Mr. Speaker, it is interesting that the last question has brought us to the issue of urgency and why this is pressing.
We had this bill before us in the spring, before we adjourned and before COVID-19 took over our parliamentary process. We now have the process, for which I am grateful to all parties, that allows us to debate controversial legislation, to have votes at a distance, to respect the threat of COVID-19 and to protect public health.
When debating this bill before we adjourned, I was getting emails in the House from one of my best friends, who was dying of ALS. She asked me if there was any chance we would make changes to the bill for advance directives in time to help her. I deeply regret that we were unable to get this bill passed last spring, when my friend, Angela Rickman, could have benefited from access to medical assistance in dying. She died in a situation of suffering that would have been her wish to avoid. Now, as we debate this, a member of my own family is wondering whether we can get this bill through quickly enough so that they are not put in the impossible situation that Audrey Parker found herself in. I will reflect further on Audrey Parker later.
There is urgency, whether driven by courts or by compassion. We know as legislators, as our friend from Beaches—East York just commented a few speeches ago, that we have, at this point, repeatedly passed legislation that did not meet the judicial thresholds and frameworks that have been set before us in order to ensure that the legislation we pass on medical assistance in dying meets previous court decisions. I know everybody is deeply affected by their own constituents, their own personal experiences and their frameworks of religious traditions or lack thereof, but I hope we all come to this with open hearts, recognizing that this is a crucially important issue, one that I hope our Parliament will handle better than we have in the past. Let us make sure we pass legislation that does meet the constitutional requirements that have been put before us, if for no other reason than making sure we do not have to continually return to improve our legislation. Ensuring it meets the bar that was set for us by our courts has to be paramount.
I happen to come from a constituency where, overwhelmingly, constituents have wanted to see medical assistance in dying legalized for many years. My colleagues in the chamber and watching remotely will remember the name Sue Rodriguez. Sue Rodriguez was a resident in my constituency, in North Saanich. Her first effort, which was, of course, the case she brought forward, was the first time the Supreme Court of Canada ruled, by a very narrow margin, that medical assistance in dying would not be allowed in Canada. That was back in 1993, and it was by a vote of five to four that the Supreme Court denied her final wish. She was able to access illegal assistance from a doctor who remains unknown, but God bless him, and she achieved medical assistance in her own death in February 1994. It was not a situation we would want any of our loved ones to find themselves in, unable to find the help legally and choosing to find someone willing to help otherwise.
The next set of cases, of course, bring us to more recent cases, the ones we talk about in Parliament today, and particularly the one that brought us to Bill C-14 in the previous Parliament, brought forward after the 2015 election. The names of the ministers who were involved have been referenced several times: the hon. member for Vancouver Granville and, of course, the former minister of health, Jane Philpott.
I lamented then, in this place, that the Carter decision of the Supreme Court of Canada was not being respected fully in the legislation that we were debating. I was able, in clause by clause consideration at committee, to bring forward amendments, which were rejected there, to do away with the requirement that someone be capable and competent on the day of the procedure to confirm their desire for medical assistance in dying.
It is that requirement that drove Audrey Parker to have to get medical assistance in dying before the moment she really wanted to, for fear that she would be unable to provide that consent through the vagaries of the disease or the pain-killing drugs. We know Audrey Parker's story. It was related to us today earlier by the current member for Markham—Stouffville and by the member for Dartmouth—Cole Harbour, who knows the Audrey Parker story well.
She died November 1, 2018, nearly two years ago, saying that this Parliament had let her down through the requirement that she be competent the day of the procedure to confirm that it was, indeed, her wish. This was impractical. Even as we worked in Parliament on Bill C-14, we knew from the language in the Carter decision of the Supreme Court of Canada that this was a violation of patients' constitutional rights.
When the bill got to the Senate, I was very pleased that the amendments I put forward in clause by clause, which had been rejected in the House, were taken up and approved by the Senate. However, as we will recall, when the bill came back from the Senate, the government rejected the amendments to deal with ensuring that people would have access to medical assistance in dying and to deny patients access to an advance directive. Predictably, here we are.
As many of us argued in Parliament in the first round of debates on Bill C-14 on medical assistance in dying, we were not, as a Parliament, passing legislation that was likely to survive a court challenge. There was not much prescience or crystal ball-gazing to know it. We knew it if we read our legislation and compared it to the reasoning in the Carter decision. Here we are now with a new decision, the Truchon decision from the Quebec Superior Court, and we are going back to amend the legislation.
What we are doing, of course, is making sure that people in a situation where they do face a terminal illness and their doctors know that they cannot survive this illness will be able to access an advance directive. Again this was the Carter decision. The Carter decision was full square about facing irremediable suffering and accessing medical assistance in dying. Clearly in this legislation, we have said mental illness is not going to be covered, that mental health issues will not be considered an illness that can be considered irremediable in the context of this legislation. We will very likely have to come back and revisit that.
Certainly, as this legislation goes forward from this vote at second reading to committee, I hope we will find a way to amend the legislation to remove the 90-day timeline around assessing someone's irremediable state of suffering. I support what the member for Beaches—East York has said on this. It does not appear at all to be a humane decision or within what the courts have already told us to insist on that 90-day period.
There are some things that have been argued today in this House that I want to draw attention to because I would hate for Canadians to think that this bill was as cavalier as some would have us believe. Some have said that this bill would allow for “death on demand”. That was one phrase used by one hon. colleague. It's important to know that the bill says quite the contrary.
One of my friends in the House said this bill does not make any effort to allow someone to change their mind the day of the procedure. I urge colleagues to look at subclause (3.1)(d). It is very clear. They should also look at subclauses (3.2), (3.4) and (3.5). Throughout the bill, there are many points at which it is very clear that people have the ability to say, and doctors have the requirement to verify that people have the ability, even on an advance directive, to subsequently change their minds. That is a very clear set of provisions in the legislation, as I said, particularly under subclause (3). To clarify again, in subclause (3.1)(d), it is very clear that one has to ensure that people have been informed that they may, at any time and in any manner, withdraw their request. That is the context throughout this bill.
I know my time is at an end. I just want to say that I support this bill and I hope we pass it as quickly as possible. People are suffering and they want us to act.