Madam Speaker, I rise today to speak about what I think is one of the most important issues that we will ever face in this Parliament. I know this is going to be a very difficult debate in the House, as physician-assisted suicide and euthanasia are deeply emotional not only to us in the House but obviously to our constituents.
First of all, I would like to say that I am very relieved to see addressed in Bill C-14 some of the concerns that were raised by my Conservative colleagues and Canadians across the country.
The recommendations included in the report from the Special Joint Committee on Physician-Assisted Dying were extremely troubling and went well beyond the parameters outlined in the Supreme Court's Carter decision. My Conservative colleagues and I, as well as Canadians across the country, voiced our concerns on the far-reaching recommendations in the report, and we urged the Liberal government to tighten safeguards in this legislation.
My constituents were concerned with the broad and vague guidelines in some of these recommendations. Like many of my Conservative colleagues, I felt it was very important to discuss these recommendations with my residents, and I held several open houses across the constituency. I held these open houses because I felt it was critical to get feedback from southern Albertans on their feelings on doctor-assisted dying.
However, I also thought it was important to raise awareness about some of the recommendations that could potentially be part of the legislation before us. Initially, I think we saw that the vast majority of Canadians supported doctor-assisted dying, but I would like to say that I think the vast majority of those Canadians who support it were unclear about what could potentially be part of the legislation.
I think in their minds, they saw doctor-assisted dying as involving an adult suffering with a terminal physical ailment, and that became abundantly clear at the open houses that I had in my constituency, which had anywhere from 30 to 300 people, including many of my rural physicians. Almost every single person at these open houses—supportive of doctor-assisted dying or not—was shocked at the potential that could have been in the legislation upon seeing the recommendations that were part of that special joint committee.
These people certainly did not expect that doctor-assisted dying would be available to mature minors. They certainly did not expect it to be available to people suffering from mental illness. They also expected that there would be protection for physicians on decisions of conscience, and very strict guidelines around advance directives. Since I held those open houses and started to raise some awareness within the constituency with my residents, I received hundreds of emails and letters from residents who are very concerned about the potential ramifications in Bill C-14.
Generally, people in Foothills want to make sure that vulnerable people in our society are protected in the legislation, and I believe Canadians want the same. I am pleased to see some of the concerns that we raised are included in Bill C-14, which did not include mature minors and did not include people with mental illness. However, the legislation says that those things will still be studied, which means the door is wide open for mature minors and people with mental and psychological illnesses to be part of the legislation in the future.
However, there are still some other issues that I think were not addressed, such as protection for our physicians in decisions of conscience, and palliative care. In all the meetings I hosted, palliative care came up repeatedly. Many of my residents feel that palliative care was truly never addressed as part of the legislation.
We are blessed to have a facility in my riding, the Foothills Country Hospice. I have toured this facility many times and spoken with patients and their families. I could see that the hospice has been a godsend—I got that from their responses—and has become such a wonderful, important part of our community.
Accessible, consistent, and effective palliative care programs across the country would consistently support people in their end-of-life care. Unfortunately, palliative care is not offered on a consistent basis across this country. The report recommended that palliative care be an integral part of doctor-assisted dying legislation, and this is one recommendation in the report with which I wholeheartedly agree.
If we proceed with medical-assisted dying, palliative care must be a fundamental piece of this program. However, palliative care was not mentioned in the 2016 budget, nor has there been any funding whatsoever committed to a national palliative care program.
Foothills residents also spoke resoundingly about the need to protect physicians' and other medical professionals' rights of conscience. Overwhelmingly, my constituents felt that no one should be compelled to administer physician-assisted dying if doing so was contrary to their personal beliefs and ethics. Additionally, almost everyone who spoke to me recognized that referring a patient to another physician to assist in their death does not absolve that first physician from the ethical dilemma.
In my riding of Foothills, the rural towns have one or two, if any, doctors. Imposing on a doctor in a rural community to participate in doctor-assisted dying puts those rural physicians in a very difficult position in those small towns. They need to have a choice, and we need to show leadership to give them that choice. We cannot download that burden on to provinces or the provincial colleges of physicians and surgeons. Physicians across Canada need our support and our leadership, and that should be part of Bill C-14.
In addition, there needs to be some support structure for physicians who would be participating in doctor-assisted dying. They would be facing mental health issues, as we are now seeing in Quebec. We must ensure there are programs in place to support our physicians in dealing with the potential emotional and mental scars of participating in doctor-assisted dying. Canadians want to achieve a healthy balance between the person seeking physician-assisted death and a physician's own charter rights to abstain from this procedure if it violates the physician's moral ethics and faith.
The Supreme Court came up several times in conversations I had in my riding. Residents are frustrated that the Supreme Court would presume to dictate a law upon parliamentarians. Canadians understand we elect parliamentarians in our country to make laws and the Supreme Court is in place to rule on the constitutionality of those laws. They do not understand, however, why the Supreme Court, an unelected body, is now dictating law to our elected House of Commons and why it is implementing such an unreasonable timeline to come up with the law. My constituents and, I believe, many Canadians are understandably upset that this is how physician-assisted dying came forth.
What does this have to do with this debate? This inversion of the process has left parliamentarians and Canadians scrambling under an unreasonable timeline to develop a complicated piece of legislation that not only ensures that the rights of all involved are protected, but also that the safety of our most vulnerable is also protected. This conversation and public debate simply require more time than has been afforded us currently.
Usually at the end of any of my speeches in debate I encourage hon. members of the House to either vote in favour or against whatever piece of legislation we are debating. Today I am not going to do that. I believe the first priority in this is to ask the Supreme Court for more time. This is one of the most important decisions that we will ever make as parliamentarians, and I truly believe this is a decision that should not be made on an arbitrary timeline. The consequences of this legislation are irreversible. If we make a bad choice now, someone may die who should not have. Canadians on both sides of the issue deserve better. In fact, they deserve our best.
The government has failed on this issue by not challenging the Supreme Court on this timeline. When Quebec developed similar legislation, it took more than six years. We are trying to do something similar in six months. This type of legislation should not be done in weeks. It should be done over a complete mandate of a government.
As parliamentarians, can we honestly say that we have had an opportunity to consult and speak with all stakeholders? Can we really say Canadians have had enough time to digest the implications of the bill and have been given sufficient time to provide feedback to their representatives?
The Supreme Court's decision has made it clear that we will have doctor-assisted dying. As a member of Parliament, my focus here is to ensure that there are sufficient safeguards in Bill C-14 to protect the most vulnerable in our society: children, people with disabilities, those with mental health issues, and our seniors.
Can each of us in the House look our constituents in the eye and say we have done our due diligence in just a few weeks? Can we say with confidence that the safeguards in the legislation are properly in place to protect those who need our support and our help? In the short amount of time we have been given, I simply cannot make that claim.
Unfortunately, it appears the government is not going to ask for an extension. In fact, it is no longer even putting up speakers to participate in the debate. On one of the most important issues that we will face as parliamentarians, the Liberals are not even participating. They are silencing the voice of Canadians who desperately want to talk about this important issue.
I hope we all take the opportunity in the time that is left to speak to our constituents, get their feedback, raise the awareness, talk to them about what the implications of the legislation are. I know people in my riding are extremely split on where they want to go with the legislation. I hope the other parties in the House will follow the Conservatives' lead and allow all of us to have a free vote and speak for our constituents.