Mr. Speaker, as I rise today, I feel a sense of gravity and strong emotion. This is not the first time. Two years ago, when I was a member of the National Assembly of Quebec, I rose to debate the extremely sensitive subject of medical assistance in dying. At the provincial level, the debate was about end-of-life care.
This is therefore the second time that I have participated in the debate and the vote on this extremely delicate subject, and I intend to do so with diligence, careful consideration, and a great deal of compassion.
Usually when I rise I want to convince. That is the job of all politicians, to convince people. In this case, I do not want to convince; I just want to talk and to explain where I stand. Also, in political debate there is good and there is bad. In this case, no one is good and no one is bad; they are only honest Canadian citizens who want the best for the future of this country and the best for the future of our people, even if this debate is quite difficult and fragile.
Why are we here today?
We are here because a year ago, in February 2015, the Supreme Court made a ruling that had very serious and important consequences. It was the Carter decision that centred on medically assisted death.
The Supreme Court did not ask the House of Commons and Canada's Parliament to take a position for or against medically assisted death, but to develop a legal framework for it. That is the principle underlying this whole debate. We are not here to debate whether medically assisted death is good or bad. We are here to figure out how to give people access to it.
However, I have often said, and I want to repeat now from my seat in the House, that I find it very unfortunate that the Supreme Court gave the Parliament of Canada just under a year to take action. That is completely irresponsible. I know what I am talking about. I was a member of the Quebec National Assembly for almost seven years. I was there for the six years of detailed, painstaking work that led up to the passage of Bill 52. It took six years and three different governments with three different premiers: the hon. Jean Charest, the hon. Pauline Maurois, and the hon. Philippe Couillard. We worked on it for six years. There were two full years of direct consultation, and over 275 Quebeckers shared their opinions on the subject. However, the Supreme Court ordered the Parliament of Canada to take action within one year.
Why do I find that irresponsible? Because the Supreme Court knew that it was an election year and that this is not a subject for partisan political discussion. Despite all that, the Supreme Court ordered us to come up with legislation in under a year. The court knew that, as of February, the countdown was on to the month of June and that everything would then come to a grinding halt because the election was called for the fall and a new government would be taking office. In theory, parliamentarians could do nothing until December or January, and that proved to be true. In short, we lost six months in which we could have been debating this extremely important issue.
However, all was not lost. The previous government, led by the right hon. member for Calgary Heritage, set up a committee of three experts, including a former Quebec minister, whom I salute. This committee assessed all of the legal and parliamentary options regarding this sensitive issue and produced a document over 400 pages long. I am very proud to know that this work was done, despite the fact that it was an election year. I will come back to that a little later in my speech.
The report was written, but there was an election, and the new government created a parliamentary committee that could be described as bilateral, since it was made up of MPs and senators. The committee was co-chaired by a Liberal MP and a Conservative senator. Basically, the foundation for non-partisanship was laid, so that was good.
Despite the fact that we had very little time to do our work, in fact barely five or six weeks, we had 13 meetings, we heard from 61 witnesses, and 132 briefs were submitted. That is great, considering the time we had. I want to commend all of my colleagues who are here. I see the House co-chair, as well as my colleague from Toronto. I apologize, but I do not know all the riding names by heart. The names are very long, and perhaps we should change that one day, but that is another matter altogether.
I want to commend all of my colleagues for working in such a positive, constructive, and non-partisan manner. It was an extremely delicate and difficult subject, but we took a serious and thorough look at it.
After all our work, two reports were produced: a main report and a dissenting report signed by the member for Langley—Aldergrove, the member for Kitchener—Conestoga, the member for St. Albert—Edmonton, and me.
Before I get into the substance of the dissenting report, which I signed, I want to point out that the Conservative MPs on the committee were the ones who signed it. However, it was not a Conservative dissenting report, since the Conservative senators did in fact sign the main report.
Let there be no mistake: in this case the dissenting report was not a Conservative dissenting report. It was a dissenting report from members of Parliament, because the Conservative senators signed the majority report.
It is very clear, and we have to be very careful with that. There was not a political agenda behind our dissenting report.
