moved that Bill C-384, An Act to amend the Criminal Code (right to die with dignity), be read the second time and referred to a committee.
Mr. Speaker, I will not have enough time to list everything that has happened and that has been written regarding the right to die with dignity since the debate on BillC-384 began.
It is a sign, if a sign were needed, that shows the need to decriminalize euthanasia and assisted suicide or physician-assisted dying under certain conditions. My bill has a specific objective. It deals only with people capable of making decisions for themselves who are living in conditions of suffering that cannot be alleviated. But it has the merit of forcing a debate on decriminalization that, in Canada, unlike in the United States, is a federal jurisdiction. I think that studying my bill in committee and passing it after consideration and amendments would at last rid us of the criminal nature of physician-assisted dying by euthanasia or assisted suicide.
The Collège des médecins du Québec could then, freely and without fear, continue the admirable work it has begun on appropriate end-of-life care, including terminal sedation and euthanasia. The Quebec National Assembly could, in all good conscience, refer the study of the right to die with dignity to its Commission de la santé et des services sociaux. Not only is it necessary, but it is urgent to remind ourselves of the degree to which the Criminal Code of Canada hinders a genuine debate on vital life questions that so many people are faced with daily. A number of people who have appeared before the Commission de la santé et des services sociaux have done so. Here are some examples.
Jean-Pierre Béland, professor of philosophy and ethics at the Université du Québec à Chicoutimi, wonders what the problem is when it is accepted that a physician must answer to his code of ethics that requires him to make it possible for a patient to die with dignity.
He goes on to say that it is part of the code of ethics and that we all know that the problem lies with the current Criminal Code. This Criminal Code, which falls under federal jurisdiction, recognizes that any act of euthanasia must currently be interpreted as a criminal act within the meaning of the Criminal Code. In practice, is the patient not thrust into an impasse because the law forces doctors and caregivers to live in the ambivalence of palliative care language, which preaches independent choice when, in reality, the patient has no choice because he is denied assisted suicide and euthanasia?
There are tonnes of quotes. I have one from a very remarkable document from the Collège des médecins du Québec on doctors, appropriate care and the debate on euthanasia. The following is an important excerpt from that document:
The status quo makes this research difficult if not impossible. For all sorts of reasons, our society—and doctors are no exception—is in denial not just about euthanasia, but also about death. The current state of the law in Canada certainly has a lot to do with that. In a context where any act aimed at shortening life is considered murder punishable by criminal sanctions, it is rather difficult to have an open and frank discussion on all the care that would be appropriate at the end of life.
My dear colleagues will agree that the Quebec and Canadian context has completely changed since the motion was unanimously passed by the National Assembly of Quebec.
Those are not my words. We did not see it, but representatives in the National Assembly unanimously passed a motion to establish an ad hoc commission “for the purpose of examining the issue of the right to die with dignity and, if need arises, of the procedural requirements”.
The National Assembly commission has already heard from dozens of specialists, be they doctors, ethicists or people who work in palliative care. The quality of their testimony is incredible.
It has brought a question to my mind. Quebec's parliament came together and undertook a joint consultation with specialists. Then, in August, they travelled throughout Quebec. Quebec's National Assembly commission will come forward with a motion. Given the commission's title, it seems that they will want to determine the conditions for dying with dignity. What will the Parliament of Canada do? It will say that it is in charge of the Criminal Code. On what side of the issue will we be? Personally, I hope we will not be against it.
I hope that the Parliament of Canada will take the time to consult and get informed. Of course, I hope that this will be the case when my private members' bill comes before the House. My bill is specific and limited, but it raises the question of criminalization or rather decriminilization. That is the biggest problem. That is the problem.
Who can repeatedly say with confidence that helping someone in unbearable pain, particularly someone in palliative care—that is definitely unbearable pain—is a crime? Many witnesses speak about helping someone die peacefully, so that they do not suffer. Is that really murder? Is that really a crime? Many of them say it is not. That is exactly my point. Within the three physicians' associations in Quebec, approximately 75% say that the option should exist to perform euthanasia in order to help people die under specific conditions. They want to be able to establish these conditions themselves.
I would like to read excerpts from the brief from the Fédération des médecins spécialistes du Québec:
From a medical standpoint, the right to die with dignity and quality end of life care are notions that implicitly refer to euthanasia. It was in that context that a working group on clinical ethics, mandated by the Collège des médecins du Québec, or CMQ, in 2006, decided to address the issue. Based on the reflections of that group and particularly because of the CMQ's position, the federation decided to conduct a survey on euthanasia—
I will talk about that in a moment, but first I would like to read another interesting excerpt:
More and more people no longer have any moral or ethical objection to the idea of allowing a doctor to administer terminal sedation under extraordinary circumstances. Euthanasia is starting to be viewed as an act of support, the final step in quality end of life care. However, from a strictly legal standpoint, the debate continues. The Canadian legal framework, the Criminal Code, stipulates that any action to end another person's life constitutes murder and is therefore subject to criminal sanctions.
But doctors work with people who no longer have any hope and who are no longer treatable.
Regardless of the legislative model eventually passed by the National Assembly regarding civil rights, the Criminal Code of Canada should be amended. This is by no means supported by everyone, considering the firm opposition expressed by certain radical groups that strongly support recriminalizing abortion in Canada.
The reflection paper of the Fédération des médecins omnipraticiens du Québec is also clear and precise. It is even philosophical, to some extent.
Due to improvements in health care, people now live longer and it is possible to delay death, sometimes significantly. However, the ability to live longer has a downside because an increasing number of people suffer from degenerative or incurable illnesses, such as Alzheimer's or cancer, which decrease considerably their quality of life. As a result of the evolution in medical technologies and a better understanding of them, people wish to control end-of-life decisions in order to die with dignity. This evolution in medicine inevitably leads to the debate on end-of-life care and euthanasia.
These are not physicians who teach at universities, although they might say the same thing. These are physicians who deal with patients and look after them in their final days.
These texts both contain the results of surveys on euthanasia. This is what the Fédération des médecins spécialistes discovered.
The survey indicated that medical specialists are prepared to hold a debate on euthanasia (84%) and believe that Quebec society is also ready to discuss this matter (76%). In addition, 75% of medical specialists would certainly or probably be favourable to euthanasia within a clearly defined legislative framework, and believe that Quebec society also supports legalized euthanasia, although to a lesser extent (54%).
Passage of a bill legalizing euthanasia by the House of Commons would receive the support of 76% of specialists.
However, our survey tends to confirm that euthanasia is a factor that medical specialists have to deal with in their practice. According to 81% of respondents, euthanasia is often/sometimes (52%) or rarely practised in Quebec.
The FMOQ survey gave similar results. I would add that more than half of all general practitioners believe that euthanasia is carried out indirectly in Quebec at present. 74% of physicians surveyed believe that euthanasia should be a tool available to doctors in order to fulfill the ethical requirement of helping their patients die with dignity.
74% of the respondents believe that new regulatory and legislative frameworks should be adopted to permit euthanasia.
These are but a few of the many accounts I read or heard. I believe there is no longer any hesitation. I know that, increasingly, the position of those opposed is the fear of the slippery slope.
But we cannot, based on this irrational fear—a number of studies have shown that when legislation exists, there is no slippery slope—and based on the slippery slope refuse assisted suicide to people who are dying in pain. That makes no sense, and that is what we are faced with.