Mr. Speaker, I apologize in advance if there is noise in the background; it is either traffic or my kids, so I have chosen traffic.
I want to start first by speaking to what is at stake with Bill C-7 and with the medical assistance in dying framework overall. What is at stake fundamentally is, first, alleviating intolerable, cruel suffering. The Supreme Court and other courts have spoken about the cruel choice that individuals face in the circumstance where they have a sound mind, they are of capacity and can make these decisions themselves, where they are suffering from an illness that is not going to go away and when they are suffering in an intolerable way. Forcing that suffering upon individuals is cruel and we have to be cognizant of the fact that this is first and foremost about alleviating suffering, but it is about alleviating suffering within the context of empowering and respecting one's personal autonomy.
This is fundamentally about individual rights, and our job fundamentally is to respect those individual rights, to protect those individual rights, to ensure that we end suffering in the course of protecting those individual rights and to make sure that we fulfill the promise of section 7 as it has been interpreted and upheld by our courts, not only in the unanimous Carter decision by the Supreme Court, but also by other courts, like the Alberta Court of Appeal and more.
Now, this bill is important, because it addresses a long-standing concern with Bill C-14. It addresses the concern that we had not answered the call from the Supreme Court adequately. We had added an additional criterion unnecessarily. We had basically said that if people are suffering intolerably and they can absolutely make this choice for themselves, they have capacity, and they have an irremediable condition, an effectively incurable illness, they cannot access this regime if they are not near the end of life or there is not path dependency, but they know the trajectory they are on, even if they are already intolerably suffering.
That, obviously, was unconstitutional. The courts determined that to be so. The government rightly opted not to appeal that decision, and here we are.
Importantly, we have actually gone beyond what the court has mandated in pursuit of individual rights and respect for our charter, as we have said in the case of Audrey Parker, a woman who chose to end her life earlier than she had wanted to. She wanted to get through the holiday season, but she also did not want to lose capacity and then lose the option. She did not want to lose ability to end her life and her suffering. She did not want to lose the possibility of death with dignity, so she chose to end her life before she wanted to. Thankfully, we have actually gone above and beyond what the court has mandated us to do, and we have provided one form of advance request to ensure that individuals, like in Audrey's case, do not end their life before they would like to.
This bill, on those two fronts, is positive. There are some challenges. That is not going to stop me from supporting this legislation at second reading, but it does give one pause. I think we, as parliamentarians, have to be very careful about adding additional exclusions to accessing the MAID regime. That is what this bill would do, unfortunately. I have heard others speak to the issue of mental illness, and there are reasons to proceed cautiously, but there are not good reasons for blanket exclusions. In fact, we potentially render the bill unconstitutional with blanket exclusions, just as we did with exclusions in Bill C-14.
I hope at committee there is expert testimony on this piece, and I hope we get this right. I will give an example specifically on mental illness. In 2016, there was a case at the Alberta Court of Appeal. A woman, identified as E.F., had capacity, she was suffering intolerably, it was irremediable, she had consulted with her family and she had made the decision to end her life. She was able to do so, thankfully, because of the Alberta Court of Appeal applying the Carter decision by the Supreme Court. If the federal justice department had gotten its way in that case, it would have read down Carter to mean only terminal illness. Of course, they said that is not the case. Then we saw, through Bill C-14, that our government tried to impose that kind of criteria, and the court subsequently struck it down. The justice department lost that leg of the argument.
Then, in E.F., they put forward the argument that it could not be an underlying psychiatric condition on its own, but that is exactly what E.F.'s was, an underlying psychiatric condition. The court said that this underlying psychiatric condition, which manifested itself in great significant pain in the documented evidence, did not affect her capacity to make a decision. She was of sound mind.
In E.F., the Alberta Court of Appeal went beyond that. As to the consideration whether MAID should be available to people with mental illness as their sole underlying condition, the Alberta Court of Appeal, in E.F., said that the Supreme Court, in Carter, had canvassed this conversation, this discussion and this concern. Unanimously, they had determined that it was not an additional exclusion. It was not a factor to exclude, and not an additional criterion for eligibility, for those with mental illnesses and those with physical illnesses, so long as they meet the specific criterion of an irremediable condition of intolerable suffering and that they have capacity. It may be that one is depressed, or it may be that one is suffering from a mental health issue such that it impinges upon one's capacity to consent, but in other cases it clearly does not. In E.F., it did not. The justice lawyers lost that case, yet here we are.
In Bill C-14, the government added an additional criterion of close-to-terminal illness and reasonably foreseeable death, and it was struck down. Here, the justice department is adding that second argument from E.F. that it already lost in the courts, and is adding a blanket exclusion for mental illness. As a matter of constitutionality, I would say that if this excludes the case of E.F., which it does, then it creates a ready constitutional challenge. I will be reading the Charter statement from the justice department very closely. I am not suggesting that we do not proceed cautiously, but a blanket exclusion on mental health, when there is a case like E.F. before the court, is likely to render this law unconstitutional, and that has to be addressed by the committee.
The second piece I want to flag is the two tracks. If one's death is reasonably foreseeable, then there is no additional track. There is not even a 10-day waiting period. That 10-day waiting period has been waived, although there was not great concern even with that 10-day waiting period. There is this dual track now, if one's death is not reasonably foreseeable, where one waits 90 days. This is what we are telling people in those circumstances. I have spoken to family members who are affected by this, and they are absolutely challenged by these circumstances when one is already intolerably suffering: They are suffering from a condition that is not going to go away, and they are making this decision themselves, having capacity. If we respect personal autonomy at all, surely a fundamental life decision like this is one that we have to respect, and we are telling these individuals that they have to wait another 90 days, and not just suffer but suffer intolerably for another 90 days. It is inexplicable that we are asking people to suffer intolerably for that length of time. Those are the two specific issues that need to be addressed at committee in a serious way in order to make this bill not only constitutional, but to make it the best bill that it can be.
I wish we had dealt with this last item, because the idea of constantly revisiting this conversation instead of just getting it right for Canadians in need is frustrating. I mentioned Audrey Parker, and we are addressing one type of advance request. However, I do wish that, in the course of this legislation, we had answered the second type of advance request, in which an individual has been diagnosed and is not yet suffering intolerably, but that future is not so far away. Those individuals should also be in a place where they can make an advance request, if we are to respect their autonomy and respect their wishes.
I just wish politics did not get in the way. That is what this is. This bill is a cautionary step. It does not go as far as it could because of politics. I know Conservative members will say it goes too far and others will say we have to be concerned about vulnerable Canadians. We know we can protect vulnerable Canadians and respect people's individual choices at the same time, and I wish politics did not get in the way of alleviating suffering. I wish politics did not get in the way of respecting and protecting individual rights. We like to say we are the party of the Charter. I wish we carried through that promise and demanded greater respect for individual rights in the course of Bill C-7.