An Act to amend the Criminal Code (right to die with dignity)

This bill was last introduced in the 40th Parliament, 3rd Session, which ended in March 2011.

This bill was previously introduced in the 40th Parliament, 2nd Session.

Sponsor

Francine Lalonde  Bloc

Introduced as a private member’s bill. (These don’t often become law.)

Status

Second reading (House), as of Oct. 2, 2009
(This bill did not become law.)

Summary

This is from the published bill. The Library of Parliament often publishes better independent summaries.

This enactment amends the Criminal Code to allow a medical practitioner, subject to certain conditions, to aid a person who is experiencing severe physical or mental pain without any prospect of relief or is suffering from a terminal illness to die with dignity once the person has expressed his or her free and informed consent to die.

Elsewhere

All sorts of information on this bill is available at LEGISinfo, provided by the Library of Parliament. You can also read the full text of the bill.

Votes

  • April 21, 2010 Failed That the Bill be now read a second time and referred to the Standing Committee on Justice and Human Rights.

Criminal Code
Private Members' Business

April 20th, 2010 / 5:25 p.m.
See context

Liberal

Mauril Bélanger Ottawa—Vanier, ON

Mr. Speaker, according to the rules, I have 10 minutes to speak about a complex, controversial topic that has numerous moral, legal, economic, social, religious, ethical and other implications. It is impossible, in 10 minutes, to talk about this subject with the depth it deserves.

One of the reasons why this bill should be passed at this stage is that the question of euthanasia, assisted suicide, the end of life and the right to die with dignity is such a complex and delicate question that the Parliament of Canada, where the people send their representatives to discuss serious issues, need to look at it.

A second argument in favour of an affirmative vote is the need to clearly define the terminology. Very different terms are used in speaking about Bill C-384, An Act to amend the Criminal Code (right to die with dignity).

Every one of the 200 to 300 letters I received referred to euthanasia. Almost all these citizens asked me to oppose it and I accepted. I am clearly, categorically and completely opposed to euthanasia.

Yet, we should have a clear understanding of euthanasia. In all end-of-life situations, euthanasia takes place when the person who makes the decision to end the life is not the person dying. No other person, whether they are a health professional or not, has the right to put an end to the life of another person. One of the most famous recent cases was that of Robert Latimer, who ended the life of his daughter Tracy for compassionate reasons. I do not doubt Mr. Latimer's intentions, but his decision was unacceptable and the courts dealt with it as such.

In our society, no person has the right to decide to put an end to the life of another person. I read and reread the bill introduced by the member for La Pointe-de-l'Île. As far as I can see, it does not deal with euthanasia, but with the right to die with dignity. Implicitly and explicitly, this means that this right, if it were established, would be the right of the person who decides to exercise it and of no other person. In addition, this person would have to be competent and coherent.

To illustrate the need for clarity in our vocabulary, which is the second reason for an affirmative vote, we should note that the member for La Pointe-de-l'Île herself used the term euthanasia, in an article published in Le Devoir on April 15, when citing the position of the Collège des médecins du Québec. The Canadian Medical Association Journal suggests eliminating the use of the word euthanasia and instead having doctors refer to end-of-life assistance. The different terms used can lead to confusion, which should be avoided.

Here in the House, we talk of dying with dignity. Others talk about assisted suicide or even euthanasia. Maybe we are talking about the same thing, hence the need to define the terms. Let us try to have an enlightened debate, not a debate that leads to confusion. We will not clarify anything by refusing to study it.

For me, euthanasia means that someone else makes the decision to put an end to my life and I do not. I am opposed to that and I will always be opposed. However, if I was suffering from a degenerative, terminal disease and if I still had my faculties, I might like to seek the help of professionals who, on a voluntary basis only, could help me to end my suffering in a dignified and planned way.

Is that not something that a number of us would like to choose? I can say that many of my fellow Canadians would.

I would not like to impose my views on others. If someone else in the same situation, suffering, that is, from a degenerative, terminal disease, wanted to prolong his life to the extent that our science allows, I would respect his choice. And I hope that mine would be respected under similar circumstances, that is, that my life would be ended with the help of professionals and that those professionals could not be accused of having broken the law. That is what this is about.

Let us recall the case of Sue Rodriguez, who suffered from a debilitating, terminal illness. She asked that a qualified doctor be permitted to end her life at a time of her choosing. In 1993, let us not forget, the Supreme Court was divided on the question. The Court dismissed Ms. Rodriguez's request five to four. The majority justices based their dismissal of the request on the sanctity of life. The justices who supported the request felt that the right to freely end one's life was paramount. We can see that the debate had already begun in 1993, but the Parliament of Canada continues to avoid it.

Our society already recognizes and respects the will of mentally competent people, under precise circumstances, such as not being kept alive by artificial means or resuscitated if they previously indicated, according to established criteria, that they do not wish to be kept alive.

This is something our institutions take into consideration when they handle end-of-life management, and proper procedures have been put in place. The current approach was not established without a lot of debate, discussion, listening and serious consideration. The same is true of the notion of dying with dignity. We need in-depth debate. We have to consider the legal, economic, social, moral and ethical aspects of the issue.

We should give people an opportunity to come to Parliament—or better yet, the government should go to the people—so that they can express their opinions, share their points of view and add information they deem relevant to the debate. In my opinion, if we shut down the debate without that kind of discussion, we will not be meeting people's expectations or fulfilling our responsibilities as parliamentarians.

Parliament is a place for talking, for discussing, for considering, for learning and then for deciding and legislating. Society is already debating the issue of dying with dignity. I just hope that Canada's Parliament will participate in the debate, will help to structure it, contribute to it and facilitate it so that together, we can make a decision about how to proceed. To date, no government has been willing to launch this important debate. Members have made a few attempts to do so. Will we succeed tomorrow at second reading? I hope so.

I hope so, because I think it is our duty to ensure that Canada's Parliament participates openly, fully and respectfully in debates on important issues such as the one raised in Bill C-384. I therefore urge my colleagues to send this bill to a parliamentary committee so that it can do its work.

Criminal Code
Private Members' Business

April 20th, 2010 / 5:35 p.m.
See context

NDP

Bill Siksay Burnaby—Douglas, BC

Mr. Speaker, I am very pleased to have the opportunity to speak in this debate on Bill C-384, An Act to amend the Criminal Code (right to die with dignity). I want to thank the member for La Pointe-de-l'Île for bringing it forward.

At the outset, I want to make it clear that I will be voting for this bill and that I support the right to die with dignity. This will come as no surprise to my constituents, since my support for such legislation is something I have made clear on many occasions, both before and after I was first elected.

