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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 nation.

Topics

Opposition motion—Representation of Quebec in the House of CommonsBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

5:25 p.m.

Conservative

The Deputy Speaker Conservative 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 CommonsBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

5:25 p.m.

Conservative

Gordon O'Connor Conservative 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 CommonsBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

5:25 p.m.

Conservative

The Deputy Speaker Conservative Andrew Scheer

Is that agreed?

Opposition motion—Representation of Quebec in the House of CommonsBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

5:25 p.m.

Some hon. members

Agreed.

Opposition motion—Representation of Quebec in the House of CommonsBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

5:25 p.m.

Conservative

The Deputy Speaker Conservative 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 CommonsBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

5:25 p.m.

Bloc

Francine Lalonde Bloc 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 CommonsBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

5:25 p.m.

Conservative

The Deputy Speaker Conservative 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 CodePrivate Members' Business

5:25 p.m.

Liberal

Mauril Bélanger Liberal 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 CodePrivate Members' Business

5:35 p.m.

NDP

Bill Siksay NDP 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.

Criminal CodePrivate Members' Business

5:45 p.m.

Bloc

Nicole Demers Bloc Laval, QC

Mr. Speaker, I am very proud to rise today to speak to the bill introduced by my colleague from La Pointe-de-l'Île. I do so, because I know this member very well. I know that she is a sensible woman, a courageous woman, and above all, a woman with incredible intellectual integrity.

I do not know anything about medication. I am not a doctor. I have no legal knowledge about anything addressed in this bill. But I do have a lot of life experience, and I hope to be the voice of reasoning on this bill this evening.

I have a great deal of life experience, and have found myself in many different situations. That is why today I am perhaps more willing to pass this bill so that we can further discuss it. I say this because I realize that, in my circles, it is a difficult subject to discuss. I think it is difficult to talk about death in Quebec. It is a difficult matter to bring up. We are afraid of death. We fear death as we fear life. We are afraid of death because it is final, scary and we do not know what will happen afterwards. We are afraid of the unknown.

I have watched loved ones die. People I loved very much did not ask me to help them die because they were ready to die; they asked me to just listen to them talk about death.

In the early 1980s, I volunteered for Sésame, an organization that supported people living with AIDS. At that time, most people suffering from AIDS were terminally ill. They did not have the benefit of therapies to help them live longer with the virus without being so sick.

I remember one young man whom I was assisting. During his last days in hospital, he asked me to take him in my arms and to listen to him. Everyone who visited him in the hospital told him that it would be all right, that he would get better, not to worry and that everything would work out. It was not true. It was a lie. They tried to sustain the illusion. He was tired. He was ready to die but he wanted to talk about it openly. He died after telling me that he was ready to die and that he wanted to die, and after I had told him that it was all right and that I accepted that he was ready to die and that he wanted to die. I found it to be a moment of great tenderness and beauty because we had faced reality.

And I think that we are asking for that as well in this bill. Medicine has evolved to the point where people are living to 110, 112 or 115. I tip my hat to those who live to that age and are healthy. However, there are seniors in assisted-living homes who are not able to take care of themselves and who suffer constantly because of cancer or a degenerative disease. We keep them here and help them survive—not live, survive—and we do not give them the chance to choose. I think that this is criminal in a way. It is also a bit sadistic to allow people to suffer. If we know that a person has written a living will and that during their life that person decided they want to die when they are no longer able to stand the pain, I think that we should respect that right.

My colleague's bill establishes very specific guidelines to ensure that no one can go beyond that wish, so that no one, for example, could help a child die, since they would not understand. Nor could you help someone with intellectual disabilities die.

The person who chooses to do this must write their intentions twice in 15 days. It provides a moment to reflect, to take a step back and ask if it is really what they want. This moment ensures that the person makes an informed choice while lucid.

Contrary to what I have read in a number of emails that I have received, I do not believe that this bill will undermine peoples' lives. I do not believe that. I sincerely believe that this bill needs to be passed and studied in committee. It must be passed with all its clauses because they will rule out any mistakes. We cannot go beyond these guidelines.

