Mr. Speaker, I recently celebrated one year since I became an MP. In my role, I have had the incredible opportunity to learn every day. I listen to people, organizations and advocates, and the discussion around medical assistance in dying is truly about listening. Today I will add my voice to an issue that affects us all.
Talking about death and dying is still taboo in our society, yet each of us must face it, not only for ourselves, but also for the ones we love. This conversation does not come easily, but for those whose time is closer than others, we owe it to them to listen and to act in passing this bill.
The debate on Bill C-7 has been passionate, emotional and raw, and rightly so. I wish to congratulate and offer my gratitude to each member of the House for their efforts on behalf of their constituents, family members and friends. Each of us has been speaking with our community members to learn their thoughts and hear their stories. Human agency has been on display, and the speeches before the House have shown professionalism and integrity, with a deep commitment to the fundamental rights of Canadians.
Sometimes we need a reminder that our constitution is a beautiful thing. It is the crux of why I am so proud to be Canadian, and why I feel so honoured to have the privilege to defend and uphold the Charter of Rights and Freedoms.
I remember first learning in depth about the charter as a grade 11 student. I remember the way it made me feel, the way it made me think about our lives and our interactions with one another, and the empowerment that it brought into focus. It was right around this time that I knew I wanted to some day to be involved in politics. While that seems like ages ago, it was only recently I learned about the urgency in amending our laws specifically concerning the issues within the legislation on medical assistance in dying and how it interacts with the charter.
I sat with it, without lived experience, and I thought of many what-if situations. I thought of the various scenarios and scary predicaments I would not want to face out of the risk of overstepping constitutional rights, if mistakes were made. I heard some of these same concerns from many stakeholders, from those who are concerned about how this would impact people living with disabilities or with suicidal ideation. I have listened to those concerns, and filtered this legislation through those important lenses. While I know some of these people may still disagree with me, I want them to know that I am confident this legislation strikes a balance and it will not have the impact they fear.
I also sought out opportunities to speak to individuals who had a personal connection to this legislation, and as it turns out, many people are willing to discuss their wish for dignity in dying, as well as their concerns about the current process and these proposed amendments. These individuals shared with me their efforts to pursue their right to bodily autonomy in their final moments on earth. In the powerful conversations I have had, the specific issues of advance requests and mental competency, as well as the discretionary role of a foreseeable death, were the exact hurdles to the peace of mind that would come from having control over their own death and final control over the pain.
There are Canadians right now who are suffering intolerably and enduringly. They already have do-not-resuscitate orders. They have made final wills and testaments, and have pre-paid for funeral arrangements. They have demonstrated their competence in preparing for death. They should be trusted to make a decision about the nature of their own death as well. If we rob them of this opportunity, then we have failed them. We have allowed our laws to overstep into bodily integrity and autonomy, an infringement of our protected right to security of the person.
I also want to address the language of “assisted suicide” and “euthanasia”. Our words are important, and it is important to remember that this bill is to amend a bill on medical assistance in dying. We know that a medical prognosis is the safeguard. It is the authoritative layer that protects individuals who are vulnerable.
The reality of the situation facing real Canadians is that co-occurring mental and physical illness is extremely common and should not be a barrier to anyone’s right to bodily autonomy at the end of their life. Severe depression often accompanies other medical illnesses, and has a high rate of occurrence among persons with disabilities. As a further example, an individual may be bipolar and later develop terminal cancer. This pre-existing condition, likely to flare up in such a stressful time, cannot be the reason to deny the will of an individual to determine their final moments.
In conclusion, I remain firm that mental illness in Canada requires rapid access to effective mental health services, including in-person counselling and access to psychiatrists where necessary, as well as wraparound community supports. We also need to set national standards for long-term care to ensure that the facilities intended to house older adults are providing a quality of life that keeps them healthy and active throughout their later years, and we need to invest in robust palliative care to ensure there is dignity in living, even through those final difficult days.
I think of Hospice Fredericton and the peaceful, beautiful experience people and their families have in that environment. The option to welcome death peacefully should be an option for those who want it. We must also value and listen to Canadians with disabilities and their advocates. We can do all of these things and still pass this bill.
I do not believe that MAID introduces the risk that some patients will be forced to receive this procedure against their wishes. There are preventive measures capable of eliminating this risk. I do believe that my duty to uphold the Charter of Rights and Freedoms means passing legislation like this to uphold security of the person for all Canadians at all moments during their lives.
I will be proudly voting for this legislation. This is about justice. It is about empathy. It is about choosing to respect one’s wishes and not interfering in that decision. It is about giving peace of mind to people, so the final chapter in their lives can be written in confidence, and their story can be concluded according to their own volition.