Madam Speaker, I rise in support of Bill C-230, presented in this House by my friend and my colleague, the member for Carlton Trail—Eagle Creek. The bill we are debating today is worth more than a casual dismissal, as I have heard done in this debate by so many.
The bill, if supported, would provide the protections for charter rights of medical professionals who object to providing or participating in medical assistance in dying, which is something that many Canadians are concerned are not there. This is not a debate about medically assisted dying, on which my own convictions are based on a deeply held personal experience and one I would not wish on anyone in this House.
It is also insulting to hear that some members in this House think that it is exercise in politics. This is a debate that is often used in the simplification of applying a litmus test to carelessly sift people into buckets based on how they see a very complex societal issue, to which some so easily assign a check mark or an X. I also support a woman's right to choose. I always have. I always will. I support the LGBT community and its rights, and not as a check mark but as someone who is a proud member of it.
Canadians have varied opinions on MAID based on deeply held personal circumstances, beliefs and experience. One member in this House said, before opposing these important provisions in the bill, which aims to codify them in law, that he did not see the need for them.
However, I do want to reiterate and emphasize some points that are important to this conversation and should be important to members of this House and Canadians alike. Medical assistance in dying is a deeply held moral and conscientious issue that has legal and ethical questions beyond a simple difference of opinion. We know that from the debates in this House. The medical professionals have a duty to do what is in the best interests of their patients and provide them with the best advice on how to move forward with their care. I will say that this is personal and I will say that I went through it. In this case of medical assistance in dying, there are professional and ethical considerations that should be weighed with the highest degree of importance and a caution that touches on the deep moral convictions that I do not believe have been adequately addressed in the current context of our laws.
That said, this bill aims to add two new offences to the Criminal Code. It does not pronounce on whether conscience-rights protections are somehow up for debate. They are not, despite some members' suggesting that this bill would aim to do things that it would not do.
I do believe that it is important to state, for my colleague and those before her who brought this to the House in a piece of legislation, what it actually says and not fall into an issue that we are not debating today. One, the bill would make it an offence to intimidate a medical practitioner for the purpose of compelling them to take part directly or indirectly in the provision of medical assistance in dying. Two, it also would make it an offence to dismiss or refuse to employ the medical practitioner on that same basis. The debate suggests that the provisions in the Criminal Code already do this, and that is simply not the case.
While the Criminal Code does not compel a medical professional to provide MAID, there is nothing in the Criminal Code that specifically protects medical professionals when they are pressured or coerced into participating in or advising on medical assistance in dying.
Not wanting to discuss this does not make the conversation go away. The bill is a direct response to disability rights groups and groups who are calling for these provisions and who understand first-hand that it is a problem. This bill is a direct response to the first nations groups who have called for this and understand that it is a problem. This bill is a direct response to legal experts. It is a response to mental health professionals who understand that this is a problem. Therefore, saying that it is not a problem does not make it not a problem.
This bill would make certain that medical professionals who choose not to take part in or to refer a patient for assisted suicide or medical assistance in dying would never be forced or coerced to violate their charter rights.
The Ontario Medical Association specifically called for an amendment like this in the bill passed by the government, to provide greater conscience protections for medical professionals, acknowledging that although the current clause in the government's bill, “for greater certainty”, exists, it does not actually do the thing it is supposed to do, which is protect freedom. It cannot be enforced. That is the problem that this bill, which was brought to this floor for debate by my colleague, would correct.
This bill addresses the gap and would close it by establishing two spelled-out and very targeted offences. Stakeholders are calling on those additional safeguards, and any discussion of answering this call should not be callously dismissed. It should be thoughtfully considered on behalf of all Canadians, and certainly those who have asked for provisions like this.
Members opposite have stated throughout the debate a jurisdictional argument, and that it somehow infringes on provincial jurisdiction. It is hard to see it as anything but political when one argues that conscience rights legislation somehow interferes with jurisdiction while simultaneously believing that the legalization of medical assistance in dying does not do the same thing.
To go back to the code for a second and the notion that existing provisions in the Criminal Code already produce satisfactory protections, if that were the case, this bill would not be necessary. However, I believe that notion ought to be challenged, because it is simply not the case. The evidence from those affected should trump the dismissal of evidence from politicians claiming it to be trivial, or worse, not even acknowledged.
This bill would do just as much to protect patients as it does medical professionals, which is something that has not been talked about, by protecting the fundamentally important relationship between a physician and a patient. It would do so by ensuring the advice their physician is providing is free and clear of coercion. That should be a priority, not a land mine we cannot discuss. We should have these discussions here, because they are important and the provisions do not exist as they currently talk about in the code.
There have been laws that created unintended consequences of doctors being forced to participate in providing a patient's death, regardless of whether they believed it was in the patient's best interest or not. The current provisions cannot possibly claim that the Criminal Code already protects the conscience rights of medical professionals, not if one reads the code. The clause I mention confirms only that the Criminal Code is not the source of obligation to participate. It does not state it as an offence. It must actually articulate it as an offence in order for people to effectively deal with it as an offence and in order to enforce it. That is what we are talking about.
Without conscience rights, doctors are constrained to provide medical assistance in dying, regardless of whether it is their professional opinion or is in the best interest of the patient, regardless of their moral, ethical and personal convictions and regardless of their own beliefs. Without the necessary protections, they may be coerced and they may be intimidated, and those rights would have no value as a result.
Many of us today might be or might have been in a situation where a loved one has a difficult choice to make about their health. Why would we not want our loved ones to receive the best possible care, the most options and the best options from good doctors, based on advice that has not been coloured by possible intimidation?
Over the past years, we have seen just how much Canadians depend on our health care system and how crucial doctors and medical professionals who work in that system have been. Every Canadian has, or at least a number of Canadians have experienced or are experiencing now how important the system is, and making sure that system works is even more important.
We need to create a work environment for medical professionals that protects them, supports them, encourages them and attracts the most qualified people possible to the profession. I encourage members in this House to support the passage of this protection of freedom of conscience act. I hope those with deeply held conviction will understand what my hon. colleague is trying to achieve for patients, doctors and those wanting to see them protected.