A few years ago, I saw my grandmother die in the hospital at age 92. She worked hard her whole life. She was an exceptional woman. The year before she was admitted to hospital, she had redone her entire hardwood floor. She sanded and stained it by hand, by herself. She was a strong woman, even at 92.

When she was in the hospital and I went to see her, she told me she was tired. I asked the doctors and nurses how she was doing, how her health was, how she was feeling and what care they were giving her. They replied that she was receiving automatic injections of morphine to relieve her pain. I told myself that since they were giving her morphine, it meant that she was going to die soon. When someone is given morphine, their entire system shuts down. I was told that it was better for her this way.

Doctors and nurses know what they are doing. They know and they do this in certain circumstances in which they are not authorized to do it, but they know that if they do not, the individual will suffer needlessly for several months. These things happen. I think doctors would also be relieved to finally have legislation that allows them to end people's suffering, without facing any accusations.

This bill was drafted by an individual who reflected very carefully on the matter, who met with people and experts from everywhere to talk about and debate the issue, and who helped establish an organization that promotes this issue. I am sure that when she drafted the bill, she did not know that she herself would develop cancer, which she battled so courageously.

As long as one has a life to live and wants to live it, life should go on. However, when an individual can no longer endure the pain they are suffering, I want them to have choices. They should be able to say they want to die with dignity and ask for help in that regard.

Criminal CodePrivate Members' Business

5:55 p.m.

Conservative

Tim Uppal Conservative Edmonton—Sherwood Park, AB

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to participate in today's debate of Bill C-384. The bill proposes to amend the Criminal Code to legalize euthanasia and assisted suicide.

This subject is a very difficult and sensitive one. It touches on the matter of medical ethics and the criminal law. The bill proposes that doctors be authorized to intentionally and actively terminate the life of a patient on his or her request. Under the current criminal law, such an act constitutes murder, or if the act itself, which causes death, is carried out by the patient himself or herself, it constitutes assisted suicide.

I do not support the general principle behind the bill. I do not believe doctors should be given the power to end a human life in this way. Bill C-384 offers death as a solution to pain and suffering. I do not believe that this is the right solution for Canadians.

People with serious but non-life threatening illnesses should be offered treatment and support. So too should people with severe mental pain. People with terminal illness should be offered good palliative care. As a society, we must support quality health care services for all Canadians, including care for the dying.

I fully appreciate how this issue is the subject of great divergent views in our society. Contrary to how some commentators may suggest, the various polls that have been conducted on this issue in Canada have not demonstrated a clear consensus for reforms along the lines of what is proposed in Bill C-384.

The polling questions have generally focused on terminally ill patients. Bill C-384 does not focus merely on persons who suffer from a terminal illness. The scope of the bill is extremely broad. It would allow people who are not in the process of dying to ask a doctor to end their life. It includes people who want to commit suicide due to illness.

Furthermore, the breadth of the proposed amendments is not limited to those who suffer from severe physical illness but also mental illness. On this point, serious concerns have been expressed by several hon. members on how the bill includes a number of vague terms that have not been defined, terms such as severe physical or mental pain, or while appearing to be lucid but left undefined.

I believe doctors would not be provided clear guidance with these proposals. I also believe it would have huge implications for the provisions of medical services, not to mention potentially serious conflict with medical ethical standards.

As another hon. member mentioned earlier in the second reading debate of the bill, the Canadian Medical Association has stated that it does not support euthanasia and assisted suicide. It clearly urges its members to uphold the principles of palliative care. The Canadian Medical Association's policy on this issue is unequivocal: Canadian physicians do not participate in euthanasia or assisted suicide. Furthermore it has specifically stated that it does not support Bill C-384.

We have also heard how the bill does not provide sufficient safeguards to protect against potential abuses and ensure proper reporting. Therefore, the use of vague terms, some of which I have just mentioned, along with the fact that the reporting requirement consists of providing a copy of the diagnosis to the coroner after the fact raises a concern that people's lives could be terminated without their true and informed consent or while they are in a vulnerable state.