I have heard from many constituents concerned about this issue and this particular bill. Here is how some expressed their concern. I am quoting from a letter I received: “There are many members of our community who live with disabilities, with terminal illness, with depression, and in various stages of physical or mental decline. They suffer and must not be pressured into feeling an obligation to die because they are burdens to others. They have a right to proper and adequate treatment, pain management, and compassionate end of life care. Euthanasia and assisted suicide, disguised as pain relief and meant to kill, have no place as optional treatment plans.”

I can agree with much in that statement but obviously not all. Any legalization of assisted suicide or voluntary euthanasia must not be about pressure. It must not be about making someone feel they are a burden to society or to their family. This is especially true for those with disabilities, those who are depressed or those with terminal illnesses. Treatment, care and pain management must be provided.

The fact remains that pain management does not stop all suffering. Palliative care does not ease all suffering. Despite the best medical treatment and care, some people still have an agonizing death. In those exceptional circumstances, I believe that allowing people the choice to end their own lives should be possible.

It is also true that protocols are now in place to allow this option for many people. Some call it passive or indirect euthanasia, describing the situation where doctors prescribe pain medication that places people in a coma and hastens their death. This is widely practised today in Canada but practised quietly, described by some as underground. It is often not directly acknowledged, which means it is available to some and not to others. The problem of legality also means that it is practised without real oversight. This is unacceptable.

Equally unacceptable to some people at the end of their lives is the practice of being sedated into unconsciousness and then denied food and fluids. Instead, they would prefer a clear personal choice for a dignified death. Like any piece of legislation, the bill before us today may not be perfect, but it is an important issue to debate and an important proposal to study. It is high time that it was on the legislative agenda of Parliament.

Sue Rodriguez, who in the early 1990s was living with ALS, famously asked the question, whose body is it, when she petitioned the Supreme Court for a physician-assisted suicide. She was ultimately denied in a close five-to-four decision. However, in February 1994, she did die at a time of her own choosing with the help of a physician. A police investigation resulted, but charges were never laid.

I remember that time very acutely because at the time I worked for the former MP for Burnaby—Douglas, Svend Robinson. Svend, everyone will recall, worked for years with Sue Rodriguez on the issue of physician-assisted suicide and was with her when she died. In my opinion, many acts of love and bravery were performed the day Sue died, by Sue, by Svend and by the anonymous doctor who assisted her. I was never prouder of Svend than when, at a press conference following Sue's death, he was asked if the highest duty of an MP should not be upholding the law and he responded that the highest duty of a member of Parliament is love.

I answered hundreds of phone calls in Svend's office after Sue's deaths, hundreds of moving, sometimes desperate, sometimes angry calls, but one in particular from a family investigated by the police for taking seriously a terminally ill loved one's questions about assisted suicide and euthanasia will stay with me forever. Just for discussing these issues in their family member's hospital room, they were reported to the police, who then visited them at their home. For some people the conversation is possible and results in the assistance they seek. For others, the conversation is not possible or results in other unacceptable consequences.

Palliative care and pain management are indeed issues related to this topic. We need to do more to ensure excellent palliative care is available to all. We need to ensure there is research and training in pain management. We know that when patients can be assured about those issues, most are relieved to know they will not suffer unduly. For many, that is all the insurance they need.

However, not all who have terminal diseases are guaranteed that they will not suffer terribly at the end of their lives and some of those people request assistance in dying.

Many opponents of dying with dignity note that the end of a life can be a time of reconciliation, when a strong sense of inner peace can be experienced, and there is no doubt about that, but it is also true that this is not always possible for every dying person. For some, there is no peace or reconciliation possible when they are subjected to terrible agony without the possibility of relief. In those cases, death may offer the only possibility of peace and reconciliation.

I believe it is possible to craft a law that works and provides appropriate safeguards. This has happened in other jurisdictions, in Belgium, the Netherlands, Luxembourg, Switzerland, and the states of Oregon and Washington.

Many people bring a theological perspective to this issue. Theologian Daniel Maguire has written extensively on the issue and he has said, “If you start out with the physicalist presumption, that only one's organic system can determine death in a way that is natural to humans, the discussion is stopped in its tracks. If however, you grant that it is natural for humans to deliberate about alternative possibilities and to pursue that course which commends itself to their reason, then death by choice can be discussed. It could in fact be seen as quite natural to humans whose distinctive dignity is their capacity for choice”.

He goes on to ask the question, “Why should disease, not the patient, have all the say?”

The legal perspective for allowing the right to die is also important to note. Supreme Court Justice Peter Cory's dissenting opinion in the 1993 Sue Rodriguez case should be remembered in this debate. He said:

The life of an individual must include dying. Dying is the final act in the drama of life. If, as I believe, dying is an integral part of living, then as a part of life it is entitled to the constitutional protection provided by s. 7. It follows that the right to die with dignity should be as well protected as any other aspect of the right to life. State prohibitions that would force a dreadful, painful death on a rational but incapacitated terminally ill patient are an affront to human dignity.

The bill before us is not about making the decision for others. It is about ensuring people who are dying have the ability to make choices about their own life and can exercise those choices with informed consent.

This bill talks about adult decision-makers who are lucid, those who are in physical or mental pain that cannot be relieved or those suffering from a terminal illness, those who have made the request twice, 10 days apart, freely and with full information from their doctor.

The bill provides that the medical diagnosis must be reviewed by an impartial medical practitioner with no personal interest in the death of the person. The bill gives the power to the patient to revoke the request at any time.

These are the reasons I am glad Parliament is finally debating this issue. I will be voting for this bill, and I hope it will proceed to committee where it can be studied in detail, where witnesses can be heard on its provisions and where improvements can be made as appropriate.

Criminal Code
Private Members' Business

April 20th, 2010 / 5:55 p.m.
See context

Conservative

Tim Uppal Edmonton—Sherwood Park, AB

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to participate in today's debate of Bill C-384. The bill proposes to amend the Criminal Code to legalize euthanasia and assisted suicide.

This subject is a very difficult and sensitive one. It touches on the matter of medical ethics and the criminal law. The bill proposes that doctors be authorized to intentionally and actively terminate the life of a patient on his or her request. Under the current criminal law, such an act constitutes murder, or if the act itself, which causes death, is carried out by the patient himself or herself, it constitutes assisted suicide.

I do not support the general principle behind the bill. I do not believe doctors should be given the power to end a human life in this way. Bill C-384 offers death as a solution to pain and suffering. I do not believe that this is the right solution for Canadians.

People with serious but non-life threatening illnesses should be offered treatment and support. So too should people with severe mental pain. People with terminal illness should be offered good palliative care. As a society, we must support quality health care services for all Canadians, including care for the dying.

