Mr. Speaker, today I am speaking in opposition to Bill C-7, an act to amend the Criminal Code regarding medical assistance in dying. I am also rising to raise the alarm and call on the government to put an immediate halt to medical assistance in dying in Canada's prisons until a full investigation can take place and legislative amendments can be made.
I believe, as a Conservative, my role is to be someone who stands athwart history yelling “stop” at a time when no one else is inclined to do so. History has shown us the consequences of people not speaking up in opposition to issues that may even have seemed overwhelmingly popular at the time.
Today is one such case, where years from now we may look back at these debates and wonder how we could push forward with such radical legislation and changes to our societal values. That is why I am speaking out today, despite the consensus, which appears to reign in this House, that medical assistance in dying on demand is the way to go.
Dr. Ivan Zinger, the head of the Office of the Correctional Investigator of Canada, released a deeply disturbing report this past June. I presume the government has had access to this report for months, but it was just tabled yesterday in the House of Commons. The correctional investigator raises some serious allegations, citing three cases of prisoners undergoing medical assistance in dying that raise, as the report states, “fundamental questions around consent, choice and dignity.” His office also found serious omissions, inaccuracies and misapplications of the law and the policies surrounding medical assistance in dying.
In one case, a prisoner who was terminally ill and serving a non-violent two-year sentence was denied parole and any opportunity to serve out his remaining days in the community. The inmate wished to explore the possibility of a compassionate parole, but after being denied the opportunity to do so, he sought an assisted death. Before receiving his assisted death, the prisoner repeatedly sought an opportunity to seek out an alternative to MAID in prison. He was repeatedly denied the opportunity to do so. Therefore, he was left with what he felt was no choice but to seek out medical assistance in dying. He was later granted that.
This raises important questions on whether the government is adequately supporting Canadians, including Canadian prisoners, who are facing difficult end-of-life decisions, especially decisions where the power imbalance is so huge.
In another case, a prisoner, a dangerous offender with a terminal illness who was suicidal and suffering from mental illness, also received an assisted death. When prisoners are in a hopeless situation and disempowered, it is no surprise they would seek an assisted death.
In response to these cases, Dr. Zinger points out, “the decision to extend [medical assistance in dying] to federally sentenced individuals was made without adequate deliberation by the legislature.” He is talking about us. He also claims there is no oversight mechanism in the Canadian correctional services to ensure accountability or transparency for medical assistance in dying deaths in correctional institutions.
Given that the above cases were restricted to those with terminal illnesses who qualified under the previous requirement of death being reasonably foreseeable, I find it very concerning the government would be removing this requirement without first acknowledging and investigating the serious concerns and allegations of the corrections investigator.
The corrections investigator is actually calling for an absolute moratorium on all medical assistance in dying procedures in Canada's correctional institutions. Until such a time as we can craft legislation that protects the lives of vulnerable prisoners, who are clearly making a choice in a situation of severe duress, we should clearly consider holding off, or at least placing a moratorium, on medical assistance in dying in Canada's prisons.
This brings me to my next concern with this legislation, which is the need to protect the lives of vulnerable people like the disabled, the elderly and the mentally ill. When this legislation was originally considered a few years ago, Canadians were assured by the government that the legislation would protect the vulnerable. Restrictions that were put in were meant to protect people from being unduly coerced into making a decision to seek MAID. They also exist to encourage people to seek out alternatives before seeking an assisted death.
Everyone can sympathize with somebody nearing the end of their life who is in intolerable pain and seeking out an assisted death, but what Canadians did not expect four years ago was that today the government would be expanding this legislation to allow those who are not terminally ill or near death to qualify.
This raises important concerns for disabled people and those with mental illnesses. Many of them are not close to death and will now be eligible to seek an assisted death. The government has washed its hands of responsibility for restrictions and has left it up to individuals to make this choice for themselves. Choice has been enshrined as the overriding principle of medical assistance in dying legislation, while little or no concern is being given to the factors that can go into those choices.
Similar to the cases that I cited in our prisons, many elderly, disabled or mentally ill Canadians have been isolated for many months from loved ones in Canada's troubled long-term care centres. I wonder how many decisions to access MAID would not have otherwise been made had the situation in long-term care been addressed or how many decisions to access MAID would have been made if Canada had an effective system of palliative care centres for people to live out the remaining days of their life in comfort and peace.
We know from the government's own annual reporting that there is a significant number, and even one is too many, of Canadians, who did not have access to palliative care, who received an assisted death. No Canadian should be forced to choose an assisted death without the opportunity to access palliative care.
The government's annual reporting also revealed that in 2019 alone, 87 Canadians with disabilities received medical assistance in dying but were denied access to critical disability support services. That is simply unacceptable. Canadians with disabilities deserve better.
I am concerned that every time we remove a protection on medical assistance in dying, we are blurring the lines between an assisted death that is acceptable and constitutional and an assisted death that is not. I do not believe, for many in the House, that there is a single assisted death case that would be unacceptable. I challenge members to tell me what they think is unacceptable.
The consensus among most parties in the House, and most members, seems to be that we need to affirm individual choices. I think we can all recognize that no choice is made in a vacuum. Choices are made with a variety of factors, such as people's socio-economic status, the quality of their life, their relations with family and friends, their mental state and their physical state, and the list goes on. Simply boiling down this argument to a matter of individual choice ignores the very real factors that can go into making someone make the decision to seek out medical assistance in dying.
For example, do people feel they are a burden on their family or society? Do they feel there is no alternative to the pain they are feeling? Are there monetary reasons at play? A recent article in MoneySense magazine was advising readers on how to maximize their pension and life insurance benefits if they chose to undergo medical assistance in dying. Where we have come in our public discourse in four short years is shocking to me.
Given that I have outlined a number of factors in determining what factors could be behind someone's decision to seek out MAID, I would ask this. What provisions is the government putting in place to ensure that people's lives are being affirmed and that they are receiving the support they deserve? The fact is that I believe the government is ignoring the very important role that social workers can play in these decisions. By limiting the decision for medical assistance in dying between a doctor and a patient, the government is ignoring the fact that doctors are not always equipped to recognize situations where socio-economic factors or other factors could be at play in the decision. When the government takes away the requirement for two witnesses, it also creates a huge power imbalance, where essentially only one person, the doctor and the patient, is making the decision. There is very little accountability.
Finally, I want to raise the concerns of Dr. Leonie Herx, who is a chair at Queen's University and one of 750 doctors from across Canada who have urged the government to stop this legislation. In her words:
(MAiD) was intended to be a last resort when all other measures had failed and someone had irremediable suffering close to the end of life. (Bill C-7) makes death on demand available to anyone who wants it. It’s a radical shift for medicine.
I call on the government to heed the concerns of the 750 doctors as well as the report from the corrections investigator and immediately move to place new restrictions and protections on medical assistance in dying to ensure that vulnerable people are protected. We have a responsibility. Every Canadian life matters. We cannot get this wrong.