House of Commons Hansard #29 of the 40th Parliament, 3rd Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was quebec.

Topics

Opposition motion—Representation of Quebec in the House of Commons
Business of Supply
Government Orders

5:25 p.m.

Some hon. members

Agreed.

No.

Opposition motion—Representation of Quebec in the House of Commons
Business of Supply
Government Orders

5:25 p.m.

Conservative

The Deputy Speaker Andrew Scheer

All those in favour of the amendment will please say yea.

Opposition motion—Representation of Quebec in the House of Commons
Business of Supply
Government Orders

5:25 p.m.

Some hon. members

Yea.

Opposition motion—Representation of Quebec in the House of Commons
Business of Supply
Government Orders

5:25 p.m.

Conservative

The Deputy Speaker Andrew Scheer

All those opposed will please say nay.

Opposition motion—Representation of Quebec in the House of Commons
Business of Supply
Government Orders

5:25 p.m.

Some hon. members

Nay.

Opposition motion—Representation of Quebec in the House of Commons
Business of Supply
Government Orders

5:25 p.m.

Conservative

The Deputy Speaker Andrew Scheer

In my opinion the nays have it.

And five or more members having risen:

Call in the members.

And the bells having rung:

Accordingly, the division stands deferred until tomorrow at the end of government orders.

Opposition motion—Representation of Quebec in the House of Commons
Business of Supply
Government Orders

5:25 p.m.

Conservative

Gordon O'Connor Carleton—Mississippi Mills, ON

Mr. Speaker, I ask that we see the clock at 5:30 p.m.

Opposition motion—Representation of Quebec in the House of Commons
Business of Supply
Government Orders

5:25 p.m.

Conservative

The Deputy Speaker Andrew Scheer

Is that agreed?

Opposition motion—Representation of Quebec in the House of Commons
Business of Supply
Government Orders

5:25 p.m.

Some hon. members

Agreed.

Opposition motion—Representation of Quebec in the House of Commons
Business of Supply
Government Orders

5:25 p.m.

Conservative

The Deputy Speaker Andrew Scheer

The House will now proceed to the consideration of private members' business as listed on today's order paper.

Opposition motion—Representation of Quebec in the House of Commons
Business of Supply
Government Orders

5:25 p.m.

Bloc

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

Mr. Speaker, it is not yet 5:30 p.m. and we are losing three minutes of speaking time. Will you take three minutes away from the five short minutes I am given?

Opposition motion—Representation of Quebec in the House of Commons
Business of Supply
Government Orders

5:25 p.m.

Conservative

The Deputy Speaker Andrew Scheer

The House decided that it is 5:30 p.m. Consequently, we will proceed to the consideration of private members' business.

I can assure you that you will get your full time slot during the debate.

The House resumed from March 16 consideration of the motion 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.

Criminal Code
Private Members' Business

5:25 p.m.

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

5:35 p.m.

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.