I fully appreciate how this issue is the subject of great divergent views in our society. Contrary to how some commentators may suggest, the various polls that have been conducted on this issue in Canada have not demonstrated a clear consensus for reforms along the lines of what is proposed in Bill C-384.

The polling questions have generally focused on terminally ill patients. Bill C-384 does not focus merely on persons who suffer from a terminal illness. The scope of the bill is extremely broad. It would allow people who are not in the process of dying to ask a doctor to end their life. It includes people who want to commit suicide due to illness.

Furthermore, the breadth of the proposed amendments is not limited to those who suffer from severe physical illness but also mental illness. On this point, serious concerns have been expressed by several hon. members on how the bill includes a number of vague terms that have not been defined, terms such as severe physical or mental pain, or while appearing to be lucid but left undefined.

I believe doctors would not be provided clear guidance with these proposals. I also believe it would have huge implications for the provisions of medical services, not to mention potentially serious conflict with medical ethical standards.

As another hon. member mentioned earlier in the second reading debate of the bill, the Canadian Medical Association has stated that it does not support euthanasia and assisted suicide. It clearly urges its members to uphold the principles of palliative care. The Canadian Medical Association's policy on this issue is unequivocal: Canadian physicians do not participate in euthanasia or assisted suicide. Furthermore it has specifically stated that it does not support Bill C-384.

We have also heard how the bill does not provide sufficient safeguards to protect against potential abuses and ensure proper reporting. Therefore, the use of vague terms, some of which I have just mentioned, along with the fact that the reporting requirement consists of providing a copy of the diagnosis to the coroner after the fact raises a concern that people's lives could be terminated without their true and informed consent or while they are in a vulnerable state.

Since the introduction of the bill, a number of petitions from Canadians have been forwarded to the House. Those petitions, numbering in the hundreds, possibly thousands, have urged the House of Commons to oppose the bill.

I have already mentioned that I cannot support the general principle behind this bill. I believe that the overall thrust of the present debate at second reading has pointed to serious concerns with this bill, both with the general scope of it and in terms of the many flaws contained in it. As a result of these broad concerns, I think it would be premature for the House to refer this issue to a committee for further study.

Criminal Code
Private Members' Business

March 16th, 2010 / 5:55 p.m.
See context

Bloc

Francine Lalonde La Pointe-de-l'Île, QC

moved that Bill C-384, An Act to amend the Criminal Code (right to die with dignity), be read the second time and referred to a committee.

Mr. Speaker, I will not have enough time to list everything that has happened and that has been written regarding the right to die with dignity since the debate on BillC-384 began.

It is a sign, if a sign were needed, that shows the need to decriminalize euthanasia and assisted suicide or physician-assisted dying under certain conditions. My bill has a specific objective. It deals only with people capable of making decisions for themselves who are living in conditions of suffering that cannot be alleviated. But it has the merit of forcing a debate on decriminalization that, in Canada, unlike in the United States, is a federal jurisdiction. I think that studying my bill in committee and passing it after consideration and amendments would at last rid us of the criminal nature of physician-assisted dying by euthanasia or assisted suicide.

The Collège des médecins du Québec could then, freely and without fear, continue the admirable work it has begun on appropriate end-of-life care, including terminal sedation and euthanasia. The Quebec National Assembly could, in all good conscience, refer the study of the right to die with dignity to its Commission de la santé et des services sociaux. Not only is it necessary, but it is urgent to remind ourselves of the degree to which the Criminal Code of Canada hinders a genuine debate on vital life questions that so many people are faced with daily. A number of people who have appeared before the Commission de la santé et des services sociaux have done so. Here are some examples.

Jean-Pierre Béland, professor of philosophy and ethics at the Université du Québec à Chicoutimi, wonders what the problem is when it is accepted that a physician must answer to his code of ethics that requires him to make it possible for a patient to die with dignity.

He goes on to say that it is part of the code of ethics and that we all know that the problem lies with the current Criminal Code. This Criminal Code, which falls under federal jurisdiction, recognizes that any act of euthanasia must currently be interpreted as a criminal act within the meaning of the Criminal Code. In practice, is the patient not thrust into an impasse because the law forces doctors and caregivers to live in the ambivalence of palliative care language, which preaches independent choice when, in reality, the patient has no choice because he is denied assisted suicide and euthanasia?

There are tonnes of quotes. I have one from a very remarkable document from the Collège des médecins du Québec on doctors, appropriate care and the debate on euthanasia. The following is an important excerpt from that document:

The status quo makes this research difficult if not impossible. For all sorts of reasons, our society—and doctors are no exception—is in denial not just about euthanasia, but also about death. The current state of the law in Canada certainly has a lot to do with that. In a context where any act aimed at shortening life is considered murder punishable by criminal sanctions, it is rather difficult to have an open and frank discussion on all the care that would be appropriate at the end of life.

My dear colleagues will agree that the Quebec and Canadian context has completely changed since the motion was unanimously passed by the National Assembly of Quebec.

Those are not my words. We did not see it, but representatives in the National Assembly unanimously passed a motion to establish an ad hoc commission “for the purpose of examining the issue of the right to die with dignity and, if need arises, of the procedural requirements”.

The National Assembly commission has already heard from dozens of specialists, be they doctors, ethicists or people who work in palliative care. The quality of their testimony is incredible.

It has brought a question to my mind. Quebec's parliament came together and undertook a joint consultation with specialists. Then, in August, they travelled throughout Quebec. Quebec's National Assembly commission will come forward with a motion. Given the commission's title, it seems that they will want to determine the conditions for dying with dignity. What will the Parliament of Canada do? It will say that it is in charge of the Criminal Code. On what side of the issue will we be? Personally, I hope we will not be against it.

I hope that the Parliament of Canada will take the time to consult and get informed. Of course, I hope that this will be the case when my private members' bill comes before the House. My bill is specific and limited, but it raises the question of criminalization or rather decriminilization. That is the biggest problem. That is the problem.

Who can repeatedly say with confidence that helping someone in unbearable pain, particularly someone in palliative care—that is definitely unbearable pain—is a crime? Many witnesses speak about helping someone die peacefully, so that they do not suffer. Is that really murder? Is that really a crime? Many of them say it is not. That is exactly my point. Within the three physicians' associations in Quebec, approximately 75% say that the option should exist to perform euthanasia in order to help people die under specific conditions. They want to be able to establish these conditions themselves.