Since the introduction of the bill, a number of petitions from Canadians have been forwarded to the House. Those petitions, numbering in the hundreds, possibly thousands, have urged the House of Commons to oppose the bill.

I have already mentioned that I cannot support the general principle behind this bill. I believe that the overall thrust of the present debate at second reading has pointed to serious concerns with this bill, both with the general scope of it and in terms of the many flaws contained in it. As a result of these broad concerns, I think it would be premature for the House to refer this issue to a committee for further study.

Criminal CodePrivate Members' Business

6 p.m.

Liberal

Michael Savage Liberal Dartmouth—Cole Harbour, NS

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to have the opportunity to speak to this bill this evening. It is a bill whose progress I have followed with particular attention and the opportunity to speak tonight is one that I am very appreciative to have.

I want to say at the outset that I will not be voting for this bill. I do not support this bill and I do not support its intent. I do, however, want to commend the member, who has proposed this bill and who has led this fight, for her diligent work on this file, her sincere and informed opinion and understanding of this issue, but I believe it is one of those issues where people who have equal interests can have different points of view. It is a sensitive issue and it may well be an issue that needs a more fulsome debate in this country.

I want to speak to this bill from two points of view. I want to speak to it from a personal point of view. Like most members of the House, I have had experience with people who have died with dignity. It has had a profound effect on my life and the lives of my family and it has certainly had a profound effect on how I view this bill. I want to talk personally in a way that I would not normally about my own situation. I want to talk about my parents.

My parents both had cancer. I do not believe that cancer beat them. I think they beat cancer even though cancer took their lives. My father was diagnosed with inoperable cancer in July 2001. The prognosis was very bleak but he started an aggressive treatment of chemo. He had chemo treatments 24 hours a day and it worked. My father entered a remission period and had a remarkable period of remission in his life. While on remission, he visited Africa and Russia. He did the social development work that mattered very much to him. We felt as close to my father in that period as we ever did.

In November 2002 the cancer returned, and a few weeks later my mother was diagnosed with bowel cancer, one week before Christmas. I am one of seven children. My two sisters became full-time caregivers for my parents from Christmas 2002 onward. By mid-January, my mother was in palliative care, although she was at home, and our family was honoured to care for her. We cared for her in her home. On March 31, 2003, she passed away. Three days after her funeral, my dad was told that his chemo treatments were no longer advised and he came off chemo and entered palliative care as well. He passed away on May 13, six weeks to the day after my mother.

I tell this story because my parents died at home, in peace and sure that they were headed to a better place. We knew as their children that they were ready to leave this world. They both fought cancer with great courage and neither one of them were people to give up without a fight. They felt entirely in control, not only at the end of their life but in control of their death.

It is hard for anybody who has seen people they love die, like so many have, and not be impacted by that. I want to speak to how that impacts my view on this bill because my parents both made a decision. I can recall the conversation with my father when he said that he would no longer be eating. He was at home and he had decided that he would no longer eat. He knew he was ready to go. I do not think he ever actually said to us that he was going to die in two or three days but he was in control of that part of his life and he knew it was time. Likewise, my mother made those same decisions. The opportunity for us as family to be with them in those circumstances was an opportunity I cherished.

When I think about people my age with parents, it seems that one of two things happens. They either die in circumstances quicker than we would like or sometimes they take longer in their passing than they would probably like for the sake of their own family.

However, I do not believe that we needed this legislation to allow my parents to have control of their death. T go to a place that they were ready to go to was a decision that they made, were comfortable making and were able to make under the laws that existed and under what they considered to be the God that they were prepared to join.

I also do not like this bill because a number of people I represent in my capacity as the critic for human resources, particularly in the disability community, are very concerned about this bill. They do not know exactly where it will lead. At the very least, they think there should be a more serious debate about this before final decisions are made. It should be something that is consulted widely and taking into account the various levels of palliative care.

