Mr. Speaker, I am very glad to have the opportunity to finally speak to the bill at report stage, although, as I just said in my previous question, I am really sad to have to do this under time allocation and knowing that many of my colleagues will not get the chance to bring the voices from their constituencies to this chamber on the bill.
I was prevented from speaking at second reading by the time allocation imposed by the government, but something even more peculiar happened when it did that. The abrupt change of the House schedule on May 4 with time allocation forced the second reading vote forward by five days, and for those of us who have responsibilities both here and in our ridings, it meant on that Wednesday morning, I was already flying west before the time allocation motion was introduced. It meant that I could not be here to cast my vote at second reading because I was already flying in the wrong direction.
I lost my chance to go on record as voting against Bill C-14 in principle. That is what I intended to do, not just because of my own experience and beliefs, but also because I believe it contradicts the Supreme Court's Carter decision, and most important, because the bill contradicts the opinion of virtually every person and every family in my riding that has contacted me about this issue.
I have been involved in discussions about end-of-life issues with several individuals who are facing severe debilitating and painful illnesses. I have talked to them directly. I have met with them and have heard their concerns. This reminds me to mention an important issue that is not in the bill, and that is the issue of palliative care and the need for us as a society to do a much better job with end-of-life care.
I do want to praise those who are actively already working in end-of-life care. This is not a criticism of their efforts that they make each and every day to provide better care for those who are facing end of life, but they are forced to do so too often with too few resources and in substandard situations.
I have been involved in public discussions locally on this issue, stretching back to a public forum on March 21, 2015, which was jointly sponsored by a group called Victoria Choices in Dying and Dying with Dignity. We heard from a panel of speakers, which I was privileged to be on, but we also heard from the public. We heard speaker after speaker at that forum say that they wanted the right to control end-of-life issues. They wanted the right to make decisions for themselves, and they wanted the right for their family members not to have to suffer intolerable pain for great lengths of time, but to be able to make the choice for assisted dying.
I believe, as I said, not just speaking on the basis of my own conscience, but representing the beliefs and needs of my community, that I should oppose Bill C-14, not just for what is not in the bill, like palliative care, which only gets a mention in the preamble and for which the government has, incidentally, provided no new resources and there is no reason to wait for legislation to do that, but I will oppose the bill for what is actually in the bill. I believe the bill is too restrictive and respects neither the letter nor the spirit of the Carter decision.
I think we are in this unfortunate position because the government failed to listen to the key recommendations of our own special joint committee of the House and Senate. The committee made very wise recommendations with regard to the bill, yet only a few of them were incorporated into the bill at the committee stage.
In the interests of time, I will focus on what I believe are the three key faults in Bill C-14.
The first and most important to me is the absence of a provision for advance directives.
I want to talk, if I am able to do so, about a very personal experience, the death of my mother last fall. My mother had always been very clear, even before she developed dementia, and that dementia began to take away her capacity, she did not want measures to keep her alive, lying in the bed without consciousness, with no quality of life, and especially if she were in great pain.
Her dementia was not the immediate cause of her death, so she would not have qualified under the bill because she did not have a terminal illness, but in her case, six years after the onset of the dementia, she no longer had the capacity to make decisions. Other medical conditions left her in a situation which she had feared: in great pain and unable to care for herself. Those other medical conditions did eventually take her life in conjunction with the decisions we as her children and the medical practitioner made at the time.
We feel very fortunate that my mother had been very clear about her wishes. Although that did not really make the decisions we had to make easy, we were confident that we were doing what she had wanted to do. My own family's experience and the experiences of other families in my constituency are why I believe so strongly that Canadians have the right to make advance directives about their care.
The second reason that I am opposing this bill is the fact that it would impose what it calls a reflection period on those at the end of life. Of course, again, those who have dementia or other similar medical conditions would not be able to have a reflection period because they would no longer have capacity. However, even for those who are competent at that point in their life, I believe that the 10 days, which the committee thankfully reduced it to, is still far too long for those who are living in intolerable pain, and far too long not just for them, but far too long to ask their families and friends to witness that suffering. If there is to be a reflection period, it needs to be even shorter than those 10 days.
My third reason for opposing this bill is the fact that it would narrow who is eligible to receive medical assistance in dying to those whose death is “reasonably foreseeable”. I know that others have said that we know what that means and it is specific. However, the only way I can understand that we all know what that means is that all our deaths are reasonably foreseeable, but what it means beyond that, I have no idea. It is not a term that is used in medicine. It is not a term that is used in law. That very ambiguity raises the spectre of excluding people who need medical assistance in dying and who would have been qualified for it under the Carter decision.
According to the lead counsel in the Carter case, even Kay Carter, a fierce advocate for the right to assisted death for those who are suffering intolerably but from a non-fatal condition, would probably be excluded from accessing medical assistance in dying under Bill C-14 as it stands. What this would do is force people into incredibly cruel strategies like starving themselves to death to make their death imminent and allow them to qualify. I would hope that this House would not impose those kinds of restrictions on people and make them make those kinds of choices at the end of their life.
Would I rather have this bill than no bill? The answer I guess I am going to have to decide on. My decision is going to be that yes, I would rather have no bill. I prefer to go with the Carter decision. Do I think it would have been better to have a bill? Yes I do. I am not opposed to having a bill on this, but it has to respect the Carter decision, and it has to have clear provisions in it, and it needs to have a reflection period shorter than 10 days. If we do not have the bill, what happens? We do not have a legal vacuum as people are saying. We have the Carter decision, which would provide guidance. There is a legal framework.
Although I did not actually look this up, when the abortion provisions were removed from the Criminal Code, the House of Commons tried twice to create new law regulating abortions. I am sure these same arguments were made at that time, saying that practitioners would not want to perform abortions because there was no legal framework. In fact, we went with the court decision. We still exist with the court decision on abortion as our legal framework and we have not had chaos in the medical community on that; not that in any way I wish to compare abortion to medical assistance in dying, but only on this issue of whether there is a legal framework that will apply on June 6.
The failure to meet the June 6 deadline for this legislation lies with all of us. It lies with the previous government; it lies with the current government, and it lies with us as a House of Commons. We all have to take responsibility for missing that deadline.
However, I do have to say I believe the government could have managed the House time better so that all of us could have participated in the debate and that debate could have been accomplished in time to meet the deadline. All the Liberals had to do was schedule this bill as a priority in this sitting of the House, which they failed to do. That did not happen. Therefore, I will, when the time comes, stand and vote against this bill at third reading. In the meantime, I will also vote against it at report stage.