I would like to read excerpts from the brief from the Fédération des médecins spécialistes du Québec:

From a medical standpoint, the right to die with dignity and quality end of life care are notions that implicitly refer to euthanasia. It was in that context that a working group on clinical ethics, mandated by the Collège des médecins du Québec, or CMQ, in 2006, decided to address the issue. Based on the reflections of that group and particularly because of the CMQ's position, the federation decided to conduct a survey on euthanasia—

I will talk about that in a moment, but first I would like to read another interesting excerpt:

More and more people no longer have any moral or ethical objection to the idea of allowing a doctor to administer terminal sedation under extraordinary circumstances. Euthanasia is starting to be viewed as an act of support, the final step in quality end of life care. However, from a strictly legal standpoint, the debate continues. The Canadian legal framework, the Criminal Code, stipulates that any action to end another person's life constitutes murder and is therefore subject to criminal sanctions.

But doctors work with people who no longer have any hope and who are no longer treatable.

Regardless of the legislative model eventually passed by the National Assembly regarding civil rights, the Criminal Code of Canada should be amended. This is by no means supported by everyone, considering the firm opposition expressed by certain radical groups that strongly support recriminalizing abortion in Canada.

The reflection paper of the Fédération des médecins omnipraticiens du Québec is also clear and precise. It is even philosophical, to some extent.

Due to improvements in health care, people now live longer and it is possible to delay death, sometimes significantly. However, the ability to live longer has a downside because an increasing number of people suffer from degenerative or incurable illnesses, such as Alzheimer's or cancer, which decrease considerably their quality of life. As a result of the evolution in medical technologies and a better understanding of them, people wish to control end-of-life decisions in order to die with dignity. This evolution in medicine inevitably leads to the debate on end-of-life care and euthanasia.

These are not physicians who teach at universities, although they might say the same thing. These are physicians who deal with patients and look after them in their final days.

These texts both contain the results of surveys on euthanasia. This is what the Fédération des médecins spécialistes discovered.

The survey indicated that medical specialists are prepared to hold a debate on euthanasia (84%) and believe that Quebec society is also ready to discuss this matter (76%). In addition, 75% of medical specialists would certainly or probably be favourable to euthanasia within a clearly defined legislative framework, and believe that Quebec society also supports legalized euthanasia, although to a lesser extent (54%).

Passage of a bill legalizing euthanasia by the House of Commons would receive the support of 76% of specialists.

However, our survey tends to confirm that euthanasia is a factor that medical specialists have to deal with in their practice. According to 81% of respondents, euthanasia is often/sometimes (52%) or rarely practised in Quebec.

The FMOQ survey gave similar results. I would add that more than half of all general practitioners believe that euthanasia is carried out indirectly in Quebec at present. 74% of physicians surveyed believe that euthanasia should be a tool available to doctors in order to fulfill the ethical requirement of helping their patients die with dignity.

74% of the respondents believe that new regulatory and legislative frameworks should be adopted to permit euthanasia.

These are but a few of the many accounts I read or heard. I believe there is no longer any hesitation. I know that, increasingly, the position of those opposed is the fear of the slippery slope.

But we cannot, based on this irrational fear—a number of studies have shown that when legislation exists, there is no slippery slope—and based on the slippery slope refuse assisted suicide to people who are dying in pain. That makes no sense, and that is what we are faced with.

Criminal Code
Private Members' Business

March 16th, 2010 / 6:15 p.m.
See context

Conservative

David Sweet Ancaster—Dundas—Flamborough—Westdale, ON

Madam Speaker, I am pleased to have the opportunity to speak to Bill C-384, An Act to amend the Criminal Code, which is more commonly known for the issue it tackles: euthanasia and physician assisted suicide. There is no question that the circumstances, pain and emotion surrounding one's desire to even consider euthanasia and assisted suicide are difficult and complex, made all the more poignant by the personal experiences that frame our diverse perspectives.

I must say from the outset that while I fundamentally disagree with this bill, I respect every member of the House and every Canadian who advocates for or against the bill. That is because the circumstances that would bring anyone to contemplate medically assisted suicide, whether it be for himself or herself or a loved one, are very deep, very emotional and very difficult personal decisions.

Throughout this debate we have heard many stories and I am certain that we will hear many more. Each is different and relevant. I do not know if we can ever truly appreciate these until we walk in that particular person's shoes, but please allow me to add my own as well. My mother passed away from a debilitating autoimmune disease called scleroderma. Unfortunately, even today, not a lot is known about this disease.

When death occurs, as was the case with my mother, it is from organ complications after many years of suffering and pain. It is dying from the inside out. My mother's internal vital organs became like stones. Her skin became as fragile as parchment. There were days at the end of her life, I would suspect, although she never spoke to me about it, that she would rather not have lived. They were days that we as her family would rather have not seen her suffer.

However, as heart-wrenching as it was, she found a modicum of serenity and acceptance and we comforted her as best as we possibly could right until the end. My family was blessed by discovering two great champions: my younger sister, Connie Hayes, and my older sister, Suzanne Bryant, who were there day in and day out to care for my mother and bring the family even closer together through this tragic, painful ordeal.

I think we can all agree with the overall objective of ensuring that people with terminal or severe illness suffer less. However, I do not believe that Bill C-384 is the answer. In fact, I have stated before in this place that, in my opinion, Bill C-384 is irresponsible. Frankly, I am convinced that it is diametrically opposed to the Charter of Rights and Freedoms which guarantees individual Canadians the right to life, liberty and the security of person.

I am deeply concerned that Bill C-384 would allow anyone to request medical assistance with suicide or euthanasia without sufficient oversight or regulation. Clearly, no one is going to make that kind of decision lightly, but nor should it be so readily accessible that an irreversible decision could be made too hastily, out of pain or emotion, or out of guilt that someone would be a burden to others.

The flaws with this bill are not with its call to compassion or its appeal for dignity near life's natural end, but with the unintended and, I believe, unmanageable consequences. Moreover, I believe we as parliamentarians have a duty and moral obligation to uphold the value of life. What kind of precedence does this set? At what point on this slippery slope do we stop? Is that really for us to decide?

I would like to quote an article from yesterday's Globe and Mail, written by Margaret Somerville, the founding director of the Centre of Medicine, Ethics and Law at McGill University:

Indeed, one of the people responsible for shepherding through the legislation legalizing euthanasia in the Netherlands recently admitted publicly that doing so had been a serious mistake, because, he said, once legalized, euthanasia cannot be controlled. In other words, justifications for it expand greatly, even to the extent that simply a personal preference “to be dead” will suffice.

I am also worried that Bill C-384 signals a devaluing of life and I believe that is heading in a vastly wrong direction. These are my personal and emotional views and reasons, but they are also the reasons for many hundreds of constituents who have called, written and emailed my office.

I would like to supplement this by referring to some of the work done by committees and commissions over the years related to this specific topic. I hope they help illustrate and amplify my point that we are treading down a very slippery slope.

