Madam Speaker, I am pleased though a bit surprised to be speaking on Bill C-230. Less than a year ago, on May 27, 2021, we were in the House debating Bill C-268, the very same bill from the very same member for Carlton Trail—Eagle Creek. While I am a bit in awe of the member's ability to place so highly in the random draw for Private Members' Business in two successive Parliaments, I am also at a bit of a loss to explain why the member would squander her luck on this bill.
There are two reasons I say this. As MPs we get limited opportunities to place bills directly before the House. I had that opportunity in 2013, and I used it to put forward Bill C-279, which sought to add gender identity and gender expression to the list of prohibited grounds for discrimination in the Canadian human rights code and in the hate crime section of the Criminal Code. Though many thought it unlikely, the bill did pass the House with support from MPs from all parties. It took a lot of work to put together that coalition of MPs. While my bill followed a somewhat torturous path, there was always a path forward and it became law.
I wonder why it is that having heard so clearly, in speeches less than a year ago, that there was limited, if any, support for this bill outside her own party, the member for Carlton Trail—Eagle Creek has brought it back again. Since there is nothing to indicate any change of circumstances or any change of heart, this bill will go nowhere this time as well. Failing to bring forth a bill that might have some prospect for passing or reintroducing this bill instead of bringing forward a new bill presenting ideas not already debated here in the House leads me to call reintroducing this bill, at best, a missed opportunity.
The second reason I have for declaring the reintroduction of this bill a lost opportunity has to do with the bill itself. This bill picks up a tiny portion of the extensive and important debates on medical assistance in dying that took place on Bill C-14 in Parliament in 2016 and again on C-7 in the last Parliament. It seeks to take one small and very debatable point and turn it into a wedge issue in the House.
We are waiting for the Special Joint Committee on Medical Assistance in Dying to get down to work on outstanding important and critical issues around medical assistance in dying, but as that committee has yet to get under way, I want to take this opportunity today to restate the principle that has guided New Democrats through these debates.
We believe that medical assistance in dying is an important tool for helping to end unnecessary suffering for patients facing end-of-life issues and for avoiding the unnecessary suffering of their families, who have to accompany them on this journey. This is the reason New Democrats will always defend the right of access to information about MAID and access to the service for all those who qualify for assistance in dying and choose to proceed.
In the debate on Bill C-7, many issues arose concerning the challenges Canadians face at the end of life, some of which Bill C-7 addressed directly and some which have not yet been addressed. Two important concerns were front and centre, and these, for me, were the most important. The first was to help alleviate unnecessary suffering by eliminating the waiting period, which was a cause of great concern for patients who feared loss of capacity before they could complete the waiting period and thus make them ineligible for medical assistance in dying and forced to consider suffering.
The second was a change allowing a waiver of final consent. This is a provision I know quite well, personally, as a friend of mine chose to go earlier than she would have liked because of a brain tumour and her fear that she would lose capacity to consent at the last moment and, in doing so, have to continue making her family suffer.
A second challenge was also debated in Bill C-7. How do we preserve as much autonomy as possible for Canadians who are dying? Most of the issues related to this still have to be dealt with at the special joint committee. This includes questions of advance directives, the question of access to MAID for those with mental illness and for mature minors, and whether protections for people with disabilities from being pressured to seek MAID are adequate. I remain frustrated with the delays in dealing with these very important issues. The bill before us is not one of those.
A third challenge that came up in the debate on Bill C-7 was access to services at the end of life. We learned there are a great many gaps in services in our Canadian health care system for those who are facing death. There are gaps in diagnostic and treatment services depending on where one lives, whether it is a major city with excellent facilities or a rural and remote area. We learned of important gaps in palliative care.
However, instead of addressing these challenges, the challenges of autonomy and the challenges of access to services, Bill C-230 is about something else altogether. What this bill would do is override a patient's right to access information about and to have access to legally provided medical services, based on the personal beliefs of a service provider.
Let me put that in plain language. Let us suppose there are a variety of treatments available to a patient. It does not really matter in this case what they are. If a medical professional believes that one of them should not be available, this bill says there is no obligation on that professional to make sure patients find out all the options available to them. Professional organizations, like colleges of physicians and surgeons, and colleges of nurses, have found this to be unethical behaviour, so they require doctors, to varying degrees, to refer patients to someone who is supportive of those services and who is available to provide those services.
This requirement to refer exists in its strictest form in Ontario as the right of patients to an effective referral, meaning a referral to a health care professional who is available, capable and willing to provide that service. This has been upheld by the courts as a reasonable compromise between the rights of patients' access to medical issues and the conscience rights of service providers. That is the main reason I cannot support this bill. If passed, it would result, on a very real and practical basis, in the denial of access to necessary health services for many Canadians.
Many communities have a very limited number of doctors and if one of those doctors, or even more than one of those doctors, is unwilling to let their patients find out about medical assistance in dying, then we are condemning those Canadians to suffer at the end of life in ways that other Canadians would not have to suffer. No health care professionals are in fact required by law to participate, and that is why I find titling this bill “intimidation of health care professionals” disingenuous at best. Is requiring a referral actually participation in medical assistance in dying? Clearly it is not, and trying to torque a requirement to provide information into participation helps no one understand the real issues of conscience involved in medical assistance in dying.
An equally important reason for opposing this bill is the dangerous precedent that this bill would set. Its role as a potentially precedent-setting bill has already been noted by anti-choice advocates who have been vocal in their support for this bill. They recognize that it would provide a precedent for denying referrals for access to contraception and abortion services, and I want to point out that denials of service and denials of information are very real in our existing Canadian medical care system.
This bill would also be a very bad precedent for current attempts to deny transgender minors the counselling and medical services they need to affirm who they are. Without access to services that others may think are inappropriate, this will leave families with trans minors struggling to find the information and support that their kids really need. If this kind of precedent is allowed, medical professionals would not have to provide a referral to someone who would be providing a medically necessary service.
As I approach the end of my comments today, I cannot end without mentioning yet another unfortunate precedent set in this bill, and that is its use of inflammatory language. I have no doubt, as I said in my question to the sponsor of this bill, of her personal convictions and their strength. However, as sincere as they may be, the language used in this bill conjures up a spectre of the use of violence to intimidate medical professionals, something of which there is absolutely no evidence of happening in Canada. Invoking the spectre of violent intimidation is certainly not conducive to an informed debate on the real issues that are in question here.
I will close my comments today by restating that, on principle, New Democrats are opposed to any legislation that would limit access to Canadians seeking information about or the service of medical assistance in dying. No matter how strong the beliefs others may hold, this right exists to access medically necessary services. There is no doubt that the end of life is a difficult moment for all families, and medical assistance in dying, I still believe, is an important way of ending unnecessary suffering both for patients and families at the end of life. I would not like to see anyone denied access to information they need to make a choice that protects their own autonomy of how their lives end. At this point, let me salute the health care professionals who assist patients and their families through this very difficult process.
Once again, I lament the tendency of not just this member but, indeed, many Conservative members of the House to use private member's bills for scoring political points and sharpening divisions in the House—