I do not think anybody here would say that our palliative care system is as strong as it should be. My parents went through this process in Nova Scotia. My father, as a medical doctor, had pioneered some of the palliative care back in the 1970s. He was at the bedside of many people when they passed away and was a big believer in palliative care. When he passed away we were very fortunate in that we are a reasonably well off family. We are not rich but we are comfortable. There are seven kids. Every day, every one of us would go and talk to our mom and dad and be with them when they needed help. We had a prayer session three times a day with a great gospel from the Benedictine monks called the The Glenstal Book of Prayer: A Benedictine Prayer Book.

We took great comfort from all of those things, but the palliative care system is not strong enough. Many people in Nova Scotia and in the rest of Canada simply do not have access to palliative care or even, in some cases, home care that we need to have. That is where I believe our efforts should be.

Let us look at what other nations are doing with the issue of euthanasia. Let us consider what supports we have for people in the community. The experience I had with my parents led me to believe that if there is one thing that we should all strive to have in Canada, and that we as parliamentarians should fight for, it is the opportunity for people to die at home if they wished to. Most people cannot afford that because its costs money to have night nurses and day nurses.

For us, because there were seven children and because we had parents who made it easy, we were able and in fact honoured to provide that service to our parents, perhaps as some small, tangible appreciation for all they had done for us.

Let us focus on palliative care and home care. Let us provide the supports that people need in their time of need. Let us be very mindful of people with disabilities, particularly people who are not always able to make decisions on their own and who rely upon others for support, guidance and the everyday aspects of their lives.

I do not support this bill. I truly do commend the member and I commend all people who have expressed their views on this debate. My view comes from my personal experience and my concern for people who are concerned that this bill might impact negatively upon their lives. For those reasons, I cannot support this bill.

Criminal CodePrivate Members' Business

6:05 p.m.

NDP

Jim Maloway NDP Elmwood—Transcona, MB

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to rise today to speak to this bill.

Having listened to the presentation by the member for Dartmouth—Cole Harbour, I find that my situation is remarkably similar to his.

Up to two or three years ago, I, too, like other members here, would have advocated for this type of bill thinking that it was a positive solution, but after my experience, which almost mirrors that of the previous member, of having had two parents who both had cancer at the same time, I came to the conclusion that this was not the way to proceed.

I do commend the member for bringing the bill forward because it is important to advance the debate. It is important that pain management issues and palliative care be advanced as quickly as possible.

We were lucky enough in the city of Winnipeg to have a fairly good system of palliative care, so we were able to take advantage of that in both of my parent's cases. While palliative care is well served in the Winnipeg region, I am mindful that half of the population lives outside of Winnipeg and I would expect that palliative care facilities are not available in a lot of those areas. We have a long way to go toward improving our palliative care centre. I am told that the situation in the rest of the country is not as good as that in Winnipeg. I am not sure whether it was the member for Windsor—Tecumseh but I know other members talked about how only 20% of the population in Canada is covered for palliative care in hospices and another 15% of the country is only partially covered.

In terms of jurisdictions, the member for Windsor—Tecumseh made an excellent presentation. He seemed to have the same sort of view as me, that while this was a good place to start the discussion, procedures are not yet in place to proceed with a bill such as this. He talked about other jurisdictions in the world where this is the practice. I have been aware of the situation in Holland for a number of years but I was not aware of the situation in Washington state or in Oregon. My colleague certainly talked about those in great detail. He explained that in the 12 years that the state of Oregon has had such legislation, 93 people were candidates but only 50 actually took their own lives. He indicated that the law was much newer in Washington state so there were smaller numbers to look at.

My colleague said that in Holland, for example, it was basically the frail and the elderly who were using this method and that the minister in charge of the legislation in Holland had actually changed her mind on the issue. This is a minister in the Government of Holland where such a practice is legal, who has inside information about how the system works in Holland, and she has changed her mind on the subject.