In the dissenting report, my three colleagues and I were driven by the need to protect the most vulnerable, but also by Carter and especially by what we referred to in our report as “the Quebec experience”.
I am proud to say that I witnessed the Quebec experience. Together, we applied that experience in the dissenting report and used it as a model in determining what should be done. We did that because in Quebec, we took our time to address this issue properly.
In Quebec, after six years of debate, work, intellectual rigour, and careful consideration, we came to certain conclusions. Bill 52 became law to ensure that everything is done properly with a certain social consensus.
It is very tough to have consensus on this difficult issue.
Our dissenting report outlined five concerns. I will read them, then go over them one by one.
First, we felt that end-of-life care should not be provided to minors. Second, we established that people suffering from mental illness should not have access to medical assistance in dying. Third, we raised the need to protect the conscience of doctors and health care professionals. Fourth, medical assistance in dying should be provided only to people at the end of their life. Lastly, we had some serious concern over palliative care. Those are the five concerns outlined in our dissenting report. Let us look at them one by one.
First, this should not apply to minors. This is a very sensitive topic. The Supreme Court was talking about adults, not minors. What is more, the Quebec experience applied only to adults. This otherwise creates almost insurmountable problems.
Imagine if the parents of a 16-year-old son or daughter refuse to allow their child to receive end-of-life care. What then? Who is right, the child or the parents?
In the worst case scenario, if a 17-year-old child asks for end of life care, which his father wants but not his mother, who is right? Do we try to convince the mother? That is so difficult, so touchy, so fragile.
That is why our dissenting report put aside minors, aided by the Quebec experience.
We do not want this bill on medical assistance in dying to apply to people with mental illness because it is almost impossible to determine at what point they are capable of giving informed consent. People with mental illness are unaware of what is happening. I know that it is terrible to say such things, but it is the truth.
This is the truth. For those who suffer from mental illness, it is very tough and difficult for them to be very clear on what they want to do. If we were to put them in that kind of situation, we would see the worst. Again, based on the Quebec experience, we put it aside.
Let us now discuss conscience protections for physicians and health care practitioners. This is a delicate but very important subject. Quebec came up with a rather unique solution, and one that the government should use as a model.
We must respect the patient who, in his heart and soul, wants to receive end-of-life care. However, we must also respect the physician who must provide this care. If the physician does not want to proceed, we must respect that. This is Quebec's solution: the physician who does not want to provide this care must refer his patient to a third party, namely, the administrator of the hospital or CLSC, and this third party will refer the patient to another physician. Thus, a physician does not refer his patient to another physician because a third party is involved. Consequently, a physician who is uncomfortable dealing with this situation does not find himself referring his patient to another physician. This decision must be respected. This is a detail, but it is all about the details in this bill and the entire medical assistance in dying situation. We must have conscience protections.
Once again, based on the Quebec experience, we believe that the same is true with respect to the end of life. At what point can patients give their consent to medical assistance in dying?
Quebec, after examining this issue for six years, concluded that patients were able to give consent at the end of their life and not before. It is quite easy for a guy like me, who is 51 years old, in good shape, and feeling well, to say that if I ever get sick, no problem, the doctors will come and that will be it. It is easy for me to say that at the age of 51, when I am in good health. However, will I feel the same way when I am at the very end of my life? Not necessarily, which is why we need protections in this area. Once again, there are five concerns based on the Quebec experience. The fourth one has to do with the fact that Quebec makes it clear that only patients who are receiving end-of-life care may receive this type of medical assistance.
The last concern is palliative care. My colleague from the second opposition party spoke about this earlier. We believe it is extremely important to have full, comprehensive palliative care for all Canadians, and not just for one-third of Canadians, as is the case now. We really need to focus on this.
There was the main report, the dissenting report, and the five concerns I mentioned, which were based on safeguards for the most vulnerable, the Carter decision, and the Quebec experience. After we presented our report, it was up to the government to proceed and introduce its bill.
Therefore, what we have now is Bill C-14. What we like in the bill is what it does not have. That is funny to say, but it is true, because the bill put aside some of the most touchy subjects that we put in our dissenting report.
In our dissenting report, we did not want medical assistance in dying to be available to minors or people suffering from mental illness. The government embraced our position, which is good. We thank it for that. Congratulations.
