consultations with relevant professionals who provide those services or...care.
If we have no intention of ensuring that those services are being funded or are even available, we have failed.
I note that the current federal government broke a key election commitment to invest $3 billion in long-term care, including palliative care. Access to palliative care is an essential part of end-of-life decision making. That point has been made over and over during this debate.
People should never be put in a position where they believe death is the only solution available to them. We are, and we must be, better than that. We must protect every human life with a jealousy born of the knowledge that each person is unique, and has an innate dignity that nothing, not time, not illness nor disability, can ever take away.