This is essentially a work in progress.

I am concerned about the point made by some members that if we were to adopt this measure, it would cut back the impetus to improve palliative care. As long as assisted suicide is illegal, the pressure will still be on governments and jurisdictions to develop palliative care as quickly as possible. If we passed legislation like this bill, then the pressure would be off.

The other major concern we have is people not feeling that they are free to make their own decisions. There will always be cases where mistakes are made. We do not want to develop a situation as I believe exists or may have existed in Holland, where it becomes a place for people from other countries to go to take advantage of the situation. That would develop the whole issue into an industry, almost a business venture. I do not think we want that kind of situation to develop.

Certainly disabled groups in the country have been very clear for many years that they think this is the thin edge of the wedge. They are, and I think rightly so, very concerned about this.

I served in the provincial legislature for 23 years. I do not think anybody, in 23 years, ever phoned my office or asked me to support legislation of this type. This is something we have to take a much more in-depth look at.

Another area that we have looked at is the whole issue of pain management. As the member for Windsor—Tecumseh mentioned, the doctors need more training. There needs to be more training done in the area of pain management. With proper pain management, people can manage a disease much more effectively than they can without proper pain management.

We do not need to have situations where there are people with a terminal disease and we do not have proper hospices and palliative care or proper pain management and people feel there is no way out and it would be so much easier for them to succumb to pressures, perceived or otherwise. The last thing we want is for people to feel they do not want to be a burden on their family any more and do not want to deal with pressure that they think is there. Maybe the pressure is not there, but they imagine it is. We should be encouraging people to fight as hard as possible to stay alive, with the proper pain management systems and proper encouragement. To me, it is a negative to be entertaining the idea that assisted suicide is an option.

I know other colleagues of mine probably would like to speak. The member for Edmonton—Strathcona and I have spoken about this issue before.

It is a very difficult issue for people, but it is something we all will have to face at some time. I think the time has come for us to rely on medical decisions and pain management issues and proper hospice care. That is the way we should look at it. That is the way we should move forward to develop a comprehensive palliative care system in this country so that we give people more options so that they, in their own minds, do not view assisted suicide as the only option available and choose that option when they perhaps should not be choosing that option.

Criminal CodePrivate Members' Business

6:15 p.m.

Conservative

The Acting Speaker Conservative Barry Devolin

Resuming debate. The hon. member for Timmins--James Bay will have three minutes.

Criminal CodePrivate Members' Business

6:15 p.m.

NDP

Charlie Angus NDP Timmins—James Bay, ON

Mr. Speaker, I am very proud to speak to this bill. I would say at the outset that I think the House of Commons is the place for this debate. I have received thousands of letters from my constituents who are deeply concerned about this issue.

This is a discussion that is worth having because the issue of suffering, the issue of death is perhaps one of the most profound issues we can deal with as a society. It touches each of us. Each of us is brought into the final moments of death at a level of intimacy and concern we never would have felt possible.

I spent much of the last three weeks with my father at the palliative care centre in Scarborough General Hospital. I want to say on the record that the palliative care that exists in this country is second to none. Two years ago I spent time with my brother-in-law as he lay dying at Perram House in Toronto. The experience I had there had a profound impact on me and my whole family and our understanding of this.

The question before us today is what we should be doing as a society. It is an issue that cuts to the very essence of this House of Commons. We need to bring forth the option of saying we have to maintain the ability of Canada's health care system to manage pain for people in palliative care so that they can go through that final journey.

It is possible to do it without taking the option of saying we have to go the assisted suicide route. I understand why people might believe that is an option, but I do not believe it is the option we should be taking as a society. To take that position and for us to vote on this in the House of Commons means more than making a statement. We have to provide the resources necessary so that our medical systems and our families have the support they need. Otherwise we will be leaving the sick, the suffering and the dying in a situation in which they should not be left.

It is possible to have good pain management. It is possible to treat people with dignity right through the final moments. However, that has to be a decision we make as a society and a commitment we make to each other that we will be there as a society, we will be there with the medical system, we will be there as family and we will be there as a community.

