Madam Speaker, I must say at the outset that the prayer we began our session with this morning, that we would be mindful of making good laws and serving Canadians, has never meant so much to me, and I think many of my colleagues here today, anytime it has ever been said from the Speaker's chair.
I would like to thank my colleagues and members opposite for their thoughts and words on this deep, ethical, moral, legal, and religious question. While I may not agree with all the points that have been made thus far, I do not doubt for one second that the comments of all members are truly heartfelt, genuine, reflective, and respectful.
Unfortunately, I do not have time to address all the concerns of the bill, such as, but not limited to—as my colleague the member for Lethbridge has so eloquently articulated—the poisonous change in our cultural mindset the bill will likely encourage, reducing the value of life to a measure of ability or function rather than its inherent worth and dignity, and causing Canadians who would never have considered taking their own life before to do so.
As the member for Scarborough—Guildwood mentioned, the bill would be under expansionary pressure from the day it comes into effect, and where we could end up is troubling.
The peril that I do not think has been fully addressed is that in which those in vulnerable communities could find themselves.
As I said, because time is limited, I am going to focus upon two issues, but again, my serious concerns are not limited to these alone. First is the regrettable absence of more discussion and action on palliative and hospice care as a precursor to this legislation. Second is the need and the duty of all members here to respect and protect those physicians and health care professionals who object on conscience.
Before I get into these two points, I want to offer my reflections on where we have come from on this issue.
It was only six years ago that we debated the same issue and voted down the private member's bill, Bill C-384, of a former member of this House. It should be noted that this was the second attempt at the same private member's bill by the former member, who had previously introduced Bill C-407.
I will say that I voted against and spoke out against the bills, not only because of my own personal convictions, but also because of my steadfast belief that those bills did not uphold the moral obligation we have as parliamentarians to protect the vulnerable and the inherent dignity of all life.
Bill C-384 and Bill C-407 were seriously flawed because they sent us down a path of unintended consequences. They were that slippery slope that has so often been spoken of here in this chamber, regarding the debate of ethical dilemmas that our families, doctors, and health care workers would face.
My reservation then is sustained today. Why is there not more emphasis on palliative care?
Is it not better to support quality palliative and end-of-life care for Canadians, so they will never need to think that euthanasia or assisted suicide is the only option, or better option, for their suffering?
Is it not our duty to uphold the value and dignity of life in this manner?
In my own home community of Hamilton, we have outstanding organizations like Emmanuel House and the Dr. Bob Kemp Hospice, which work on a daily basis to make end of life better for people. I know hospices are doing outstanding work in all the communities across this country.
I recognize that, in the view of the Supreme Court's Carter decision, we are faced with a new reality, one where we need to respect its decision vis-à-vis the charter rights of those in dire circumstances while still ensuring the dignity of life is upheld. However, I am very concerned that there was no further investigation, no rigorous effort to enhance palliative care and invest in hospice construction, in advance of this legislation or in conjunction with it.
While the federal government's response to the Supreme Court's Carter decision makes reference to the need to support improvements of a full range of end-of-life care options, it does little about it, other than acknowledging it as a non-legislative response.
I do not think that is good enough, and I believe all Canadians do not think that is good enough either.
Instead of a vague reference to a multi-year health accord that would include home care and palliative care as one option, where was the commitment in the throne speech? Where was the commitment in the budget?
If the commitment is serious, why is it not backed up with funding?
This is the missing piece. If we are going to go down the legislative path of physician-assisted dying because of charter rights, then we in this place have a duty, and the Government of Canada has a duty, to have first acted upon palliative and hospice care.
That was the viewpoint of two Senate studies, which I cited back in 2010 when I spoke out against Bill C-384. First, in 1995, there was the Special Senate Committee on Euthanasia and Assisted Suicide that in its report, “Of Life and Death”, made a number of recommendations to improve access to palliative care services, standards of care, and training of health care professionals.
In 2000, the Standing Senate Committee on Social Affairs, Science and Technology tabled another report, titled “Quality End-of-Life Care: The Right of Every Canadian”, which again recommended a strategy and vast improvements to palliative and end-of-life care, as well as support for family caregivers, home care, research, and surveillance.
It breaks my heart, and I know the hearts of all members in the House, that people are suffering. Just this past summer, in the middle of the election campaign, I watched my own younger brother succumb to the ravages of lymphatic cancer, and I was grateful for the care, understanding, and compassion of everyone at Emmanuel House, the hospice where he stayed in his final days.
I know that this bill attempts to address those individuals who have given up hope; yet I believe there are, most often, better ways to address their suffering. It is our obligation to do everything possible with palliative and hospice care, to give a modicum of hope, comfort, and peace to those suffering at the end of their lives and to their families who are also suffering. Once again, I believe this discussion should have preceded this bill.
The final point I want to touch on today is one that I know other members have already raised, but please allow me to amplify their concerns. That is the protection of physicians' conscience rights and, quite frankly, those of the other health care professionals and caregivers on a doctor's team who might be placed in the circumstances that this bill would allow.
First, I do not think there is a shred of doubt that we must offer clear and indisputable protections to those who object on ethical, moral, or religious grounds. In these matters of life and death, that is more than the right thing to do; it is the only thing to do.
Second, I believe that, to send this important signal to the medical community, families, individuals who are suffering, and all Canadians, these conscience protections for physicians must be included in the bill itself, and not just in the preamble. The bill needs to include a punitive measure for those who would seek to pressure, force, or coerce anyone to assist someone in taking his or her life.
I am thankful for the opportunity to offer these reflections. I know every member of the House will be doing a lot of thinking, soul searching, and prayerful consideration as we grapple with this legislation. I sincerely hope and pray that we continue to do so with extreme caution and care. God bless Canada.