We should consider this paragraph from the 1982 report by the Law Reform Commission of Canada on this topic that my colleague referred to earlier. It reads, ”There is, first of all, a real danger that the procedure developed to allow the death of those who are a burden to themselves may be gradually diverted from its original purpose and eventually used to eliminate those who are a burden to others, or to society. There is also the constant danger that the subject's consent to euthanasia may not really be a perfectly free and voluntary act”.

Therefore, in addition to the lack of oversight in this bill, what is also troubling is the lack of precise language. I have a copy of the bill in front of me and the actual text is only three pages long, in both official languages. It is hardly anything that would tackle something as serious as bringing about medically assisted death.

The bill before us would allow for physician assisted suicide and euthanasia if the subject appears to be lucid and is in severe physical or mental pain and yet there is no definition of what constitutes severe pain or mental pain. I would hate to see an elderly, ill or disabled Canadian, feeling that he or she is a burden to his or her caregivers or to society, request assisted suicide using severe mental pain as a reason.

In tandem with our duty to uphold the value of life, I also believe we must support quality palliative care and end-of-life care for Canadians so that they will never need to think that euthanasia or assisted suicide is the only relief for their suffering or feel that they would be relieving a burden on their family by taking that path. Our ultimate goal ought to be to help ensure Canadians can live life well to its natural end. With the ageing of the baby boomers, this is an increasingly important issue.

A study of palliative care conducted by a Senate subcommittee in 2000, tabled a thoughtful report called “Quality End-of-Life Care: The Right of Every Canadian”. The report recommended collaborative development of a strategy to improve palliative and end-of-life care with attention to issues such as support to family caregivers, access to home care, training and education, research and surveillance.

Since then, Health Canada has been working to develop a pan-Canadian strategy for palliative and end-of-life care. While much remains to be done, I believe this can help deal with the very real physical, psychological, spiritual and practical needs of a person who is dying and the person's loved ones.

As we discuss, debate and consider Bill C-384, we must not forget what we can do in these areas of health care to help Canadian families from coast to coast. We need to recognize the work being done in hospice care by so many dedicated doctors and nurses, as well as what is being done by great Canadians in the communities in which we live.

It was such a concern for ordinary Canadians in Hamilton to give quality care, end-of-life care to the people of Hamilton that they raised $3 million and built the Dr. Bob Kemp Hospice to ensure hospice care was available to people in need.

We are faced today with a problem that continues to challenge our society. The pitfalls are many and the answers are far from clear. In view of this, I would urge members to reject Bill C-384 and signal to all Canadians that we hold life as sacred and do not find the intentional taking of life acceptable whatsoever.

Criminal Code
Private Members' Business

March 16th, 2010 / 6:25 p.m.
See context

Liberal

Paul Szabo Mississauga South, ON

Madam Speaker, before I came to this place, I spent five years on the ethics committee of the board of directors of the Mississauga hospital. I learned a great deal about self-determination, competency, the whole idea of informed consent, the realities of coercion by family members, friends and other people who have conflicts of interest, and the risk that the patient may be competent but not understand the risk of incorrect diagnosis or prognosis and the possibility that circumstances can change after he or she has given consent but then lapse into incompetence. These are all very minor, simple ethical questions. There are many more complex ones. These are just a sample.

Euthanasia involves a physician directly injecting a lethal substance into another person with the person's consent. Physician assisted suicide involves a physician who provides the individual with information, guidance and the means, such as a prescription for a lethal drug, with the intent that the person himself or herself will take his or her own life. That is the difference.

Bill C-384 seeks to legalize both euthanasia and assisted suicide. It purports to provide the right to die with dignity when in fact what it does is it gives the medical practitioner the right to terminate or assist in the termination of life before natural death.

It would change section 14 of the Criminal Code such that a medical practitioner does not commit homicide if he or she aids a person to die with dignity who has given his or her free or informed consent, who has a terminal illness, and who continues, after expressly refusing the appropriate treatments available, to experience severe physical or mental pain without any prospect of relief.

There are some flaws in the bill. I looked at it carefully. My immediate reaction is that it does not restrict this availability to Canadian residents. Anyone could walk into Canada and request euthanasia, which is silly.

The bill does not define terminal illness. It does not define lucidity. It does not define a whole bunch of things. In fact, it requires the patient to be free from duress or coercion, but it does not give any indication of how that might be addressed.

This bill is an amendment to the Criminal Code. It is two paragraphs long.

I have before me the bill of one jurisdiction and it is 10 pages long. Let me highlight some of it. It includes 20 definitions that are necessary to be there so it is operable. Also, under “Written Request for Medication”, it has section 2, who may initiate a written request; section 3, the form for written requests; section 4, the attendant physician responsibilities; section 5, consulting physician confirmation; section 6, counselling referral; section 7, informed decision; section 8, family written notification. It goes on. It includes written and oral requests; the right to rescind; waiting periods; medical record; documentation requirements; residential requirements; disposal of unused medication; effect on construction of wills, contracts and statutes; insurance and annuity policies; construction of the act. Under “Immunities and Liabilities” it covers the sanctions of prohibiting a health care provider from participating; liabilities and claims from government authorities; and forms to request. I could go on.

This is a comprehensive bill on a very serious subject. The bill before us for debate is not. Based on my review of the bill and the legislation in other jurisdictions, I have concluded that this bill is seriously flawed, inoperable and irreparable in its current form.

We have to look at the experience of other jurisdictions. It is instructive.

Oregon has had the law for 12 years. In 2009, 93 people obtained prescriptions for the lethal drug, but only 53 actually took their lives. In Washington state in the first 10 months, which is how long it has had the law, 63 people got the lethal drug, but only 36 took their lives. Does it paint a little picture? There are some numbers here.

In all of these jurisdictions people were asked why they were seeking euthanasia or assisted suicide. Ninety-one per cent of them said that it was losing the ability to participate in the activities that make life enjoyable. Eighty-two per cent said they were worried about losing their dignity. Only 23% said they were worried about the pain and suffering. We cannot ask people who are not the patient how they feel about this. We have to ask people who are facing this situation.

It is clear to me the concern about pain and suffering, which is really the only major justification the member has given on this bill, in fact is not the compelling reason that some people request termination of life.

Our health care system is there to meet the needs of all, including the disabled, the terminally ill, the aged and the most vulnerable in our society. We meet those needs through continuing care, palliative care, stroke and geriatric rehabilitation, long-term care, hospices, home care and family medicine. We need to continue to improve that care, not terminate it.

Palliative care workers are very concerned about this bill. Organizations and hospices are doing their very best to give the best possible care in difficult situations. The disabled in our society are obviously very concerned about whether their lives are at risk because someone decides they are not living in dignity.

