Mr. Speaker, today I have the privilege of speaking to Bill C-7, An Act to amend the Criminal Code (medical assistance in dying).
This bill represents a substantial change. Given the limited time, the fact we are in a minority Parliament and the fact that we are going to have a fulsome review of this bill, I would have expected a more targeted approach that directly addressed the Truchon decision so that we could get this passed quickly and move forward with legislation reflecting the Truchon decision.
The government has taken a very different approach. For all MAID patients, the government's legislation has made two major changes. One is in accordance with the Truchon decision: The reasonable foreseeability of a natural death test has been removed. Because of that, there has also been a global inclusion of a protection for individuals with mental health issues. It is a very limited exclusion, I might add.
When we look at what changes have been made for where death is not reasonably foreseeable, we are on two tracks: one where death is reasonably foreseeable and another where it is not.
Where death is not reasonably foreseeable, a couple of additional precautions and safeguards have been put in. First, one of two practitioners must have knowledge of the underlying ailment. One might say that would be a good safeguard for all those who want MAID, or medical assistance in dying.
The second is a minimum 90-day waiting period. I have heard much discussion on, and have had my own experience with, this. I know many members across the way and on our side have experience with medical practitioners. These individuals are in demand. Often, these resources and supports are difficult to get. Getting this type of support to rally around people who may be contemplating MAID and who, in time, may decide not to opt for it, will be challenging, there is no doubt. In fact, I wonder aloud whether this might eventually be a reason the Supreme Court may strike this law down.
Where death is reasonably foreseeable, it is inexplicable why the government has included these various reductions in safeguards. They may very well be worthwhile amendments. They might be great ideas. However, now is not the time. We are due for a fulsome review of the complete legislation.
The Liberals have removed the two witnesses and made it one witness. They removed the 10-day period. Practitioners now can provide MAID on the basis of prior consent. No longer is final consent required. When someone is making the most important decision of their life, literally a life or death situation, that person's consent is no longer required. We may be able to debate this, and that is what the House is for. I would call upon all members to have a fulsome debate. Let us encourage these discussions and have a full parliamentary review.
Let us dig a bit deeper and go through what this legislation is for those who are contemplating MAID, but for whom death is not reasonably foreseeable. The legislation says eligible individuals must have a grievous and irremediable medical condition. That is defined as a serious, incurable disease or disability, in an advanced state of irreversible decline in capability, and having physical or physiological suffering that is intolerable to them and that cannot be relieved under conditions that they consider acceptable.
To paraphrase, eligibility requires an individual to have a progressive ailment in which they are suffering pain, either mental or physical. Please remember, and this is absolutely critical, there are areas in this legislation where someone can access MAID based on mental suffering alone. I will elaborate on that.
Before I go any further, I want to remind all members about something. I know we have a sense of this with the many great women and men in this chamber. As Mahatma Gandhi said, “The true measure of any society,” and any legislation, I might add, “can be found in how it treats its most vulnerable members.”
As a parliamentarian and as a human being, I take these words very seriously. It is our shared and sacrosanct responsibility to the most vulnerable in our community to make sure that we are always there. To those who are struggling in our community, we have a commitment, above all else, to bring them back to the light.
Frank Stephens, author and disabilities advocate, said that people with disabilities' lives are worth living. I repeat: People with disabilities' lives are worth living.
Anything that takes us away from that, we should seriously consider and not ram through legislation. Bill C-7 purports to protect individuals with mental illness, as it does not include mental illness in the definition of serious, incurable disease or suffering. The effect of this provision is to prevent people who are battling mental illness, and who may be in a horrible yet temporary situation, from accessing MAID so that we bridge them to another day. I think most Canadians would agree with that.
The challenge with the legislation is that if an individual has a pre-existing condition or a disability, they are not afforded this same protection. To be clear, if someone has a disability and is suffering through mental illness, they will have access to MAID. If they do not have a disability, they will not have access. That, by its very definition, is discrimination.
This sends a dangerous signal to persons with disabilities that their lives are not worth as much as others. That is not something that I can stand by. I would like to say to all those persons with disabilities out there right now that their lives are worth living, and I will fight for them.
I will move to the next part of the legislation, regarding folks with a reasonable expectation of death. For those individuals, for whatever reason, even though not relevant to the Truchon decision, a series of safeguards was taken off the table, one of which is the 10-day waiting period. This 10-day waiting period gives people the ability to reflect, to make sure that MAID is the correct choice. I cannot say strongly enough that MAID is permanent. This is a life or death decision. I do not think waiting an additional 10 days is overly burdensome, especially when, in circumstances where a person is suffering, it can be waived. In many cases, in the application of MAID, it actually is.
Another significant application safeguard that has been removed is the requirement of final consent. The removal of final consent is in direct contravention to the Carter decision, which requires clear consent to MAID. Removing this consent creates uncertainty. Once again, a safeguard that has absolutely nothing to do with the Truchon decision has been removed. This is a significant change in the law that should have been included in a more fulsome review.
To be fair, the legislation does allow an individual to void MAID on the day of their procedure; however, their consent is not required, which changes the entire onus of the decision. Instead of the doctor having to approach the individual, the individual has to seek out and give consent. As many have had the experience, myself included, when someone is in a difficult situation, it can be difficult for them. For example, does this mean goodbye, everyone, or does this mean stop? The way this legislation is framed, we are putting people and physicians in very difficult situations.
There is also a legal issue. Not to get too far in the weeds here, but we are putting one of the most important decisions on people who are incapacitated. It is trite law that one has to have capacity in order to make decisions. In this law, we are actually giving people who are knowingly incapacitated the ability to make the most important decision of their life: literally life or death. This is against all law and does not really make a ton of sense.
Overall, we need to look at the framework. My learned colleague talked about this as well. When we look at making decisions, these are not made in a vacuum. These are made with respect to the entire approach. We need to look at the medical system: a medical system that now, because of COVID-19, is even more strained. How are we going to get these resources?
In my riding of Northumberland—Peterborough South, I know the resources are strained when it comes to palliative care. We are not giving people the full right to decide if we are not giving them access to palliative care. We need to make sure that people do not just have the right to die with dignity, but the ability to live with dignity.