Madam Speaker, I am pleased to voice my support for Bill C-14, significant legislation that would become Canada's first national medical assistance in dying regime, and would provide a thoughtful and well-considered response to the Supreme Court of Canada's decision in Carter.
I would first like to acknowledge the remarkable work of the members of the House of Commons Standing Committee on Justice and Human Rights who studied Bill C-14 under some very tight time constraints and who nonetheless were able to significantly enrich our reflection and debate on this highly complex and personal issue. This is certainly a matter on which everyone's point of view deserves the utmost respect and consideration. All justice committee members have unquestionably demonstrated these qualities in the course of their work.
Allow me to highlight some areas where the work of the justice committee has been particularly helpful.
Many stakeholders who appeared before the committee, in particular organizations representing medical professionals, expressed a great deal of concern about conscience protections for medical providers. Bill C-14, as a criminal law measure, would create exemptions from conduct that would otherwise be criminal and therefore would not compel anyone to provide medical assistance in dying in any way. However, some stakeholders urged the committee to add a specific clause that would clearly reflect, for greater certainty, their conscience rights as protected under the charter.
On the other hand, other stakeholders such as the Barreau du Québec and Quebec health lawyer Jean-Pierre Ménard affirmed the position previously expressed by the Minister of Justice that the conscience rights of health care providers were matters that fall under the purview of the provinces and territories as well as under the responsibility of medical regulatory bodies, which themselves are provincially regulated.
I am pleased to say that the justice committee carefully listened to submissions from all sides of the debate and that a motion was tabled to address this significant concern within the limits of our constitutional framework. Bill C-14 was amended in order to give a greater sense of comfort to medical professionals that nothing in Bill C-14 would compel individuals to act against their deeply held beliefs.
The justice committee should also be commended for working in a non-partisan way to make improvements to the proposed legislation. For instance, the committee amended the bill to clarify that where persons signed a written request on behalf of a patient who cannot write, they could only do so at the patient's express direction. The committee members also amended the bill to clarify that for the sake of professionals who provided counselling services, giving someone information about medical assistance in dying would not be criminally prohibited.
Although these amendments and several others do not fundamentally change the scope of Bill C-14, they should increase the level of comfort for Canadians, including health care providers and other professionals who may be involved. I applaud the committee for all of its efforts.
We have heard countless times how challenging the issue of medical assistance in dying is and how Canadians and organizations hold divergent views that are informed by strongly held beliefs. I think we can all agree that this tension was most apparent during the debate over who should be eligible for medical assistance in dying in our country.
Just as it was the case before the Special Joint Committee on Physician-Assisted Dying, the justice committee also heard a wide range of views on eligibility and on what was required to respond to the Carter ruling.
At one end of the spectrum, some stakeholders continue to oppose legalization of any form of medical assistance in dying, as is still the case in most countries around the world, or they propose that it be significantly narrowed.
At the other end of the spectrum, some argue that Bill C-14 does not go far enough and urge Parliament to adopt one of the broadest regimes in the world, similar to ones that exist in only three European countries. They maintain that the eligibility criteria in Bill C-14 are too narrow and they should also include mature minors, people suffering solely from a mental illness, and those who have lost their capacity to consent to die, but who have made an advance request for medical assistance in dying.
Somewhere in the middle of that spectrum, though, lies a group of stakeholders who have expressed strong support for Bill C-14 and who recognize that the bill's cautious and balanced approach is imminently justifiable, including the commitment to explore broader eligibility issues in the near future.
Among that group is the Canadian Medical Association, which speaks on behalf of 83,000 physicians across Canada and which supports the adoption of Bill C-14 as it was drafted, and without amendments.
In contrast with those who argue that the Supreme Court's language of grievous and irremediable medical condition is clear and preferable, the Canadian Medical Association takes quite a different position. It says that the criteria in Bill C-14, including the requirement that death be reasonably foreseeable, provides sufficient direction to physicians and is a great improvement from the court's language, which it considers to be vague and unworkable from a medical standpoint.
Similarly, the Canadian Nurses Association, a federation of 11 provincial and territorial nursing associations and colleges, representing nearly 139,000 registered nurses across Canada, has said publicly that its priority is having the bill passed before the June 6 deadline expires. Further, its CEO, Anne Sutherland Boal, stated just yesterday that the successful passing of the bill would be both compassionate and protective to patients, families, and care providers, while emphasizing that the legislative safeguards in the bill would work to protect the most vulnerable Canadians.
Although lawyers and legal academics continue to argue with each other over whether or not the court's language, or the language in Bill C-14, provides sufficient clarity, how can we as parliamentarians discount the views of medical practitioners? The Supreme Court expressed confidence in Canada's physicians to respond to Canadians who wished to access medical assistance in dying, and that confidence is well-placed.
We as parliamentarians must also have confidence in medical practitioners. They will be the ones facing these difficult life and death decisions with their patients and assessing their eligibility. For them, it is not a philosophical or theoretical exercise. They will be applying the very measures in Bill C-14 in their daily practice. Their views must be given significant weight.
National disability rights organizations and others have also supported the approach to eligibility proposed by Bill C-14 as a meaningful safeguard to protect individuals who might be vulnerable in the framework of a medical assistance in dying regime, as a result of societal discrimination, loneliness, or lack of social supports, for example.
On the question of safeguards, the same dynamic has been at play. Some stakeholders expressed support for the measures proposed in Bill C-14, while at the same time seeking to put in place additional safeguards to protect the vulnerable, such as prior judicial authorization. Others, wanting to facilitate broader access, have sought to remove some safeguards, such as the reflection period.
While we respect those who feel that the proposed safeguards are either inadequate or overly burdensome, I believe the safeguards in Bill C-14, taken together, are consistent with many of those found in regimes around the world. Just as the court in Carter was persuaded that the risks to vulnerable Canadians could be adequately managed under a regime with robust safeguards, I am confident the safeguards in Bill C-14 would guard against abuse and error.
Last, I would like to remind all members that Bill C-14, or the provision of medically assisted dying, is not intended to be, or to become, the response to all forms of intolerable suffering. The bill is a thoughtful response to Carter, which recognized the autonomy of those suffering on a path toward death to die peacefully at the time of their choosing and therefore to avoid a prolonged, painful, and undignified death, or one that is inconsistent with their values. Bill C-14 acknowledges the autonomy of such persons to make important end-of-life health care decisions, while also balancing the equally important societal objectives of affirming the value of the lives of all Canadians, preventing suicide, and protecting the most vulnerable in our society.
I believe this legislation respects all interests at stake, and is one of which Canadians can be proud. For all these reasons, I urge all members of the House to support Bill C-14.