Mr. Speaker, I rise today to speak to a bill which I never anticipated would be presented to this chamber. Bill C 14 facing us now is deceptively called medical assistance in dying, yet it has nothing to do with medical assistance. Nothing could be further from the truth.
Medical assistance is what palliative care doctors provide to their patients in their closing days of life. These doctors make their patients as comfortable as possible. They affirm life by capably managing pain and other distressing symptoms, such as depression, and they regard dying as a normal process. These medical professionals ensure that people die with dignity where their life is valued and respected. Medical assistance in dying has nothing to do with killing people.
Bill C 14 is not about medical assistance in dying; it is about making it legal for a doctor or other medical assistant to kill their patient, or alternatively the doctor or medical assistant will be able to assist their patients to kill themselves. As Cardinal Thomas Collins from Toronto recently said, the fact that we have to call it medical assistance in dying shows that there’s something wrong. Why don’t we call it what it is, killing?
Canadians are probably more familiar with the terms used in other jurisdictions: euthanasia and assisted suicide. Even those terms would be better than the misleading language used by the Trudeau government, which only serves to cloud the issue and prevents people from understanding what is really going on. Why are we trying to make it pretty and serene when the reality is quite heartless and ugly?
We are creating a category of legal homicide. If any of my fellow senators think this is an exaggeration, then they clearly do not understand the legislation. This law amends the section of the Criminal Code which comes under the title “homicide.” Section 222(1) of the criminal code says a person commits homicide when directly or indirectly, by any means, he causes the death of a human being.
Bill C 14 amends the Criminal Code section defining what constitutes homicide. We are creating a category of legal homicide and no one can deny that fact. Mr. Speaker, personally, I am morally opposed to homicide, any homicide, even legal homicide.
I and many other Canadians have a real problem with killing people, even if they want to be killed, and to call that medical assistance in dying is not only misleading, I find it reprehensible.
In fact, in my readings and discussions with other Canadians, I have become aware that many people support this law because they think it is necessary to prevent people from having to suffer a painful, agonizing death. This simply is not true. The fact is we already have reliable medical methods of controlling pain. We have medical experts who focus their entire practice on pain management and are able to effectively eliminate or minimize pain for those who could otherwise suffer terribly.
As a last resort, physicians can use palliative sedation to relieve pain, severe pain. Through the administration of a palliative sedation, a state of decreased awareness or even unconsciousness is induced at the end of life. Palliative sedation relieves what could otherwise be intolerable suffering for terminally ill patients and does so in a manner that is respectful of the patient, family, friends and the medical profession.
How many people do you know, Mr. Speaker, who had to suffer through terrible pain during a medical operation? How many people do you know who were placed on an operating table and had the anguishing experience of the pain that resulted during that operation?
My guess is none. Why? Because we sedate people so they don’t have to experience pain. This is a common everyday practice called anaesthesia, generally performed by anaesthesiologists, every day in hospitals around the globe; yet for reasons unknown, some people want us to believe that sedation is not available to people who are suffering from an incurable illness or disability.
This is just one example of misinformation that has been spread about the need for euthanasia. I believe that people have been duped, through a false compassion, to believe that euthanasia is merciful and compassionate. Nothing could be further from the truth.
Your Honour, I wish we had more time to discuss this issue with Canadians because, frankly, I believe that the more Canadians learn about this, the less they like it. Recent polls do suggest a drop in support for euthanasia, but I won’t cite the polls at this time.
If Canadians were given more time to become better informed on the issue, I believe that we could continue to see support drop even further.
What we really should be doing is invoking the notwithstanding clause in the Charter of Rights and Freedoms to give Canadians and parliamentarians more time to deal with this properly. Legislation such as this should never be so rushed.
If the government is as concerned as they say they are about getting the bill passed before the court imposed deadline of June 6, that option is available to them in the Charter of Rights and Freedoms.
However, I’m fully aware that the political courage and conviction of our current leader to take this initiative simply does not exist. Instead, the opinions of nine unelected people are allowed to compel the other 36 million to go in a direction they may not want to go.
Never mind that the Supreme Court made the exact opposite decision a little over two decades ago. They overturned their earlier judgment with the Carter decision, which was brought forward by three people.
Don’t misunderstand me. The Charter belongs to the people, and the people should be properly informed and properly consulted before such radical shifts in public policy are implemented. This takes time, and by refusing to invoke the notwithstanding clause, we have taken that opportunity from Canadians and robbed them of a fundamental democratic right.