As well, the legalization of euthanasia and assisted suicide would reduce funding for palliative care, reduce the number of palliative care service centres and reduce the number of palliative care physicians.

There are some slippery slope considerations. I would simply point out that people are not valueless because they are chronically dependent or dying. They continue to be human beings and should be respected and supported in their time of need and, as a result of the loss of a patient's autonomy because the final decision will belong to a physician, not to the individual. I mentioned personal autonomy.

Our experience shows that there is an absolute certainty that errors will occur and that lives of people will be wrongly terminated.

Our social, moral and ethical values, as expressed in our laws, practices and customs, define who we are as a people and as a country. The thought of deliberately taking a human life for any reason is simply incompatible with Canadian reality. The decriminalization of euthanasia and assisted suicide depends entirely on the participation of the medical profession, and it should be noted that the majority of the medical profession is opposed. As I mentioned in my question earlier, it will pit doctor against doctor, depending on whether they support it.

What we really need is a national strategy for comprehensive palliative care to address any gaps in compassionate care services. This also involves an increase in education for doctors and medical students who normally receive little training in the benefits or advancements in palliative care.

For all of those reasons, I am strongly opposed to euthanasia and assisted suicide and I will be voting against Bill C-384. In my view, it is simply wrong to deliberately kill another human being. The miracle of life is inherently dignified and each day is a gift to be cherished.

Criminal Code
Private Members' Business

March 16th, 2010 / 6:55 p.m.
See context

Langley
B.C.

Conservative

Mark Warawa Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of the Environment

Madam Speaker, the seniors that the hon. member just spoke of are not trash. They are treasures.

I would like to state from the outset that I do not support Bill C-384 which proposes the legalization of physician assisted suicide and euthanasia under specific conditions.

The bill raises a number of serious concerns and I propose to outline the ones that I consider the most troubling.

First, Bill C-384 is too broad in terms of its scope. Bill C-384 proposes to amend the Criminal Code to provide an exemption not only for the offence of assisted suicide but also for the offence of murder. These amendments would represent a substantial change in the current state of law on a matter that touches life and death.

The proposed legalization of medical euthanasia and assisted suicide would not only apply to terminally ill patients but also to persons who suffer from severe physical or mental pain without a prospect of relief.

Therefore, under the bill, persons who suffer from depression could request that a doctor help them to commit suicide. They could also request that the doctor carry out the act itself that would cause their death.

When I articulated earlier that Bill C-384 is too broad in its scope, this concern applies to both the fact that it would permit physician assisted suicide and euthanasia, and to the fact that it would allow a vast array of persons to make a request to a doctor for assisted death.

Criminal Code
Private Members' Business

October 2nd, 2009 / 1:30 p.m.
See context

Bloc

Francine Lalonde La Pointe-de-l'Île, QC

moved that Bill C-384, An Act to amend the Criminal Code (right to die with dignity) be read the second time and referred to a committee.

Mr. Speaker, I first introduced a private member's bill on the right to die with dignity in June 2005, because I felt confident that Quebeckers and Canadians needed Parliament to amend the Criminal Code to recognize that every person, subject to certain specific conditions, had the right to an end of life that is consistent with the values of dignity and freedom they have always espoused and so that an individual's wish regarding his or her death would be respected. In fact, I introduced this bill so that people would have a choice, the same right to choose that people in other countries have.

My conviction has grown stronger, and that is why I am introducing an amended bill on the right to die with dignity, Bill C-384. Briefly, it amends the Criminal code so that a medical practitioner does not commit homicide just by helping a person to die with dignity if—I am coming to the conditions—the person is at least 18 years of age, continues to experience severe physical or mental pain without any prospect of relief or suffers from a terminal illness. The person must have provided a medical practitioner with two written requests more than 10 days apart expressly stating the person's free and informed consent to opt to die.

The medical practitioner must have requested and received written confirmation of the diagnosis from another medical practitioner. The other practitioner must be independent and have no personal interest in the death of the person. The medical practitioner must have no reasonable grounds—this is important—to believe that the person's written requests were made under duress or while the person was not lucid. The practitioner must have informed the person of the consequences of his or her requests and of the alternatives available to him or her and must act in the manner indicated by the person, it being understood that the person may, at any time, revoke the requests made under subparagraph (a)(iii) of clause 2 of the bill.

The patient is free to change his mind. The doctor must constantly remind him of that. If he does not change his mind, the doctor must submit a copy of the confirmation referred to in subparagraph (i) to the coroner.

Mr. Speaker, would you please let me know when I have two minutes left?

As we all know, the right to receive medical assistance to die exists in other countries. The Netherlands was the first to make it a right. In that country, before the law existed, doctors who helped patients die were tolerated by the legal system, as long as they complied with medical directives from the country's equivalent of a college of physicians and surgeons. Then the law was changed to reflect what people had been thinking about and doing for all that time.

In the Netherlands, euthanasia is when a doctor, acting on behalf of a patient and in accordance with the patient's strict instructions, deliberately puts an end to the patient's life. I want to emphasize that, in the Netherlands, palliative care is excellent and euthanasia is one of the care options.

Belgium also passed a law after senators from different parties worked together to hold nationwide consultations and agree on a piece of legislation in which euthanasia is defined as an action by a party intentionally ending the life of a person at that person's request. The law has been in place for six years, and there is oversight in place as well. This year, there was a report on the application of the law. For those who fear that permitting people at the end of their lives to choose how they wish to die might result in a huge number of people seeking help to die, the incidence over the past six years in Belgium has been 4 per 1,000. I repeat: 4 per 1,000 deaths.

In Quebec, the debate is ongoing. The Collège des médecins has asked its ethics committee to consider the matter of euthanasia. After three years of study, the committee should soon be making recommendations. As Dr. Yves Robert, the college's secretary, told L'Actualité médicale,

Doctors do not want to abdicate their responsibilities when it comes to euthanasia, but we must determine the scope of those responsibilities and how they are to be carried out.

At its annual meeting on April 16 and 17, 2009, the Association des soins palliatifs broached the topic with a presentation by Dr. Yvon Beauchamp, who began his introduction with the following:

I have found that over the years in Canada, palliative care has been championed as the anti-euthanasia and the universal alternative to an act punishable under the laws of God, the laws of man and the laws of the college of physicians.

He added:

There are people who believe that “increased development of palliative care means there is no longer a need for suicide, assisted suicide and euthanasia.”

