The Conservative Party urged the Liberal government to amend a bill on medically assisted dying to ensure safeguard measures were in place and give more attention to palliative care.
During the Dec. 2 debate in the House of Commons, Opposition leader Erin O’Toole exchanged arguments with Prime Minister Justin Trudeau on the provisions to government Bill C-7, an Act to amend the Criminal Code with respect to the medical assistance in dying (MAID). The debate on the bill continues as the court-imposed deadline of Dec. 18 approaches.
“Medical assistance in dying is a difficult, complex, and deeply personal issue. We reintroduced legislation that we believe strikes the right balance between upholding rights and protecting our most vulnerable,” said Trudeau.
“The approach is meant to ensure people who are suffering unbearable pain have the choice of a peaceful death. The proposed legislation contains revised safeguards to protect vulnerable persons from pressure and coercion, and to ensure that medical assistance in dying is always an informed and voluntary choice.”
But O’Toole said that many still have concerns about the bill, including Carla Qualtrough, the Minister of Employment, Workforce Development and Disability Inclusion. Qualtrough was questioned on Bill C-7 in a Senate hearing on Nov. 26.
“C-7 doesn’t strike the right balance, and in fact, those diverse voices that the prime minister has been talking about have said that, disability groups, indigenous advocates, physicians,” said O’Toole. “I want the prime minister to heed the advice of so many Canadians, let’s make the changes to protect the most vulnerable in medical assistance in dying.”
Marilyn Gladu, MP for Sarnia-Lambton, expressed the Conservatives’ concerns for the bills insufficient safeguard mechanism and explained their plans for amendment.
“I was disappointed … that this government would prioritize the expanding medical assistance in dying without the Supreme Court’s input, without putting the provision of palliative care in place, just seems to be the wrong priority.”
“Let’s let people live as well as they can, for as long as they can, instead of encouraging them to die. We as Canadians want to be compassionate,” she added.
In February 2015, the Supreme Court ruled in the Carter v. Canada case for a change in the Criminal Code allowing Canadian above 18 years of age to seek medical assistance in dying. The case led to the passing of Bill C-14, the predecessor of Bill C-7, in June 2016.
However, Gladu noted that a provision in Bill C-14 requested a mandatory legislative review to take place after 5 years, so as to examine whether the regulations set out were followed and had met the intended purposes—a task that the Liberal government has failed to do.
“This was a perfect opportunity for the government to actually go and do that work, because we’ve heard anecdotally of many cases across Canada where the existing rules are not being followed, the existing safeguards have not been followed,” said Gladu.
In addition, the Conservatives are seeking to reintroduce a previously removed 10-day safeguard, which gives MAID applicants time to reflect on their decisions.
“Without this 10-day reflection period, there is absolutely no time requirements, there is an assessment that has to take place, but there is no time-limit on that. There is no legislative limit on how quickly a person can go through this process without that reflection period, and that created a possibility of very quick turnaround time, someone not having the opportunity to reflect and really consider what their situation is,” said Garnett Genuis, MP for Sherwood Park-Fort Saskatchewan.
Gladu also said that there have been cases of medical personnel forced to make referrals to MAID, which is a violation of Canadians’ conscience rights.
“People who don’t want to participate in medical assistance in dying for religious reasons, or for personal reasons of conscience, that’s their Charter rights, and that means they don’t want to participate in the Act, and they don’t want to refer, they don’t want to have anything to do with it,” said Gladu. “In Ontario, they are forcing medical people to at least refer, that’s still a violation of their conscience rights.”
“When I asked these questions, parliamentary secretary to the minister of justice said ‘no, there is plenty of safeguards in there, that’s ok.’ No, that’s not ok. There are still violating rights of conscience, and I think that needs to be addressed as well,” she added.
Roughly 1,100 Canadian doctors across the country have signed an open letter voicing opposition against Bill C-7.
“This is a question literally of life and death for Canadians,” said Damien Kurek, MP for Battle River-Crowfoot. “Parliament has to get this right, it has to be wholesomely debated and to ensure that we are able to get that balance struck appropriately.”