However, we still have some other concerns regarding this bill, particularly when it comes to conscience protection. This bill contains no provisions regarding the protection of conscience for doctors and other medical practitioners, including nurses and pharmacists, in the context of medical assistance in dying.
I asked the Minister of Health about this during the debate two weeks ago. She said that it was not mentioned because it falls within provincial jurisdiction. Technically, that is true, but we are in a federal Parliament. The bill's own preamble clearly states that the law must adapt and apply consistently all across Canada. We need to have a national policy in order to avoid fluctuations from province to province. Once again, I urge the government to learn from the Quebec experience, which allows for the protection of conscience for doctors.
What will happen if that protection is not ensured? It will be left up to the provinces to decide whether they want to provide, or not, a framework for this in a particular way. I understand the goodwill of the Minister of Health, but there is such a thing as too much vagueness. In this situation, we are not talking about deciding between an apple and an orange; we are talking about deciding whether to live or die. Vagueness is unacceptable in this situation. We need to provide clear guidelines, particularly regarding conscience protection, because there is nothing that is more fragile and more precious than the conscience of someone who is there to save lives or end lives, depending on the patient's wishes.
I invite the government to take a closer look at the Quebec experience and really take note of that experience, as well as what we have said.
As I mentioned earlier, in Quebec it is clear that this type of care is provided at the end of life. In the legislation we find the concept of “reasonably foreseeable”. I have to read that because I have been asked about this a number of times and I always have a hard time because it is a bit vague.
I can assure the House of one thing: I am going to die. That is foreseeable. There is no doubt. I am 51 and I think I have done more than I have left to do. Reasonably, I could die in a few decades. I am in no hurry, by the way.
What I am trying to say is that “reasonably foreseeable” is not clear. The first question I was asked in an interview on RDI by Julie Drolet, a former colleague whom I salute, was whether I really understand this “reasonably foreseeable”. Well, the answer is no, not really. That being said, I am not the one who drafted the legislation. Perhaps we need to ask the minister that question.
All that to say that this needs to be clear, as does “conscience protection”. The same goes for end-of-life and what is reasonably foreseeable. It is much too vague.
During an interview last weekend on Radio-Canada's political television show, Les coulisses du pouvoir, Quebec's health minister, Dr. Gaétan Barrette, said there could certainly be a debate about the legality of this bill with respect to the notion of reasonably foreseeable death. He added that it should be reasonably foreseeable regardless of the prognosis on the progression of the disease. After all, if death is reasonably foreseeable, that means a prognosis has been reasonably established.
In situations like that, there is no clear answer. I would ask the government reasonably, no pun intended, to clarify its thinking on this.
There is a similar issue with regard to nurses and doctors. They say that nurses can provide the care. I want to be very clear. I have tremendous respect for nurses. Based on my experience in Quebec, they are the ones who keep the health system going, and I thank them for that. However, we think that a diagnosis of this importance needs to come from a doctor. People might think I am saying the same thing over and over again, but that is the conclusion drawn from the Quebec experience after six years of thorough, serious work.
With respect to palliative care, we all agree that more money should go to that. I would like to point out that the latest budget allocated no money to palliative care, even though that is an extremely important and sensitive subject. In a press conference, the Leader of the Government in the House of Commons talked about allocating $3 billion. That is very nice, but we would like to see that in the budget. The government can be sure we would support that enthusiastically.
Nothing is perfect, especially this bill, but we should be very concerned about that. We should be very concerned, because if we do not adopt a law, good or bad, we will have to deal with the Carter decision. For some people, it will be the worst-case scenario, because in that case, the medical professional associations in some provinces will say one thing and the associations in other provinces will say another thing; some provincial legislatures will adopt certain bills and other legislatures will adopt other bills. There will be a lot of movement in Canada in that case and the last thing we want is movement. We need a clear bill on those issues.
I want to say that this is obviously a very emotional debate. Everyone who speaks to this issue will be right. They have the right to do so and we hope they will. No one here is wrong, no one here is right. We are all honest Canadians and we want to do what is best for the future of this country and for the future of Canadians.