Mr. Speaker, I am honoured to rise to speak to this important bill on behalf of my constituents.
As a member of the House for 19 years, I have had many opportunities to consult my constituents about this, and they are deeply concerned about what we are doing here today.
Let me begin by amplifying comments we just heard about the unfortunate application of the guillotine of time allocation and shutting down debate at second reading of this hugely consequential bill.
As I said in this place an hour ago, I understand that from time to time governments must use time allocation in Parliament to address critical urgent issues, such as back-to-work legislation and national emergencies, and to prevent opposition filibusters from unreasonably stalling the government's legislative agenda. I understand that, but this is a different kind of issue. This issue is different in kind but not in degree from those normal prudential matters with which this House normally deals.
Let us be clear, the bill authorizes the taking of human life. I would argue, there is no greater power that could be exercised by this legislature than the authorization of the taking of human life.
That is why there is an ancient convention in this and other Westminster-style parliaments, other democratic legislatures, that on such matters of the most profound moral conscience two conventions apply: first, that all members should vote freely; and second, that all members should be able to speak freely.
Here we have a government that, based on media reports, was very close to violating the first one of those conventions in seeking to whip its own members to vote on this matter of moral conscience, and now we have a government that is violating the second ancient Westminster democratic convention, empowering members to speak their conscience, to reflect the convictions of their constituents, on a matter that could not be more grave.
We will hear lots of political noise about different governments that have used time allocation, but I hearken back to 1969 in this place when the father of the current Prime Minister brought forward the omnibus justice legislation that touched on very profound moral questions, including abortion, and there was no application of time allocation.
I hearken back to 1976. In the free vote and debate in this place on capital punishment, there was no limitation of debate. I reflect back to the difficult debates in this place in 1988 and 1989 about unborn human life, and again, no application of time allocation. Indeed, I believe when the former Liberal government brought forward the Civil Marriage Act in 2005, a matter of profound moral conscience, although perhaps not as grave in terms of human life, it was also unrestricted in terms of debate.
I want to put down that marker that we are crossing two Rubicons here today: first, in violating these ancient parliamentary conventions; and second, in authorizing the taking of human life.
On the substance of the matter, let me first reflect. We throw around a lot of terms here euphemistically, and whenever one hears the application of euphemistic language to matters as grave as the taking of human life, one should be concerned.
We need only reflect on the history of the 20th century, what Saint John Paul II referred to as the century of tears, the century when the taking of human life became industrialized. In fact, we mark today Yom HaShoah when we recall the sacred memory of the six million European Jews lost in the Holocaust, following the euphemistic application of language to dehumanize the Jewish people.
Aldous Huxley, the great British novelist in his novel Brave New World, in 1932, gave us a perfect depiction of what the euphemistic application of language to life and death questions can result in: the normalization, the banalization of the taking of human life.
I believe we see that in the very title of this bill. What was commonly known in the English language for centuries as euthanasia is referred to in this bill with the euphemistic phrase, “physician-assisted dying”.
First let me challenge that, so we understand the nature of this debate. Dying is a passive exercise and killing is an active exercise. When we use the word killing, it is bracing and disturbing. It should be so, because the administration of a drug or other medical means purposely to end human life is an act of volition. In the language of formal ethics, it is the teleological of that; the end purpose of the administration of that poison, that life-ending medical intervention, is to end life. In literal terms, it is a decision to kill.
However, that is radically different from assisting people in dying, which palliative care practitioners do with great dignity every single day. Let us not begin this debate in confusing these two radically different moral concepts.
When I was in university in San Francisco nearly 30 years ago, I volunteered occasionally at a hospice established by Mother Teresa's Missionaries of Charity, primarily to assist men dying from complications as a result of HIV and AIDS. I saw the incredible, authentic compassion demonstrated by those women and palliative care practitioners in assisting in the death of those individuals. They were not seeking to hasten death. They were not seeking to end the lives of those in their care. They were seeking to comfort them.
To address another euphemistic abuse of language, we often hear the term compassion thrown about here. We all want to be compassionate. We all want to empathize with those who are facing pain at the end of their lives. However, that same Mother Teresa who established that hospice, and dozens of others around the world, reminded us that the etymological root of the word compassion comes from the Latin words com and passio, meaning to suffer with.
I would argue that presenting people with the idea of ending their lives is not to suffer with them, as palliative care practitioners and compassionate family members do every day. We must stand by them in legislation and programs, and provinces must, through their health care programs. If one good can come from this debate, I hope it will be a radical improvement in the entire field of palliative care.
However, we have heard from palliative care practitioners and from physicians who are so concerned by the implications of this bill that they are prepared to withdraw from the field of palliative care. I would ask us to proceed with great caution, which indeed reflects the ancient moral consensus of western civilization, dating all the way back to the 5th century BC. In the Hippocratic oath, Hippocrates said:
I will use treatment to help the sick according to my ability and judgment, but never with a view to injury and wrong-doing. Neither will I administer a poison to anybody when asked to do so, nor will I suggest such a course.
There is great wisdom in that oath, which has been taken by physicians for millennia in the western tradition. I submit that we should not lightly disregard that great received wisdom, and I am profoundly concerned that the exceptions to the exceptions found in this legislation are radically inadequate to ensure a proper protection of the vulnerable, to ensure authentic compassion, and to ensure that we really do aid people in dying rather than presenting them with the slippery slope of killing.