Mr. Speaker, I rise to speak to the Liberal motion to create a cross-partisan committee to examine physician-assisted death following the recent Supreme Court of Canada decision in Carter v. Canada.
Physician-assisted death is an emotionally charged issue and a very personal one. Of that there is no doubt. Too often issues that touch the deeply held values of Canadians are used as wedges to divide us politically. However, Canadians deserve a response from this House that addresses the substance of the Supreme Court's legal decision.
It must be made clear from the outset that this is not a debate about what is right or wrong for a person confronted with an end-of-life situation. Such decisions are often tied to a person's religious or moral convictions. However, for Parliament this must be a question of the proper role of government according to our Constitution, which is the fundamental law of Canada.
Our country is a democracy, but it is a constitutional democracy. The power of our legislature is subject to the legal limits that protect minorities and individuals from the tyranny of the majority. These limits are enshrined in the Charter of Rights and Freedoms, and the proper function of the judiciary is to interpret those limits.
On the question of how far the government can go to limit the rights of Canadians with respect to physician-assisted death, the Supreme Court of Canada has now given us clear and unanimous guidance. The criminal prohibition of physician-assisted death unjustifiably infringed the rights of Canadians to life, liberty, and security of the person. The decision was the result of the Supreme Court's rational interpretation of the law according to the evidence and best arguments. The unanimity of that decision adds special force to the Supreme Court's conclusions.
Those conclusions are not merely opinions; rather, they are the product of objective legal analysis and carefully weighed developments in our constitutional jurisprudence. The famous metaphor for our Constitution is that of a living tree. Anyone who thinks that this is an example of judicial activism should read Carter v. Canada. He or she will find that this new development in our constitutional law has firm roots indeed.
In its ruling, the Supreme Court makes it clear that we as legislators cannot stand in the way of a dignified choice for competent adults who are suffering from a prolonged, intolerable, and irremediable medical condition.
This decision was a powerful one. The Supreme Court ruled that the prohibition of physician-assisted dying violated each aspect of section 7 of the charter with respect to life, liberty, and security of the person. Specifically, the effect of the ban was to deny Canadians the right to life by forcing some people to commit suicide early out of fear of incapacity, to deny Canadians the right to liberty by depriving people of control over their bodily integrity and medical care, and to deny Canadians security of the person by leaving people to endure intolerable suffering.
The court found that these violations were unjustified. Constitutionally, the prohibitions went disproportionately beyond their purpose by affecting people who were not vulnerable to coercion in times of weakness. For that reason, the court held that the prohibition on physician-assisted death is of no force or effect to the extent that two conditions are met: first, that the person is a competent adult who clearly consents to dying; second, that the person has a grievous and irremediable medical condition that causes enduring suffering that is intolerable to the individual in the circumstances.
When I was in Charlottetown this past weekend, I had the chance to hear from many of the constituents I represent here in this House. They were pleased with the ruling of the Supreme Court of Canada. They, like many Canadians, have been at the bedsides of people who were terminally ill and in great pain at the end of their lives. They, like many Canadians, had a painful story of loved ones who were not given the dignity they deserved at the end of their lives. Many held back tears at the memories of being bedside when their loved ones were suffering. These conversations are why it is so important for the government to allow for a thorough debate on physician-assisted death.
The Canadian Medical Association supports the unanimous decision of the Supreme Court of Canada. The CMA, however, requests legislative protection for physicians who, for reasons of moral or religious conviction, cannot assist in death. The CMA has requested a determination on how consent would be determined, what safeguards would be put in place, and how patients would apply for assistance.
Doctors want to help their patients in all stages of life and death. Doctors deserve direction from this House. We should not pass the buck.
We have heard concerns that the Supreme Court ruling would unintentionally create a slippery slope, leading to the victimization of vulnerable populations. It is this slippery slope that has prompted the Council of Canadians with Disabilities to ask for legislative safeguards to protect vulnerable populations and to avoid potential distraction from current end-of-life strategies and palliative care.
I also want to be clear that I do not believe that palliative care and other end-of-life strategies will be less important because of this ruling by the Supreme Court of Canada. Canadians will have all options for end-of-life care. However, going forward, we have to recognize that physician-assisted death would be one of those options. Our constitution requires it.
We would be doing ourselves and this House a huge disservice by not listening intently to the concerns raised by the Canadian Medical Association and the Council of Canadians with Disabilities. The perspectives of organizations like theirs, and so many others, are why the Liberal Party believes in striking a committee to hear from witnesses, identify concerns and solutions, and present a carefully considered report to the House. How will we adequately address the issues if we do not seek to understand them?
The Supreme Court of Canada has given us a clear directive to develop a permissive regime that respects the rights of Canadians under the charter and that also protects the rights of vulnerable populations and the freedom of conscience of our physicians. Why then would the government want to delay examining the best ways to protect Canadians while upholding their constitutional rights?
I know that some of our colleagues across the floor have not always held the same reverence for the charter and the judges charged with its interpretation. This is not surprising, given how often the government's legislation and executive actions have been ruled unconstitutional by the courts. The losing streak does not need to be recited here. I encourage the government to take this opportunity to rethink its approach to our country's Constitution.
The Supreme Court of Canada has given us until February 5, 2016 to develop a framework before physician-assisted dying becomes legal in Canada. It is our duty as elected representatives to give this issue the respect, the time, and the thought it deserves. Looking to the work of the Quebec National Assembly and Bill 52 may prove useful, and its approach is something a parliamentary committee should consider. We must get this right.
Again, this is not an issue of personal morality or religion, nor should it be. It is an issue of constitutional rights in a free society and the limited power of the legislature. The Liberal Party is calling upon this House to remove political wedges from this issue and to support our motion.
The Supreme Court of Canada has called upon this House to set the direction for physician-assisted death. Sick and dying individuals have called upon this House to provide them with all options and to respect their rights and freedoms under the charter. Physicians have called upon this House for direction that respects individuals' freedom of conscience.
Canadians are calling on us to put aside our partisan allegiances and to work together on this historic ruling. My question is, then, are my colleagues in this House ready to put aside our political divisions, even temporarily, to respect the judicial branch of our government and talk about this serious issue?