Madam Speaker, I would first like to mention that I will be sharing my time with the hon. member for Beauport—Limoilou.
I am speaking here in the House of Commons today about Bill C-7, an act to amend the Criminal Code with respect to medical assistance in dying.
Many people here have had unique experiences involving the end of a loved one’s life. Personally, my most recent experience was last year, when I held my father-in-law’s hand until we were sure that he could die without suffering. I realized then that not everyone is that lucky. I thought about my grandmother, who fought a long and painful battle with cancer for many years.
Naturally, as the Bloc québécois critic for the status of women and seniors, I was contacted by a number of groups about this bill. I will therefore recap all of the work my party did on this important issue, while emphasizing the great sensitivity of Quebeckers when it comes to medical assistance in dying. I will conclude with the position of some seniors’ and women’s groups who have made extremely useful recommendations.
First, let us talk about the reason for this debate. In September 2019, the Superior Court of Quebec ruled in favour of Nicole Gladu and Jean Truchon, both suffering from incurable degenerative diseases, stating that one of the eligibility criteria for medical assistance in dying was too restrictive, both in the federal legislation covering MAID and in Quebec’s act respecting end-of-life care.
Two brave individuals, and I know people who knew them personally, simply asked to be able to die with dignity, without uselessly prolonging their pain. Suffering from cerebral palsy, Mr. Truchon lost the use of all four limbs and had difficulty speaking. Pain killers are no longer working for Ms. Gladu, who suffers from post polio syndrome, and she cannot remain in one position very long because of the constant pain. She said that she loves life too much to settle for mere existence.
What we are talking about here is the “reasonable foreseeability of natural death” requirement. Justice Christine Baudouin said it well in her ruling when she wrote that “The court has no hesitation in concluding that the reasonably foreseeable natural death requirement infringes Mr. Truchon and Mrs. Gladu's rights to liberty and security, protected by section 7 of the Charter.” That is the crux of this debate.
The defendants were challenging the fact that they had been denied access to medical assistance in dying because their death was not reasonably foreseeable, even though they had legitimately demonstrated their desire to stop suffering. Jean Truchon had chosen to die in June 2020, but he moved up the date of his death as a result the pandemic. Nicole Gladu is still living, and I commend her courage and determination.
The Bloc Québécois' position on this ethical question is clear. I thank the member for Montcalm for his excellent work and co-operation on this matter. I remind members that, as many have already pointed out, legislators did not do their job properly with Bill C-14. As a result, issues of a social and political nature are being brought before the courts.
We need to make sure that people who have serious, irreversible illnesses are not forced to go to court to access MAID. Do we really want to inflict more suffering on people who are already suffering greatly by forcing them to go to court for the right to make the very personal decision about their end of life? This will inevitably happen if we cannot figure out a way to cover cognitive degenerative diseases.
Obviously, we agree that we need to proceed with caution before including mental health issues, but that is not the issue today. The exclusion from the bill of eligibility for medical assistance in dying for individuals suffering solely from a mental illness requires further reflection, study and consultation, which will be completed at the Standing Committee on Health as soon as the motion that has already been moved by my colleague from Montcalm is adopted.
I would like to remind members of the important role Quebec played on this issue. Quebec was the first jurisdiction in Canada to pass legislation on this issue.
Wanda Morris, a representative of a B.C. group that advocates for the right to die with dignity, pointed out that the committee studying the issue had the unanimous support of all the parties in the National Assembly. This should be a model for the rest of Canada. Ms. Morris said she felt confident after seeing how it would work in Quebec and seeing that people were pleased to have the option of dying with dignity. The Quebec legislation, which was spearheaded by Véronique Hivon, was the result of years of research and consultation with physicians, ethicists, patients and the public. It has been reported that 79% of Quebeckers support medical assistance in dying, compared to 68% in the rest of Canada. That is important to point out.
In 2015, when the political parties in the National Assembly unanimously applauded the Supreme Court ruling on MAID, Véronique Hivon stated:
Today is truly a great day for people who are ill, for people who are at the end of their lives, for Quebec and for all Quebeckers who participated in...this profoundly democratic debate that the National Assembly had the courage to initiate in 2009. I believe that, collectively, Quebec has really paved the way, and we have done so in the best possible way, in a non-partisan, totally democratic way.
In this time of crisis, we must work together constructively to put people's well-being first. This is not about which has greater merit: palliative care or medical assistance in dying. This is about being able to offer both, to offer a choice. That is why I would like to remind the House that health transfers must be increased to 35% because Quebec and the provinces are the ones who know their regions' needs best and are in the best position to minimize disparity among the regions.
I would now like to tell the House about a meeting I had with the Association féminine d'éducation et d'action sociale, or AFEAS, in my role as critic for seniors and status of women. During the meeting, the AFEAS shared its concerns about this issue with me. I will quote the AFEAS 2018-19 issue guide:
Is medical assistance in dying a quality of life issue? For those individuals who can no longer endure life and who meet the many criteria for obtaining this assistance, the opportunity to express their last wishes is undoubtedly welcome. This glimmer of autonomy can be reassuring and make it possible to face death more calmly....
As the process for obtaining medical assistance in dying is very restrictive, those who use it probably do so for a very simple reason: they have lost all hope....
This procedure cannot be accessed by individuals who are not at the end of life....People with degenerative diseases, who are suffering physically and mentally, do not have access to medical assistance in dying.
That meeting took place last January. Last week I received a call from the president, reminding me how important this bill is, not only to her members but to all Quebeckers and Canadians. Work on this bill must continue in committee so the necessary improvements can be made.
Before being elected, I was a project manager responsible for raising awareness about elder abuse and bullying. I used to teach that violating people's rights is a form of abuse, that any attack on rights and freedoms, including the failure to recognize an individual's capacity to consent and to accept or refuse medical treatment, is a form of abuse. In 2020, a focus on proper treatment is long overdue.
Let me conclude by saying that I hope all of these comments and all of Quebec's lived experiences, in terms of respecting people who request and choose to die with dignity, will encourage all members of the House of Commons to give their unanimous support to Bill C-7 and to medical assistance in dying. Let's show some empathy for everyone who is suffering. Let's give them the choice. It is said that we do not choose to be born, but once we are, the cycle of life begins. Let's ensure that we ourselves have the choice to die with dignity in accordance with our own final wishes. This bill is long overdue. We need to act.