Mr. Speaker, like other members who have risen to address this issue, I think it is a very painful one for all of us. It is certainly a very emotional one, and it is one to which there is no clear solution.
I will start off by saying, as I have regarding the previous incarnations of the bill, that I am opposed to the bill, and I am opposed to introducing into Canada assisted suicide at this time. I want to say that philosophically I understand the arguments. I have to say I may even be inclined in extreme cases to agree that we need, in those rare cases, an assisted-suicide system. However, that is not where we are at as a society now. I believe it would be a tragedy and a major mistake if we moved to assisted suicide in this country at this time.
I must admit I deliberated quite extensively over whether I should support the bill to get it through second reading and to committee, and ultimately I decided that I was philosophically opposed to it at this time, but more important, I decided that the debate we would have around the bill is not the debate that we need in the country.
The misinformation that we have around assisted suicides and around end-of-life decisions is quite grotesque. We heard from my colleague the member for La Pointe-de-l'Île.
Surveys showed that 70% to 80% of Canadians support euthanasia, but when people are provided with an informed amount of information, that changes dramatically.
I am going to make these two points with regard to the information that is needed. One, the reality is that we do not train our doctors. I have been told to be careful about being overly critical of them, but it is the reality of our medical training. We do not train our doctors anywhere near sufficiently in pain control: pain control techniques and mechanisms and pharmacology.
I come from a community that has a hospice, which I believe is the best in the country. It has been in place for almost 25 years. It has gone out of its way to train local doctors by mentoring. Unfortunately, there was a pain specialist who recently retired. It has been training its doctors in this area, but it is an exception to the rest of the country.
There are all sorts of doctors, including some specialists I think should know better, who believe sincerely that there are a large number of cases in which they cannot control the pain and provide people with dignity at the end of their lives.
I want to quote from a statement made by Dr. Balfour Mount, whose name I think everybody in the country would recognize as being the leading doctor in palliative care. He started palliative care. He teaches at McGill University in Montreal.
We know from what has gone on this past summer in Quebec that physicians' associations there are looking at whether they are going to come onside the euthanasia position. This is what Dr. Mount said:
--the debate should be about the doctor's role in accompanying a terminally ill patient towards the inevitability of death, offering as much dignity and medical assistance as possible.
That is not the same as saying that we should kill people.
Mount said he is profoundly against euthanasia because it is simply not needed...
What he was saying is that it is not needed in the kind of care he is able to provide and that he has provided for the better part of 30 years, as is the case in my community.
I have spoken to Carol Derbyshire, who is the head of the hospice. She said the hospice does not get requests for assisted suicide. They provide the care, not just to the patient but to the family. She was very clear on that. She has seen any number of surveys that say one of the major reasons, aside from pain, that people want assisted suicide in their regime is that they do not want to be a burden on their family, their society, their community. If we can build that system to make sure they do not have to be concerned about that, we take away any desire to terminate their lives arbitrarily and at an earlier date than would be natural.
We need to look at our system right now. Like the previous speaker, I want to be somewhat critical of prior governments. At this point, approximately 20% of our population is covered by meaningful palliative care, hospice and a home care system. That is all we have in the country. Then there is another 15% or maybe 17% who are covered by partial assistance at the end of life.
As an aside, one of the other things Carol said to me is that we have to shift the debate from dying to living out our lives. She is trying to come up with a phraseology that I may be able to use.
However, that is what it is about. It is about providing that system, and we are not doing it. In the last few months the government has cut more funding, the last of the funding it was providing for palliative care. It was mostly for research and helping the provinces set up standards. That is the second cut. Now all funds at the federal level have been eliminated to aid the provinces in establishing educational standards and training standards for palliative care in hospices. The government has cut it all.
The other thing the government has not done, which is another area we need to be working on, is expanding EI benefits for family members who are caring for their parents or a sibling or spouse in need of that kind of assistance.
We have so severely restricted those funds as to make them almost meaningless. That is another area where we could be doing something that would take away the need for this kind of legislation.
We need to train our doctors much better, and we need to build the system. Until we do that, we should not be looking at this kind of legislation. I say that because I have also studied the situation in the Netherlands, Belgium and Oregon fairly extensively. Although they all have different systems of determining when doctors can assist suicide or an individual can get assistance for suicide, the same result is true in all those communities.
I know there are disputes over this, but it is the analysis that I have brought to bear, and I think it is an accurate one. In spite of how we build that system, and I say that about the legislation my colleague has brought here, that is not what actually happens. Should we make the mistake of passing this kind of legislation, we are in effect giving our approval to doctors who are willing to do this, to family members who want it and to those individuals who are still capable of making a decision. They will simply figure out ways of working around the legislation.
I respect my colleague from the Bloc extensively. The work she has done on foreign affairs and human rights in this country is almost beyond compare. I do not know if anybody's work is superior to the work she has done. However, I think she is wrong on this one.
I say this as a practising lawyer. I look at the terminology that she used, in particular where we are assessing the patient. She has set out a standard in this legislation about apparent lucidity. That is the terminology. That does not exist anywhere else in the law that I am aware of. If this test were to be applied, it would be easier for a person to commit suicide than it would be for somebody to take over control of their finances. That is simply wrong.
I am running out of time. I think we do need a fuller debate on this, but not in this context. It has to be in the context of people living out their natural lives, and what we, as a society and legislators, have to do to ensure that can happen.