Madam Speaker, as the saying goes, never two without three.
I rise today in the House of Commons to speak once again to the issue of medical assistance in dying as it pertains to Bill C-7, an act to amend the Criminal Code. However, this time we have a deadline set by Justice Baudouin, namely December 18, 2020, so there is a sense of urgency now.
I am likely repeating myself today, but many people here have had unique experiences involving the end of a loved one's life. I am thinking in particular of one of my old friends, Stéphane, who died in palliative care at a very young age, in his twenties. He was supported by the excellent Maison Au Diapason. He was one of the youngest patients to die there and one of the first as well. This type of assistance is essential and useful.
As the Bloc Québécois critic for the status of women and seniors, I naturally took a special interest in this bill. In this speech, I will be reminding everyone of all the work that my party has done on this important issue, while emphasizing the great sensitivity of Quebeckers when it comes to medical assistance in dying. I will conclude with the position that certain seniors' and women's groups have taken on this issue and the recommendations they made that are extremely useful, but that are already several years old. They too are starting to get impatient.
First, let's talk about the reason for this debate. In September 2019, the Superior Court of Quebec ruled in favour of Nicole Gladu and Jean Truchon, both of whom had incurable degenerative diseases. The court stated that one of the eligibility criteria for medical assistance in dying was too restrictive, both in the federal legislation covering MAID and in Quebec's Act respecting end-of-life care.
These two brave individuals, with whom I have mutual acquaintances, simply asked to be able to die with dignity, without needlessly prolonging their suffering. Mr. Truchon, who had cerebral palsy, had lost the use of all four limbs and had difficulty speaking. Ms. Gladu, who has post-polio syndrome, is not able to control her pain with medication and cannot stay in the same position for too long because of the constant pain. She has said that she loves life too much to settle for mere existence. That is what she said.
What we are talking about here is the criterion of a reasonably foreseeable death. Justice Christine Baudouin said it well in her ruling:
The Court has no hesitation in concluding that the reasonably foreseeable natural death requirement infringes Mr. Truchon and Ms. Gladu's rights to liberty and security, protected by section 7 of the Charter.
That is the crux of our debate. These advocates had been denied medical assistance in dying because their death was not reasonably foreseeable, even though they had legitimately demonstrated their desire to stop suffering. Jean Truchon had chosen to die in June 2020, but he moved up the date because of the pandemic. Nicole Gladu is still living, and I commend her for her courage and determination.
The Bloc Québécois's position on this ethical issue is very clear, and I want to thank the member for Montcalm for his excellent work. I will not be as technical as him, but he showed us that we are capable of working together, and I thank him for all of the improvements that he made to this bill.
As many members have already pointed out, legislators did not do their job properly with the former Bill C-14. As a result, issues of a social and political nature are being brought before the courts. We need to make sure that people who have irreversible illnesses are not forced to go to court to access MAID. Do we really want to inflict more suffering on people who are already suffering greatly by forcing them to go to court for the right to make the very personal decision about their end of life? This will inevitably happen if we cannot figure out a way to cover cognitive degenerative diseases.
Obviously, we agree that we need to proceed with caution before including mental health issues, but that is not the issue today, since MAID in mental health-related cases was excluded from the bill. Once again, this matter was brought before the Standing Committee on Health via a motion moved by my colleague from Montcalm.
Second, I want to talk about how important Quebec is in this context. Quebec enacted the country's first legislation on this subject. Wanda Morris, a member of a B.C. group that advocates for the right to die with dignity, talked about how a committee that got the unanimous support of all parties in the National Assembly was a model for the rest of Canada. She said it was reassuring to see how it was working in Quebec and that people were happy to have the option to die with dignity.
However, it is important to know that this bill was first introduced by Véronique Hivon and that it was the fruit of many years of research and consultations with individuals, doctors, ethicists and patients. Whereas 79% of Quebeckers are in favour of medical assistance in dying, only 68% of people in the rest of Canada are. Those numbers are worth knowing and mentioning.
In 2015, when all parties in Quebec's National Assembly unanimously welcomed the Supreme Court's ruling on medical assistance in dying, Véronique Hivon had this to say:
Today is truly a great day for people who are ill, for people who are at the end of their lives...for Quebec and for all Quebeckers who participated in this democratic debate...that the National Assembly had the courage to initiate in 2009.
I believe that, collectively, Quebec has really paved the way, and and we have done so in the best possible way, in a non-partisan, totally democratic way.
For the third part of my speech, I would like to tell you about a meeting I had with the Association féminine d'éducation et d'action sociale in my role as the Bloc Québécois critic for status of women, gender equality and seniors. At this meeting, these brave women shared with me their concerns about this issue.
I will quote the AFEAS 2018-19 issue guide:
Is medical assistance in dying a quality of life issue? For those individuals who can no longer endure life and who meet the many criteria for obtaining this assistance, the opportunity to express their last wishes is undoubtedly welcome. This glimmer of autonomy can be reassuring and make it possible to face death more calmly. ... As the process for obtaining medical assistance in dying is very restrictive, those who use it probably do so for a very simple reason: they have lost all hope. ... This process cannot be accessed by individuals who are not at the end of life. ... People with degenerative diseases, who are suffering physically and mentally, do not have access to medical assistance in dying.
A brief submitted in 2010, or 10 years ago, to the Select Committee on Dying with Dignity, explained that the last moments are not always difficult because there are standards to guide medical practice and medical advances help relieve pain. However, despite everyone's goodwill, some people do have unfortunate experiences. Consequently, to prevent prolonged agony from depriving some people of their dignity and control over their lives, there are those calling for as a last resort the right to die with dignity, or the right to die at a time of one's choosing with assistance in this last stage.
Another brief pointed out that there have been four separate attempts to introduce similar legislation, specifically in 1994, 2005, 2008 and 2009, but these bills have never gone further than first reading. This needs to pass.
I will now read the conclusion from the AFEAS brief, as it is really powerful:
Over the next few months, AFEAS members will continue to reflect on the framework in which individuals losing their autonomy or suffering from an incurable, disabling illness, or experiencing acute physical or mental pain without any prospect of relief will be able to clearly and unequivocally express their desire to stop fighting to live and seek assistance to die.
Establishing the framework in which these decisions are made will be critical to ensuring that abuse cannot occur. The guidelines must be clear and precise so that all individuals can freely express their own choices, without any constraints and with full knowledge of all available options. It will be essential that all end-of-life services, including palliative care, be available and effective throughout Quebec so that patients have a real choice and do not feel forced to accept a “default” option because of a lack of adequate services or undue pressure from others.
I will also close now, in the hope that all of these comments and the lived experiences of the people in Quebec who made the request and wanted to die with dignity will afford Bill C-7 the same unanimous support from all members of the House of Commons so that we may all freely choose when we die. Let's take action.