I could go on. On August 11, 2009, an Angus Reid survey of 804 adults in Quebec was published with the title, Strong Support in Quebec for Legalizing Euthanasia. The subtitle read, “Most Quebecers believe that laws governing euthanasia should be provincial responsibility.” The survey showed the following figures: 77% of Quebeckers believe euthanasia should be allowed, and 75% think it is a good idea to re-open the debate on euthanasia. On August 22, the Association féminine d'éducation et d'affaires sociales, the AFEAS, well-known in all ridings of Quebec, voted in favour of euthanasia at its convention. Members of the AFEAS took the position that Quebeckers should be allowed to die with dignity.

Palliative care and assisted suicide are not mutually exclusive; they complement each other. I am saying this right off the bat, because I know that I will hear that argument. How many times have I heard, “As long as some people do not have access to palliative care, we cannot consider medical assistance in dying”? Why? That has nothing to do with the issue. Everyone needs access to quality palliative care.

It should also be known that palliative care does not relieve all pain and especially not all the suffering that comes with the end of life, aging and the difficulty of a lengthy hospital stay.

I will read from a text by Dr. Boisvert, a long-time palliative care doctor at the Royal Victoria Hospital:

Caregivers, whose own health is relative, are not equipped to experience the throes of progressive decline (a teaspoon at a time, wrote one patient); the indignity of urinary or fecal (rectal, or worse, vaginal) incontinence—we do not often hear that in Parliament; of constant breathlessness; the throbbing acute pain caused by a collapsing cancerous vertebra, causing the patient to cry out at the slightest movement; the gauntness and extreme weakness that result in total dependence, even for the simplest things such as turning over in bed just slightly or lifting half a glass of water to one's parched lips.

Dr. Boisvert continued:

That is why I do not subscribe to the idea that people should find the strength to suffer to the end or the idea that people should be so compassionate as to suffer with their loved one, when it is the loved one that is truly suffering.

I would add that I do not understand why people prefer to wash their hands of this suffering that cannot be relieved, that can only be relieved by death, because the time that passes is a kind of torture. Do we here have the right not to hear or think about it? Again, palliative care cannot end all pain and suffering.

My colleagues may have received the document from five doctors who oppose my bill. They may have the support of a hundred or so others. What do they have to say? I read this document carefully and it acknowledges that palliative care cannot relieve all pain and suffering and certainly not the suffering described by Dr. Boisvert. Then why are they against my bill?

They say, “These people have to be heard and helped as much as possible, but their request remains absolutely unacceptable to us”.

Why? To me there is a disconnect here. Their position is unacceptable, especially when they admit:

The line between palliation and euthanasia may seem tenuous to some, since the distinction between them lies in the intention of the act and not in what it involves.

They wrote that because palliative care also uses what is known as terminal sedation, which plunges patients into a coma when their suffering cannot otherwise be eased. In such a coma, they cannot eat or drink, but they are still alive and, in the end, they die of lethal complications. This can take a short while or a very long time, and this terminal sedation basically amounts to an act of euthanasia. They claim it is not the same thing. Even the Catholic church says that when any action is taken that has a double effect, such as the positive effect of easing the suffering, and the negative effect, which leads to death, one is not responsible for the negative effect, because it was the positive effect that was sought. This was one of the teachings of Saint Thomas Aquinas.

When we consider that, not as followers of any religion, but as people who are responsible for the well being of our citizens, do we have the right to refuse to look at all the possibilities?

I would like to see the broadest possible committee hear from as many citizens as possible in order to be able to provide end of life medical assistance to people who are suffering greatly, who can no longer endure the suffering and want to end their lives. We should help them die with dignity.

I await your comments and hope to have your support, not for me, but for the people we may one day become. The lottery of death offers no guarantees.

Criminal Code
Private Members' Business

October 2nd, 2009 / 1:50 p.m.
See context

Lotbinière—Chutes-de-la-Chaudière
Québec

Conservative

Jacques Gourde Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Public Works and Government Services and to the Minister of National Revenue

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to rise today to speak to BillC-384 that was introduced on May 13, 2009, by the member from La Pointe-de-l'Île. Two previous bills on this subject were introduced by the same member in past sessions of Parliament. One of them was debated in 2005, but did not come to a vote.

Mr. Speaker, I would like to state at the outset that I do not support Bill C-384 which proposes the legalization of physician-assisted suicide and euthanasia under specified conditions. This bill raises a number of serious concerns and I propose to outline the ones I consider to be most important.

First, Bill C-384 is too broad in terms of its scope. Mr. Speaker, Bill C-384 proposes to amend the Criminal Code to provide an exemption not only to the offence of assisted suicide, but also to the offence of murder. These amendments would represent a substantial change to the current state of the law on a matter that touches on life and death.

The proposed legalization of medical euthanasia and assisted suicide would not only apply to terminally-ill patients, but also to persons who suffer from severe physical or mental pain without any prospect of relief. Therefore, under this bill, persons who suffer from depression could request that a doctor help them to commit suicide. They could also request that the doctor carry out the act itself that would cause their death.

Criminal Code
Private Members' Business

October 2nd, 2009 / 1:50 p.m.
See context

Conservative

Jacques Gourde Lotbinière—Chutes-de-la-Chaudière, QC

Therefore, when I articulated earlier that Bill C-384 is too broad in its scope, this concern applies to both the fact that it would permit physician-assisted suicide and euthanasia, and to the fact that it would allow a vast array of persons to make a request to a doctor for assisted death.

The second important concern I wish to raise with respect to this bill is how it does not encompass sufficient safeguards.

The subject of safeguards, like the subject of the scope, also has two aspects in the context of this bill.

The first deals with ensuring that the eligibility requirements and the terms used are properly circumscribed. In this respect, Bill C-384 contains a number of vague and undefined terms that could lead to interpretation problems and, therefore, potentially to misunderstandings or abuses.

For example, terms such as “while appearing to be lucid”, “appropriate treatment”, “severe physical or mental pain”, “without any prospect of relief” have the potential to be interpreted very subjectively.

Also, the 10-day “cooling off” period, if you will, is too short to ensure that a person’s wish to die was settled.

The other element of ensuring appropriate safeguards deals with putting in place an effective oversight mechanism. In this respect, it is my view that Bill C-384 contains a woefully insufficient oversight mechanism.

Under Bill C-384, the doctor who would assist in a suicide or terminate someone’s life would only have to provide a copy of the diagnosis to the coroner after the fact. This bill would give a doctor the authority to terminate life on the apparent consent of the patient.

Under the terms of C-384, people as young as 18, diagnosed with depression and not wanting treatment, could ask to have their life terminated by a doctor.

Parliament should not consider such profound changes to the law without prior input from Canadians. Many different stakeholder groups should be consulted in advance of specific reforms being considered. These amendments would have serious implications for the medical profession in particular.

