Mr. Speaker, I will continue to speak to the report of the Council of Canadian Academies on the provision of medical assistance in dying to those struggling with mental illness.
The complexity of the issue is reflected in the fact that the members of the Council of Canadian Academies working group had vastly different opinions on the subject. On the one hand, the reports note that symptoms of mental disorder can impair cognitive abilities, making it more difficult to understand or appreciate the nature and consequences of treatment decisions.
The word “incurable” is not generally used by clinicians in the context of mental disorders, which makes it difficult to assess the condition of a person with “irremediable” health problems under the current legislation.
On the other hand, the report points out that the autonomy rights of an individual with a mental illness must be respected. The report cites the experiences of Belgium and the Netherlands, which permit assisted dying for psychiatric conditions, with additional safeguards. However, the report also acknowledges that assisted dying for persons with mental illnesses in these jurisdictions remains controversial, and the public debate is ongoing. Ultimately, the working group could not reach consensus on ways to address complexities and mitigate risks associated with mental illness and medical assistance in dying.
On the topic of advance requests, the Council of Canadian Academies report on advance requests also documents considerable evidence and provided many instructive findings on an issue of great interest and concern to many Canadians. Particularly in our riding, this was an issue I heard a lot about.
An advance request is a request for assisted dying made well in advance and in anticipation of the time when the person making the request may face suffering and other circumstances that may make them eligible for medical assistance in death. An advance request would set out conditions under which an individual requests MAID to be provided at a future date. Advance requests are premised on the likelihood that when people's health circumstances deteriorate to the point where they would want an assisted death, they would no longer have the capacity to affirm their decision immediately before receiving medical assistance in dying. In other words, that critical requirement of giving final consent would not be possible.
Many people express the desire to make an advance request so they have the comfort of knowing they will be able to avoid a lengthy period of grievous suffering for themselves and for their families. This is in the event they succumb to an illness that could leave them severely impaired and lacking cognitive capacity for a lengthy time period.
The CCA report helped unpack advance requests, in a way that really was helpful, by outlining several scenarios of increasing complexity. The first scenario involves an individual at the end of life who has been assessed as eligible for medical assistance in dying, but fears losing capacity while waiting to receive it. This is the situation experienced by Audrey Parker from Nova Scotia who chose to receive MAID earlier than she had wanted in fear of losing her eligibility status.
The second scenario involves an individual who has been diagnosed with a serious condition, but does not yet qualify for medical assistance in dying.
The third scenario involves an individual who wants to plan for various future outcomes, prior to any diagnosis.
The report indicated that when the request is farther in advance of the procedure, it becomes more challenging for health care providers to be certain that the request still reflects the wishes of the individual. The report found that the first scenario poses the least risk and is relatively straightforward. Canadians expressed a great deal of support for this scenario in the federal consultations and it is also widely supported by experts and practitioners.
Our proposed amendments in Bill C-7 would permit this type of advance request. This means that an individual who has a reasonably foreseeable natural death, and who is assessed and approved for medical assistance in dying, can wait for their chosen date without worrying about losing decision-making capacity. If the person does lose capacity prior to that date, they would still receive medical assistance in dying on the requested date or earlier, as expressed in their advance wish. It also means that individuals no longer need to reduce required pain medications and endure additional suffering in order to maintain their capacity to consent right before the procedure.
However, the other two scenarios, where significantly more time passes between preparing a request and medical assistance in dying provision, are far more complex and challenging.
I want to point out that we have definitely made movement on that first aspect. It is in those other two aspects where there is significantly more debate, and those need to be taken care of by Parliament in the coming months, which is exactly what this bill provides for.