Since it is apparent that we will not properly consult with Canadians, it is imperative that we at least ensure that Bill C 14 contains effective safeguards.
Now, I know that some of my colleagues are very ambitious to throw the doors open as wide as possible. I disagree. The Supreme Court did not create a blanket right to physician assisted suicide as has already been explained here many times earlier. Rather, they said that the current law infringes on the rights to life, liberty and security of the person in very specific situations where very detailed criteria are met.
Our responsibility is to limit the harm of this terrible bill. It is significant that the Supreme Court did not strike down section 241(b), aiding or abetting suicide, and section 14, consenting to death. Rather, it declared the sections of the Criminal Code which prohibit assisting suicide to be invalid only when specific criteria are met.
It is clear that the court intended to limit access to physician assisted dying in order to “balance competing values of great importance.”
The Supreme Court cautioned parliamentarians, noting that vulnerable people must be protected through a “carefully designed system imposing stringent limits that are scrupulously monitored and enforced.” They also state that “nothing in the declaration of invalidity which we propose to issue would compel physicians to provide assistance in dying.”
All of these factors must be taken into consideration to ensure that the amended law neither violates the Charter of Rights nor endangers vulnerable persons.
Honourable senators, the recommendations of the joint House of Commons and Senate committee’s report spectacularly failed to do this. Canadians themselves read, understood and repudiated the report’s recommendations in numerous polls. This time, we as parliamentarians must do better, but we have a lot of work to do.
This proposed legislation dodges difficult questions and defers them to the future. At first it looks like the legislation pulls back from the radical suggestions made by the Special Joint Committee on Physician Assisted Dying, but when you take a closer look, you see that the government has circled back and is leaving the doors wide open.
I would suggest that we start with two things: Number one, palliative care. Palliative care intends neither to hasten nor to postpone death. It integrates the physical, psychological and spiritual aspects of patient care. It offers a support system to help patients live as actively as possible until natural death, and it is applicable in the early course of illness in conjunction with other therapies intended to prolong life, such as chemotherapy or radiation.
According to the Canadian Hospice Palliative Care Association, only 16 to 30 per cent of Canadians who die currently have access to or receive hospice, palliative care and end of life care services depending on where they live in Canada. Even fewer receive grief and bereavement services.
We must, in clear conscience, ensure that palliative care is offered and available to patients before granting medical assistance in dying. It would be unconscionable to provide access to medical assistance in dying if we have not first provided medical assistance for living.
There is broad support for palliative care. We need to translate this into a legislated requirement rather than leaving it as simply a nice idea.
If we truly believe palliative care is important and that true choice requires options, then the legislation must reflect this by legislating that anyone requesting euthanasia or assisted suicide first must be informed of and offered any medically necessary treatment, including palliative care.
People do have the right to refuse, but we have the obligation to guarantee that it is offered. You cannot deny there is something terribly wrong if a government does more to guarantee that the living can die than to ensure that the dying can live.
Number two, conscience rights. The legislation does not go far enough to ensure that the conscience rights of individuals in institutions are protected.
Although the bill provides some soft reassurance, there is nothing in the act that affects the guarantee of freedom of conscience and religion. It fails on two counts.
Firstly, it does not protect individuals who could be placed under an obligation or sanction by their employer or professional association. More rigorous language was used to protect conscience rights in the Civil Marriage Act and should be utilized here as well.
Secondly, it does not protect institutions from being compelled to perform physician assisted dying within their facilities.
There are many faith based and secular hospitals, as well as palliative care facilities, which do not want to participate in these procedures, and I had visits from a few.
No other jurisdiction in the world that has legalized euthanasia or assisted killing forces doctors, health care workers or health care facilities to act against their conscience on this issue. Why would Canada want to be first?
Conscience rights must be protected in the legislation the same way that they were in the Civil Marriage Act. It would be a tragedy to implement the protection of one Charter right while trampling on other Charter rights. We need to get it right. Both issues, palliative care and conscience rights, deserve much more debate and discussion than I or any of us can speak about today.
In closing, I believe I have made it clear that I am morally opposed to allowing physicians, nurses or any other medical assistants kill or provide assistance in self homicide under any circumstances.
In countries that have passed such laws, the slippery slope, as we’re hearing, is very real. If we will not invoke the notwithstanding clause, then we are compelled to ensure that this legislation includes stringent safeguards and strong protections of conscience rights. On behalf of 36 million Canadians, we have a great responsibility and we cannot let them down.