Dean Speaks to Bill C-14: Physician Assisted Dying
Mr. Dean Allison (Niagara West, CPC): Mr. Speaker, before I get started, I want to congratulate my colleagues who sat on this committee. When legislation like this comes before us, we always sit long hours. I certainly want to thank the members of the Conservative party for the dissenting report. It was great to see at least some of those ideas were worked upon in the legislation.
This House finds itself in a position where we must pass an effective regulatory framework to make way for medically assisted suicide. I am rising today to help ensure that this new framework respects the charter rights of physicians and patients alike. It is my fear that the proposals put forward by the government in an attempt to bring our laws in line with the charter may in fact do the opposite.
I believe there is a potential to break with the charter by not effectively protecting the rights of physicians to practice according to their freedom of religion and conscience.
Additionally, I fear that the government’s promise to revisit this legislation in a few years simply gives it an opportunity to further expand it.
As a member of the opposition party, I feel compelled to warn the House of what I fear may happen if the bill is passed in its current form. I believe that decisions such as this can inevitably lead down a slippery slope.
While the government has chosen to forego many of the more contentious recommendations made by the special committee, Liberal and NDP members of that committee clearly felt confident in the recommendations. This leads me to believe that in time this law will be expanded even further to include those measures.
The Supreme Court was quite clear in its ruling. Access to assisted suicide was to be limited to:
|…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.
I am happy to see that the government has listened to some of the recommendations made by my hon. colleagues in their dissenting report. In that report they referenced a system currently used in Quebec where only patients aged 18 and older with severe, incurable physical illnesses and who medical condition is characterized by an advanced and irreversible decline can request medical help to die.
Furthermore, in Quebec, the attending physician must ensure that his or her patient has clearly consented to physician-assisted suicide, ensuring, among other things, that it was not the result of external pressure, while also providing the patient with a full prognosis on the condition and possible treatment options along with the likely consequences.
Quebec physicians are free to act according to their conscience. If they do not want to proceed, they must refer the patient to an independent body, which will contact another physician. Two independent physicians must confirm that the patient meets all the criteria prescribed by the legislation.
Keep in mind the Quebec system and considering the irreversibility of assisted suicide, we must acknowledge that the realities of this practice as a form of treatment, it permanently ends a human life. As such, we must exercise great caution to ensure that there are effective safeguards against any abuse of the system.
I understand that the Minister of Health has said that physicians cannot be prosecuted under the bill for failing to comply with a patient’s desire to end their life. The absence of any specific mention of this in the legislation that was brought forward is troubling.
Without a specific reference to the rights of physicians to act according to their conscience, I believe it will not be long before doctors are facing lawsuits for failure to comply with a patient who wishes to die.
Again, while I am glad to see that the government has decided not to include certain recommendations the committee made, I feel it is necessary that I voice my objections to them before the government decides to add them at a future date.
I am doing this because my constituents are very concerned about this issue. I received dozens of letters and calls from people in my riding, and they all want me to warn of the consequences that opening this door may bring.
I will touch on some of the most at risk parts of society as far as assisted suicide is concerned, namely the young, the elderly and those who suffer from mental illness.
In the preamble to the bill the government said that it would leave the door open for non-legislative measures involving requests for assisted suicide from “mature minors, advance requests and requests where mental illness is the sole underlying medical condition”. This is where I take the most issue with this bill.
What the Liberals call “mature minors” are people who are not allowed to buy alcohol or vote and people who are subject to a different set of criminal standards than adults.
The Government of Canada has, for many decades, been of the opinion that while all citizens are entitled to their constitutional rights, there are what we call reasonable limits on certain rights.
What I mean by this is that the rights of an individual stop when they directly conflict with the rights of another. Therefore there is no primacy of one constitutional right over another.
Now that the right to assisted suicide has been added to that list, I believe it should not now, or in the future, be made available to minors. When setting the voting age or creating the Youth Criminal Justice Act, governments created a different system for people who are not yet adults. The rationale for these differences comes from the medically-accepted fact that the human brain is not fully developed until around the age of 18.
With respect to the possibility of providing assisted suicide to requests where mental illness is the sole underlying medical condition, I have two points: first, the Supreme Court did not mention mental illness in its ruling; and, second, the court said that individuals seeking assisted suicide must be fully competent.
To that point, I would ask the government this. When a predisposition toward suicide is often a side effect of mental illness, how are doctors supposed to decide when the decision to die is the true wish of the patient or merely the effect of their condition? And is this the decision we really want to force upon our doctors?
Another group of individuals that I fear may be exploited as part of this system is the elderly.
Elder abuse is already a well-known problem in Canada and, no matter what actions the government takes, it is difficult to stop it entirely. The inevitable consequences of access to assisted suicide is that the elderly have been put at risk of being exploited.
In jurisdictions where assisted suicide is legal, there have been cases of elderly people seeking the service because they feel that they have become a burden to their family or to society.
There have been even worse examples, like situations where the elderly person’s own family has pressured them into seeking out assisted suicide.
We cannot allow this to become a feature of the system.
What we do need to do is to help our elderly folks, providing them with a better of system of palliative care.
During last year’s election, the Liberals promised to invest $3 billion on new palliative care. However, when the budget was released, there was nothing.
I know that a number of my colleagues have raised this in other speeches, so I will not get it into in any greater detail.
However, this is part of a broad theme of the Liberals breaking campaign promises during their high-spending agenda in many other areas.
Earlier, I spoke of my fears that the rights of doctors to operate according to their own conscience and religious convictions may be supplanted with this new right the Supreme Court has granted.
I have seen arguments from people who say that doctors should have no right to deny such treatment; especially. if they are working in isolated areas.
To those people, I would say that we all have constitutionally-protected rights, and one of those rights is that of the individual to practise their religion, unhindered by the government. Each major religion in Canada disapproves of suicide, in one way or another. Many of our doctors subscribe to and conduct themselves according to these religious beliefs. We cannot allow the rights of assisted suicide to replace the rights to practise one’s religion or to follow one’s conscience.
I just want to add that I have had a number of religious nursing homes from my riding, Grimsby, Vineland, Mennonite, saying “What happens if the doctors refuse? Does it now fall on us as an institution to try to carry out their wills?”
These are some of the things that I think need further discussion.
We, as parliamentarians, must ensure that the proper safeguards are in place to prevent exploitation of the system. That is why I join with my colleagues on this side of the aisle in cautioning against moving too fast and too far on this issue.
Our goal, first and foremost, should not be to extend assisted suicide to patients, but to protect patients from it.
By this, I mean a strong regulatory regime is required–one that would ensure only those with incurable diseases and unconscionable suffering are granted access to this treatment.
We cannot make this a common form of treatment. It must be the absolute last resort.
This is by far the number one reason my constituents have written to my office in recent days. I tell them what I am saying right now.
We cannot allow the system to become the norm; we must ensure that the first priority of this legislation is to protect human life; we cannot allow minors, whether mature or not, access to a system that ensures they have no future; we need to partner with the provinces and tackle mental illness rather than making suicide a more valid alternative; and we need to further that partnership to support palliative care.
I know that I am very fortunate. In Grimsby, we have the McNally House Hospice, which is well-sponsored and well looked after in the community, and I know that in the greater region of Niagara we have a number of facilities which people support in a big way–I realize that is not what every community has in this country, and I believe that is very important–which will give access to late-in-life care to more elderly members of society; therefore, reducing the risks of elder abuse.
We must, above all else, treat this issue with the same care we would expect our doctors to provide us with.