Mr. Speaker, as members know, on September 11, 2019, the Quebec Superior Court's decision in Truchon struck down the eligibility criterion of reasonably foreseeable natural death from the medical assistance in dying, MAID, regime in the Criminal Code. It is my sincere pleasure today to join the second reading debate on Bill C-7, which is the government's response to this ruling and which includes a revised safeguard framework.
Bill C-7 proposes amendments to the Criminal Code that would work to ensure consistent application of the MAID law across the country and would adjust the safeguards for a MAID regime that is no longer limited to end-of-life circumstances. Specifically, the bill would create two sets of safeguards to be followed before MAID is provided.
One set would be for individuals who are dying whose death is reasonably foreseeable; in which case, most of the existing safeguards would continue to apply, with a few being eased or removed. The second new set of safeguards would apply to individuals whose natural death is not reasonably foreseeable. That is why we are here today, to talk about this legislation given the fact of the decision from the Superior Court in Quebec.
This approach to differentiating between MAID requests is consistent with the view that providing MAID to people whose natural death is reasonably foreseeable presents less of a risk and is less complicated than providing MAID to those who are not on a clear trajectory toward death. It is sensible and appropriate that the assessment of a MAID request should be tailored to these different types of cases to account for the different types of risk that could arise.
For people who have requested MAID and whose natural death is reasonably foreseeable, amendments to the safeguards in this legislation include the removal of the mandatory 10-day reflection period, which, of course has been discussed quite widely in the speeches here today; a reduction in the number of independent witnesses; and a change regarding who can be independent witnesses.
Existing safeguards, such as the need for two independent practitioners who verify the person's eligibility and the need for the person to confirm consent immediately prior to the provision of MAID, will remain unchanged for those whose natural death is reasonably foreseeable. The exception is in specific circumstances where consent is given in advance. I am referring to Audrey's amendment, which is something that is very important to me, and was certainly highlighted given the fact that Audrey Parker was from Halifax in my home province.
During the government's recent MAID consultations, stakeholders noted that the existing 10-day waiting period could result in the prolonged and unnecessary suffering of the patient. We can all appreciate some of the challenges that would present. Bill C-7 proposes to remove this requirement for people whose death is reasonably foreseeable. A patient who is in that situation and requesting MAID has likely thought and reflected about this particular decision for a considerable amount of time. Requiring the patient to wait an additional 10 days when his or her suffering is already unbearable is just unnecessary.
For both streams of the MAID request, it is proposed that the requirement for two independent witnesses to a patient's written request for MAID be changed so that only one is needed. The role of an independent witness is to attest to the fact that persons requesting MAID have signed and dated their MAID request themselves in a voluntary manner. The witness would not play a role with respect to the eligibility assessment, which is the responsibility of two independent practitioners, nor do witnesses confirm whether the safeguards required by the Criminal Code have been followed.
The current rules also exclude people like health care providers and personal support workers from being independent witnesses. This can create access barriers for individuals living in nursing homes or other residential settings who may have very few family or social networks.
Speaking from my own experience in my riding, that certainly can be the case, where individuals who are living in nursing homes or in these situations might not have a large family or friend network to be able to draw upon, and I think that is an important piece. Individuals who are paid to provide personal care or health care are likely to be among the limited number of personal contacts an individual living in a care institution may have, as I alluded to. The amendments to the MAID regime would allow a paid personal or health care worker to be an independent witness, which would increase access to MAID for this population. That is key.
For patients who are eligible for MAID but whose natural death is not reasonably foreseeable, the key piece of the Truchon decision, Bill C-7 proposes a separate set of safeguards in addition to the existing safeguards, such as written requests that are signed before an independent witness and confirmation of consent.
In situations where natural death is not reasonably foreseeable, there would be new requirements that focus on the need for additional time, expertise and information in these circumstances. I believe that is balanced in the way we move forward.
First, there would be a minimum assessment period of 90 days, which could be shortened if loss of capacity was imminent and the assessments were complete. Second, one of the assessing physicians would need to have expertise on the condition that is causing person's suffering.
There would also be two clarifications of the requirement for informed consent. First, the patient must be informed of the appropriate counselling, mental health supports, disability supports, community supports and palliative care options available to them, essentially outlining the availability of health care and supports that are there.
The second practitioner would need to agree with the patient that the reasonable means of alleviating their suffering have been discussed together and seriously considered, which is very important.
It is fair to say that the assessment of MAID requests by those whose death is not reasonably foreseeable can be more challenging, and can raise more concerns, than MAID requests by those who are dying or whose death is reasonably foreseeable. I think that certainly resonates with Her Majesty's loyal opposition and my colleagues on that side of the House.
For example, is their suffering caused by factors other than a medical condition, such as loneliness or lack of access to necessary supports? Are there ways of addressing the suffering, other than MAID? I think this really gets into the slippery slope in the sense that we are making sure that there are provisions in place to explore all options before an individual chooses to move forward with the process.
The new safeguards, the requirement of a minimum of 90 days and for one of the two assessors to have expertise in the source of a person's suffering, seek to ensure that enough time and the right kind of knowledge are devoted to exploring all relevant aspects of a person's situation, including whether there are treatments or services that could help reduce a person's suffering.
These are bolstered by the proposed requirement that practitioners discuss reasonable treatment options with the patient and be satisfied that the patient has weighed the risks and benefits of the available options. I think that is balanced and fair.
I think we can be confident that most of our practitioners, as part of their good medical practice, fully explore appropriate supports that are available and the available treatments in discussion with their patients. The proposed safeguards reinforce the importance of these good practices and will help to reduce risk to vulnerable persons, which I am sure we can all appreciate is a concern for members in the House.
I would like to conclude by stating that it is my belief that this bill strikes a delicate balance. We know that this is a challenging issue for many members, but it strikes a delicate balance between respecting personal autonomy and protecting vulnerable individuals.
MAID is a personal issue, and one that likely has or will touch many of us here today at some point in our lives. I, for one, am comforted by Bill C-7's proposed two-tier approach in terms of the safeguards. It is reasonable, and it is balanced.
Also, I want to go on record that I think Audrey's amendment makes sense. It was a gap under the former legislation. I have had many individuals reach out to my constituency office asking me to be a champion to make sure that Audrey's amendment was included in our revised legislation moving forward.
Other members have spoken to this, and I am certainly pleased to see that in there. If anyone knows Audrey Parker's situation, they would know of the challenge it presented to her and her family, and we do not want to have people in Canada who are forced to make that decision.