This debate has reminded us of the need to make that commitment. I hope this House of Commons will make that commitment when the time comes to vote.

Criminal CodePrivate Members' Business

6:20 p.m.

Conservative

The Acting Speaker Conservative Barry Devolin

The hon. member for La Pointe-de-l'Île has a five-minute right of reply.

Criminal CodePrivate Members' Business

6:20 p.m.

Bloc

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

Mr. Speaker, I would like to start by thanking all my colleagues who took part in the debate, but I want to say that palliative care and my bill on the right to die with dignity are not mutually exclusive, but complementary.

I wrote something in 2005, before I learned I had cancer. I wrote this, and I still believe wholeheartedly in it:

Any lucid person facing a very difficult and painful end of life, which they consider degrading, an unfitting end to the life they have led, inconsistent with their condition as a free person, has to be able to decide how they wish to die, including if they want to be aided in that objective.

It is the individual who must choose. It is not society that must choose for the individual. The individual must have the freedom to choose at the end of their life.

The experience of doctors who look after individuals who have been allowed to be helped to die in countries that have passed legislation in this regard is enlightening. One might infer that, knowing that they will be able to get help to die with dignity when they reach the point where their life has definitely become unbearable, it will be easier for people to live fully a painful end of life or a life of extreme limitations because they feel imprisoned in their bodies. As Félix Leclerc reminded us, death is full of life.

I could quote Justice Cory, who also says that section 7 of the charter gives Canadians the constitutional right to life, liberty and security of the person. This provision emphasizes the dignity inherent in human existence. Death is an integral part of life and as such is therefore entitled to the constitutional protection provided by section 7. A person should have the right to choose their own death.

I understand why my colleague's parents made the choice they did. His father was a doctor. It was their choice. Nonetheless, sometimes the end of life comes after a period of extreme suffering and at a time when people can decide they no longer can tolerate their life, their dependence on others and their unending suffering. I have sent hon. members a text a constituent sent me on what it is to suffer and I invite hon. members to read it. People can decide their limits and ask for assistance to die and not to live for another month or two just to suffer more and become more emaciated.

I can tell you that when I wrote that, I did not know what unbearable pain was. Now I do and I have learned that medicine, with all its progress, can only provide help with side effects such as hallucinations or other terrible effects to the body. We have to have the right to choose. I am speaking on behalf of the vulnerable. They are the ones who need this type of legislation the most because only this type of legislation will allow them to be the people they choose to be. There are currently many places where people can die and with all the instruments available to doctors, it is possible to help people die without them having to ask.

A person's right to choose is what is at the heart of this bill. I am asking hon. members to vote in favour of this bill in order that it may be referred to a committee. Then members of the committee could examine what seems—

Criminal CodePrivate Members' Business

6:25 p.m.

Conservative

The Acting Speaker Conservative Barry Devolin

It being 6:28 p.m., the time provided for debate has expired.

The question is on the motion. Is it the pleasure of the House to adopt the motion?

Criminal CodePrivate Members' Business

6:25 p.m.

Some hon. members

Agreed.

No.

Criminal CodePrivate Members' Business

6:25 p.m.

Conservative

The Acting Speaker Conservative Barry Devolin

All those in favour will please say yea.

Criminal CodePrivate Members' Business

6:25 p.m.

Some hon. members

Yea.

Criminal CodePrivate Members' Business

6:25 p.m.

Conservative

The Acting Speaker Conservative Barry Devolin

All those opposed will please say nay.

Criminal CodePrivate Members' Business

6:25 p.m.

Some hon. members

Nay.

Criminal CodePrivate Members' Business

6:25 p.m.

Conservative

The Acting Speaker Conservative Barry Devolin

In my opinion, the nays have it.

And five or more members having risen:

Pursuant to Standing Order 93, a recorded division stands deferred until Wednesday, April 21, 2010, immediately before the time provided for private members' business.