Surely, the medical profession should be consulted in advance of such significant changes being made to current medical ethics and practice.

I know that other countries have struggled with this difficult issue over the years, both in their legislatures and in the courts. While some countries have amended their laws to permit physician-assisted suicide and/or euthanasia, others have not supported such changes. In any event, regardless of what other countries have done, we have to consider what is right for our society. It is not clear to me that the legal regime proposed in this bill is right for Canada.

In closing, I would like to reiterate that I do not support this bill. Bill C-384 would represent a substantial change to the current policy on the criminalization of euthanasia and assisted suicide. It raises a number of significant legal and policy concerns and, in my view, would not adequately protect human life. Bill C-384 would also have a major impact on current medical ethics and practice. Such substantial changes to the law should not be considered without extensive advance consultations.

Criminal Code
Private Members' Business

October 2nd, 2009 / 1:55 p.m.
See context

Liberal

Marlene Jennings Notre-Dame-de-Grâce—Lachine, QC

Mr. Speaker, please remind me when I have two minutes left.

I would like to announce to my colleagues in the House of Commons that the Liberal critic will not be voting in favour of this private member's bill by the hon. member for La Pointe-de-l'Île. I would like to thank her for raising this important issue. I personally think it is such an important and complex matter that a private member's bill is not the right vehicle to engage the public debate that this issue deserves. I would like to read a letter that the Canadian Medical Association addressed to my colleague, the hon. member for La Pointe-de-l'Île. A copy of this letter was sent to all hon. members. It sums up my concerns about this issue. The letter reads,

Madame,

The Canadian Medical Association (CMA) has been very interested in and concerned about the progress of Bill C-384 in the House of Commons. The House is at third reading of a bill that would, in some circumstances, allow a physician to aid a person to die with dignity if that person has provided free and informed consent. The CMA's policy is clear. “Canadian physicians should not participate in euthanasia or assisted suicide.”

As the attached policy notes, euthanasia and assisted suicide must be distinguished from the withholding or withdrawal of inappropriate, futile or unwanted medical treatment or the provision of compassionate palliative care, even when these practices shorten life. The CMA does not support euthanasia or assisted suicide and urges its members to uphold the principles of palliative care. Euthanasia and assisted suicide are opposed by almost every national medical association and prohibited by the law codes of almost all countries.

Our policies also clearly state that “the CMA recognizes that it is the prerogative of society to decide whether the laws dealing with euthanasia and assisted suicide should be changed”, but that there are some concerns that must be addressed before any changes are made. These include:

1. Adequate palliative-care services must be made available to all Canadians. In 1994, our members approved a motion that Canadian physicians should uphold the principles of palliative care. The public has clearly demonstrated its concern with our care of the dying. The provision of palliative care for all who are in need is a mandatory precondition to the contemplation of permissive legislative change. Efforts to broaden the availability of palliative care in Canada should be intensified.

2. Suicide-prevention programs should be maintained and strengthened where necessary. Although attempted suicide is not illegal, it is often the result of temporary depression or unhappiness. Society rightly supports efforts to prevent suicide, and physicians are expected to provide life-support measures to people who have attempted suicide. In any debate about providing assistance in suicide to relieve the suffering of persons with incurable diseases, the interests of those at risk of attempting suicide for other reasons must be safeguarded.

3. A Canadian study of medical decision-making during dying should be undertaken. We know relatively little about the frequency of various medical decisions made near the end of life, how these decisions are made and the satisfaction of patients, families, physicians and other caregivers with the decision-making process and outcomes.

Hence, a study of medical decision making during dying is needed to evaluate the current state of Canadian practice. This evaluation would help determine the possible need for change and identify what those changes should be. If physicians participating in such a study were offered immunity from prosecution based on information collected, as was done during the Remmelink commission in the Netherlands, the study could substantiate or refute the repeated allegations that euthanasia and assisted suicide take place.

4. Consideration should be given to whether any proposed legislation can restrict euthanasia and assisted suicide to the indications intended. Research from the Netherlands and Oregon demonstrate that a large percentage of patients who request aid in dying do so in order to maintain their dignity and autonomy.

If euthanasia or assisted suicide or both are permitted for competent, suffering, terminally ill patients, there may be legal challenges, based on the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms, to extend these practices to others who are not competent, suffering or terminally ill. Such extension is the “slippery slope” that many fear.

This statement has been developed to help physicians, the public and politicians participate in any re-examination of the current legal prohibition of euthanasia and assisted suicide and arrive at a solution in the best interests of Canadians. The CMA is in favour of improving access to palliative care and suicide prevention programs, undertaking a study on how medical decisions are made near the end of life and having a comprehensive public debate on the matter, but we cannot support Bill C-384.

Sincerely,

Anne Doig, MD, CCFP, FCFP,

President

As I indicated at the beginning of my speech, I understand and deeply respect the desire of the hon. member for La Pointe-de-l'Île to bring this matter forth in the House of Commons, and I sympathize with her. I think this is a debate that we should have, but it should be initiated by the government.

I am critical, however, of this government and previous governments of my political stripe for not having had the moral fortitude to take the necessary steps to allow such a debate to take place and not undertaking such a study, as suggested and recommended by the Canadian Medical Association.

I truly believe that it is an issue that many Canadians, many families are grappling with and an idea that they are finding very painful to think about. Government has a responsibility to help Canadians deal with this issue, to see what the actual state is and whether or not this issue can be dealt with in a way that provides dignity and serenity, and also to provide a sense of security that there will not be mistakes made if legislative measures are in fact taken.

As I have said, I blame the government but I also blame my own political party, which formed government for several terms, for not having had the moral courage to deal with this.

Criminal Code
Routine Proceedings

May 13th, 2009 / 3:10 p.m.
See context

Bloc

Francine Lalonde La Pointe-de-l'Île, QC

moved for leave to introduce Bill C-384, An Act to amend the Criminal Code (right to die with dignity).

Mr. Speaker, the time has come for this Parliament to find a way to decriminalize medical assistance in dying, which is of such vital importance to those whose suffering can no longer be relieved except by this ultimate compassion.

In recent years, the parliaments of three countries in the European Union, as well as two states in the U.S., have enacted legislation which allows physicians under certain circumstances—the express request of terminally ill patients being one of them—to help certain persons die.

Serious research into the application of this legislation and their very specific criteria clearly shows that the greatest fear expressed in this Parliament some years ago, abuses and the hypothetical slippery slope, has not in any way become reality. A remarkable progression has taken place in public opinion concerning the need for such a law. Increasingly, people believe that they should have the right to choose, when the time comes.

(Motions deemed adopted, bill read the first time and printed)