Excerpts from a speech in the House of Commons by Kamloops-Thompson-Cariboo MP Cathy McLeod this week.
IN THE HOUSE — It is a privilege to rise today to speak to the Supreme Court of Canada’s decision regarding physician-assisted dying.
As we all know, end-of-life issues are deeply emotional. Questions about how our family and loved ones hope to go through their final days will not be answered easily. However, anyone who has had to support a family member during a difficult time will understand that these conversations are essential to respecting the wishes of our loved ones and ensuring that we all have dignity in our final days.
We also know from recent polls and media coverage that this is not an academic topic. Canadians are having these discussions around the dinner table, and it is important that government is equally engaged. Despite the differences Canadians experience in their respective lives, be it the jobs they have held, the lifestyle they have chosen to adopt or the contributions they have made to society, all people ultimately have one thing in common; this being that we will eventually face the end of life.
Given advances in modern medicine and care practices and the fact that we are living longer lives, the reality around this experience has changed. In the past, when deaths resulted from serious or contagious diseases, accidents or otherwise natural causes, many Canadians died in their own homes in the midst of their family and community members. Now Canadians more typically spend their last days in the clinical environment of hospitals, often after a long and arduous course of battling debilitating illnesses, disease or coping with chronic conditions.
Those who are in need of palliative and end-of-life care and who are admitted into hospital settings often find themselves surrounded by medical professionals, strangers who strive to provide the best care even when death is imminent. In such cases, people are provided with very well-meaning care, but there may be little that can be done to make patients more comfortable near their lives. These situations are distressing for both the patients and the families.
That leads me to the Supreme Court of Canada’s decision. I will quote from its conclusion, which states:
…prohibit physician-assisted death for a competent adult person who…clearly consents to the termination of life and…has a grievous and irremediable medical condition (including an illness, disease or disability) that causes enduring suffering that is intolerable to the individual in the circumstances of his or her condition.
It is important to reflect a bit in terms of those different pieces, which I know some people who have already spoken have done. When we hear that 80% of people actually support this measure, I really think they do not understand the full scope and if they did understand it, they might have a different perspective.
I thought this was well said, when Andrew Coyne stated:
When most people think of assisted suicide…they have in mind not only a competent adult, capable of giving consent, but someone suffering unbearable physical pain and in the last stages of a terminal disease, for whom suicide is no more than a way to hasten an end that is already both inevitable and near.
He goes on to say:
First, it is clear from the ruling that the “enduring and intolerable suffering”…is not limited to physical pain, but also psychological pain—which, besides being a murkier concept by far, raises the question of how competent the subject really is. Nor is suffering defined further: it is enough that it is intolerable “to the individual.”
Second, nothing in the words “grievous and irremediable medical condition,” the court’s other requirement for the exercise of this right, suggests that death is near, or even likely.
Certainly many people share that perspective with respect to people who are near their end of life. However, I have heard many concerns with respect to the comments “intolerable psychological pain.” The disability associations have spoken to this very articulately. We must also look at other countries, such as Belgium, where I understand assisted suicide is now provided to children. Those comments tell me that we have to be incredibly careful in how we craft the legislation.
It is important to look at the concerns I have regarding this motion.
The first and most obvious concern is the timeframe. The leader of the third party stood up in the House and talked about how Quebec took four and a half years to craft its legislation. It took an important length of time for Quebec to get it right. As well, it took the Supreme Court of Canada well over a year just to strike down the legislation.
Crafting careful legislation will require important conversations. My colleague talked about the special committee on missing and murdered women and girls. It is important to recognize that the committee was struck for 12 months, yet it still required an extension to complete its work. It is also important to note that it was through a unanimous motion put forward by the Liberals, which we supported. However, when we got into the special committee structure that they had presented, they soon realized that there was a real flaw in terms of a special committee’s structure. We needed the Native Women’s Association of Canada to be an equal partner at the table, but through the unanimous motion of the House they had not struck a committee that allowed for the important partners to play a role in that
The Liberals like to use that as an example, but there were some important flaws in how that process moved forward.
One obvious partner that I see missing in this is the Canadian Medical Association. It is going to be, and must be, intimately involved in terms of the kind of legislation that ultimately comes out.
Those are my concerns with the timeframe.
We know that there will ultimately be a committee structure to deal with this particular issue, but more importantly, how many of our 308 members of Parliament will get to sit on such a special committee? There will be only 12. Therefore, all 308 members of Parliament have a responsibility right now to be talking with groups and individuals in their communities. If every single member does not send a letter to the Minister of Justice outlining the consultations they have had, they are, in my opinion, not doing the job properly.
We do have a critical job ahead of us. We have to get it right.