Mr. Speaker, when I last rose in the House to speak to the matter of physician-assisted death in 2016, I noted that the legislation then before us, Bill C-14, was neither the alpha nor the omega in the continuing conversations on the topic that Canadians have had for decades.
The Supreme Court had forced that legislative moment on reluctant politicians with the Carter decision, although the conversation had been simmering across society from the last century into this one.
However, in 2016, Bill C-14 brought us nowhere near where the Supreme Court had ruled Parliament must go. It was an interim step. It was a very cautious first step that was driven home with the Truchon-Gladu ruling in Quebec, which ordered that a class of people denied eligibility for medical assistance in dying by Bill C-14 were indeed entitled to access medical assistance in accordance with the Carter ruling.
The legislation before us now, Bill C-7, as amended in committee, under-amended I believe, and I will get to that in a moment, goes considerably beyond Truchon-Gladu. That said, the past five years of medically assisted death has brought Canadian society to a much more accepting place than in 2016; that increased acceptance of the practice justifies the additional provisions included in Bill C-7.
To my point that Bill C-7 was under-amended by the justice committee, the Conservatives hold that, for a variety of reasons, not least of which the WE scandal prorogation that wasted six valuable weeks in the summer, Bill C-7 has been indecently rushed through committee with not nearly adequate consultation. In the shadow of time allocation, signalled by the Liberal House leader last Thursday, it seems it will be denied adequate debate now during report stage.
This flawed process makes even more important the separate full and comprehensive parliamentary review of medically assisted death demanded by Bill C-14.
At committee, the Conservatives proposed nine amendments to better protect vulnerable groups, reasonable amendments, all rejected by the Liberals, but amendments which I hope Senate colleagues will consider in the upper house. I say that with some expectation of that actually happening as a result of testimony before the Senate's legal affairs committee last week by the Minister of Employment, Workforce Development and Disability Inclusion. In fact, the minister endorsed exactly the same point as was proposed by one of the Conservative amendments, which was voted down by Liberal members of the House justice committee. She said, unambiguously, that health practitioners should not be allowed to discuss the issue of assisted dying until a patient asked.
Admittedly, this is a particularly difficult issue and one of context. I understand why anyone, but particularly a person with disabilities might feel improperly, even terrifyingly pressured, depending on how the matter is raised by a doctor. There is quite a difference between a physician informing of a range of choices facing a seriously ill patient and directly recommending assisted death.
The Canadian Nurses Association advised the Senate committee that the law should explicitly allow doctors to raise the issue with patients, as did the Canadian Association of Medical Assistance in Death Assessors and Providers. Dr. Stefanie Green told the committee that it would be unprofessional not to lay all the options on the table. I am sure we will all follow Senate dealings on this question very closely.
The disability inclusion minister testified as well before the Senate committee that she was open to considering an amendment to Bill C-7 that would impose a 12-month sunset clause on the proposed ban on individuals suffering solely from mental illnesses to seek an assisted death. Legal experts have made it abundantly clear that if that clause remains in Bill C-7, it is destined, almost certainly, to return to the Supreme Court where it will almost certainly be found to be unconstitutional. This is another consideration to watch closely.
Over the years since Bill C-14 was passed, and now as Bill C-7 is being rushed to law, a dark cloud has hung over discussion and debate, and that is the government's still unkept promise, a broken promise actually, to better provide choice, a meaningful alternative to physician-assisted death.
In 2015, the Liberals made a campaign commitment to invest $3 billion in long-term care, including palliative care. In fact, the importance of access to palliative care and end-of-life decision-making was one of the few unanimous points of agreement in the special joint committee's report to Parliament in February, 2016.
The government promised to expand the availability of accessible, affordable, acceptable palliative care for all those who for reason of conscience, faith or choice decided not to avail themselves of physician-assisted death. The Liberals' inconsistency in the matter of choice in other circumstances aside, this is a promise that must be fulfilled. It is essential that hospice and palliative care capacity in the country be vastly expanded to provide for those who would choose a meaningful alternative to MAID.
As I said in the House four years ago, my personal decision, which will determine my vote on this legislation, is a product of three individuals and their experiences and my own.
In my previous life as a journalist, I followed closely the unsuccessful legal crusade of Sue Rodriguez, as ALS steadily increased its smothering, deadly grip on her. I was seized by her rhetorical question posed to all Canadians, “If I cannot give consent to my own death, whose body is this? Who owns my life?”
When I first came to Parliament 12 years ago, I became close to another thoughtful, courageous Canadian, a fellow MP, the Hon. Steven Fletcher, Canada's first quadriplegic MP, re-elected three times. Steven did not give up after a life-changing accident. He met immense challenges and he overcame them.
However, in two private members' bills tabled several years ago, which I seconded, and in testimony before the justice committee in January 2016, Steven made a powerfully convincing argument for self-determination to one day make a final decision. Steven argued for a law by which an individual could make one's own decision based on one's own morals and ethics, but under guarantee there would be no pressure on that person from society, family, friends, or the facility in which he or she might be.
I was also powerfully persuaded by the tragically tortuous passing of my brother-in-law, a brilliant academic, by Alzheimer's. I informed the House during debate on Bill C-14 that should such an end one day face me, I would surely compose an advance directive and that one way or the other it would be fulfilled.
Finally, as a cancer survivor, I have had many hours of reflection during treatment and since to personally ponder the issues involved in medically assisted death and Sue Rodriguez' quite powerful rhetorical question: Who owns my life?
I am honoured to participate in this debate on Bill C-7 as I was with Bill C-14. Bill C-7 would correct the major deficiencies of the original legislation, but it is still deficient. Whatever happens in the Senate, I hope the parliamentary review, which should have occurred before consideration and passage of Bill C-7, will now more thoroughly examine this evolving law and properly lead to eventual amendments, chief among them measures to better ensure protection of Canada's most vulnerable.