Thank you, Mr. Chair.
Honourable members, thank you for the invitation to appear before you to discuss this extremely important topic.
Thank you, Mr. Chair and honourable members of this committee, for the invitation to appear before you on this most important issue. I will be speaking mainly in English, but there will be paragraphs that I will repeat in French. These are paragraphs I have chosen for their significance.
So I will be speaking in both official languages, but mostly in English.
My name is Benoît Pelletier. I am a full professor at the Faculty of Law at the University of Ottawa and a member of the bar of Quebec.
I appear before you this evening as the representative of the three-member External Panel on Options for a Legislative Response to Carter v. Canada. The chair of the external panel is Dr. Harvey Max Chochinov, Canada research chair in palliative care, and the third member is Catherine Frazee, a professor emerita at Ryerson University. They are out of the country but are following these proceedings closely and will be available to assist this committee going forward. I am pleased to appear on their behalf and with their full support, and I will do my best to represent our work.
I am also assisted this evening by Mr. Stephen Mihorean, the executive director of the panel's secretariat. For the record, my co-panellists and I would like to recognize the substantial contribution we received from the extraordinary group of professionals in the small secretariat who supported our work.
I would also like to take this opportunity to thank the government, past and present, for the confidence placed in us to do this work. The external panel report is detailed and complex because the issues related to physician-assisted dying are detailed and complex. These issues require consideration and thought to determine sound social policy. This committee has been provided with copies of our report, which I will not have time to review in detail. I will instead highlight some of what we heard in a series of long meetings with intervenors, medical practitioners and regulators, academics, government representatives, and civil society organizations, as well as with two of the individual claimants, Ms. Lee Carter and Mr. Hollis Johnson, and another claimant, the British Columbia Civil Liberties Association. The complete list of those we met with in Canada, the United States, the Netherlands, Belgium, and Switzerland is found in annexes C and D of our report. As well, abstracts of transcripts from these in-person consultations are found in annex E. The panel also reviewed a total of 321 formal document submissions, which are summarized in annex F and chronicled with brief individual abstracts in annex G.
I would like to say a little about what we learned in Europe. There appears to be general satisfaction with the law in the countries we visited. We were told that assisted dying works well in the context of a robust social safety net, well-founded health care services, and high levels of trust in physicians. At the same time, there is intense controversy about cases that push the boundaries or test the limits of the law, cases that challenge the age requirement, cases involving advance directives, and cases that arise from psychological, existential, or psychiatric suffering or from suffering related to chronic conditions that are not life-threatening.
For many people one of the most important safeguards is transparency. Mistakes and abuses must be detected and acted upon. The same applies to non-compliance with reporting requirements.
The panel's online questionnaire was completed by almost 15,000 Canadians. I would like to draw your attention to our analysis and the results of this public consultation, which provides a rich source of information and insight, and which can be found in annex A of our report. For example, participants demonstrated strong levels of approval for palliative care education for all health care providers; for better supports for disabled people; for better home care, palliative care, and end-of-life care in the whole country; and for an efficient oversight of physician-assisted dying.
The questionnaire also revealed that respondents were more likely to agree that physician-assisted death should be allowed when a person faces significant life-threatening and/or progressive conditions. The questionnaire demonstrated that participants were generally very concerned about the risks that existed for people who are mentally ill, especially those with episodic conditions, and for people who are isolated or lonely.
Here are the results of the questionnaire we posted online that was completed by more than 15,000 Canadians.
For example, participants demonstrated strong levels of approval for palliative care education for all health care providers, for better support for disabled people, for better home care, palliative care and end-of-life care in the whole country, and for an efficient oversight of physician-assisted dying.
The questionnaire also revealed that respondents were more likely to agree that physician-assisted death should be allowed when a person faces significant, life-threatening and/or progressive conditions.
The questionnaire also demonstrated that participants were generally very concerned about the risks that existed for people who are mentally ill, especially those with episodic conditions, and for persons who are isolated or lonely.
On some issues we found high levels of agreement among Canadians from diverse perspectives. For example, there was agreement with the idea that all Canadians who suffer should have access to the supports and services that are within our capacity as a nation to provide, wherever they are in their lives and whatever their personal circumstances. There was agreement with the idea that Canadians should invest trust and respect in an assisted dying regime that features transparent, accurate, reliable, and objective oversight through data monitoring, research, and public reporting.
Honourable members of this committee, we reported on the points of view that were expressed to us, but our report is not just an account of those exchanges. Our report contains much information and analysis on the issues.
We heard clearly that there is a need to balance individual autonomy and the protection of vulnerable people. This being said, I would like to say a little more about autonomy and vulnerability.
With respect to autonomy there are a number of what I would characterize as core values that informed the Carter decision. Among them are the integrity of a person, dignity, self-esteem, and the right of an individual to make important decisions regarding the end of his or her life.