Mr. Speaker, I appreciate the opportunity to rise and speak this evening on Bill C-7, An Act to amend the Criminal Code (medical assistance in dying), or MAID.
The meaning and consequence of this bill should weigh heavily on all Canadian parliamentarians. Today we are debating the competing interests of individual autonomy and the sanctity of human life. We are addressing the suffering of our loved ones, the dignity of the elderly and disabled and the moral, legal and ethical concerns that are inextricably tied to medically assisted death. We are setting out the rules, standards and boundaries by which Canadian doctors and nurses can, at a patient's request, terminate life. This cannot be taken lightly and it is not legislation that should be rushed, but that is the predicament that this Parliament finds itself in.
In 2016, the Liberal government passed Bill C-14, legalizing MAID. Last year, in the case of Truchon v. Attorney General of Canada, the Quebec Superior Court ruled that it was unconstitutional to restrict the availability of MAID to individuals whose natural death was reasonably foreseeable. Contrary to the requests of my Conservative colleagues and many advocacy groups, the Attorney General, who bears the responsibility of upholding laws passed in Parliament, chose not to appeal the ruling in Truchon. It is difficult for me to understand how something as essential to life as one's departure from it is not important enough for the Liberal government to appeal. This is something that should have had both comment and decision from the Supreme Court of Canada.
Because of the Liberal government's inaction, we are now working up against a December 18 Quebec-court-imposed deadline to enact a legislative response for the whole country. Its declaration of constitutional invalidity expires on that date. I want to assure my constituents in South Surrey—White Rock and all Canadians that, as a member of Parliament and a member of the Standing Committee on Justice and Human Rights, I will stand up for their shared values and beliefs and work tirelessly to ensure the amendments proposed in Bill C-7, and their consequences, are carefully studied and considered despite the impending December deadline.
Turning now to the substance of Bill C-7, I am concerned that the bill, as written, is too broad and lacks the safeguards necessary to protect Canada's most vulnerable populations. Let me be clear. The removal of the “reasonably foreseeable” standard will significantly increase the number of Canadians eligible for MAID. The breadth of qualifying conditions widens considerably under Bill C-7. For anyone who initially opposed MAID on slippery slope concerns, it appears we are now sliding down that proverbial hill. Will we eventually follow the Netherlands' lead, which recently ended up in its announced plans to offer MAID to children under 12?
As a group of physicians recently put in a letter to the Minister of Justice and Attorney General of Canada, urging an appeal of the Truchon decision, “Canada will have moved well beyond allowing an autonomous life-ending decision at the end of life into the realm of death on demand for almost any reason at any time.”
We know, from Health Canada's annual report published in July, that 2% of deaths in Canada in 2019 were medically assisted.
How much higher would that number be under Bill C-7, and how many Canadians would be eligible for MAID without the “reasonably foreseeable” requirement? Both questions must be answered.
If this is in fact the direction in which Parliament decides to take this legislation, we need more safeguards to protect the more vulnerable, not fewer. As written, Bill C-7 redefines who qualifies for the end-of-life procedure and strips away some of the protections put in place a mere four years ago.
One such amendment is the elimination of the mandatory 10-day reflection period. Under the original legislation, unless an exception applied, individuals wishing to receive MAID had to wait a period of 10 days after submitting their signed requests. In most instances, the waiting period makes sense. It ensures time for reflection before taking the irreversible action of ending one's life.
We know from Quebec's annual end-of-life care reports that since 2015, over 300 patients in Quebec alone changed their mind after requesting medical assistance in dying. In any event, exceptions already exist under the original law for those whose death is fast approaching and for people who will soon lose the capacity required to provide the necessary informed consent. Why then remove this 10-day reflection period?
Bill C-7 also takes aim at another safeguard included in the previous laws, reducing the number of independent witnesses needed to sign and date the candidate's application for MAID, from two to one.
This amendment would now apply to the newly eligible class of persons who are not faced with reasonably foreseeable or imminent death. Contrary to statements made in the House by the member for Winnipeg North, this is a real concern for many.
As a civil litigation lawyer, I have had my fair share of exposure to all sorts of legal documents requiring the signatures of independent witnesses to ensure both authenticity and true intent: wills, divorces, financial disclosures, affidavits and mortgages, to name a few. To express one's intentions in a will in B.C., a person must have two independent witnesses not named in the will to witness the authenticity of their signature and their intention at the time of signing. If these requirements are there to safeguard intentions regarding possessions, should they not also be there to safeguard a person's intentions regarding the method and timing of their death?
It should be noted that Bill C-7 does include a 90-day assessment period and directive that applicants be informed of available alternative treatments, but will these safeguards sufficiently protect our most vulnerable populations? When does the 90-day period begin? Is it recorded?
Another piece of the bill that I have difficulty with is that it allows patients who may lose capacity before the end-of-life procedure is performed to give their final consent in advance. This troubles me for the same reasons discussed before with respect to the 10-day waiting period. As we have seen, people do change their minds.
In recent weeks, we have heard from many representative groups that have expressed concern about the decision in Truchon. The Council of Canadians with Disabilities, the Canadian Mental Health Association, the ARCH Disability Law Centre and others have articulated the concern that making individuals with disabilities who are not facing imminent death eligible for MAID would be harmful to the disabled community at large, affirming the untrue stereotype that a life with disabilities is not worth living.
We must pause to reflect on that. Those who are passionate advocates for Canadians with disabilities are very concerned about the direction these court and policy decisions are taking us, yet the Liberal government moves forward.
There still exists the legal concept of undue influence. Who are most susceptible to undue influence and coercion? It is the vulnerable. We have also heard from hundreds of physicians who share a concern that some patients have chosen the path of MAID due to the suffering caused by a lack of proper supports. A tragic example is from B.C., where a father suffering from Lou Gehrig's disease chose to undergo the end-of-life procedure because he did not receive the support and resources he so desperately needed.
The government is not listening to the heartbreaking stories of these ALS sufferers and their cries for the fast-tracking of life-lengthening and life-sustaining hopeful therapies that we cannot get in Canada. Is the government giving those sufferers and Canadians true options? We need compassion, yes, but compassion takes many forms.
Hospices are not readily available to all Canadians as an alternative. A good friend of mine died a couple of years ago of inoperable brain cancer. He was a doctor. In his case, he very carefully weighed MAID as opposed to living in hospice. He chose hospice because it extended his life for five months, which he could spend with his family. They were okay with his deterioration because they loved him, and they wanted to support him and be with him. However, he had that true option.
If we are going to expand the legislation, the government should equally ensure robust support for the vulnerable, hospice care and hopeful therapies are available. Everyone matters.
Finally, I would like to reflect on the health care professionals who are asked to implement this proposed law. We are now celebrating our doctors and nurses for their tireless efforts to keep our country healthy and safe. We should also ensure that they have the ability to decide whether this is compatible with their will or beliefs, and not be mistreated for any refusal to administer it.
To conclude, I have heard from constituents in my riding who are on both sides of this argument. I ask my colleagues to really take the necessary time to study the bill and reflect on these proposed amendments, especially as they affect the most vulnerable. We must be compassionate but we must also respect human life.