Our elected Members of Parliament will vote this evening on Bill C-384, the “Right to Die with Dignity” bill proposed by Bloq MP Francine Lalonde. This vote will decide whether the bill is suitable to move to the next stage in Parliamentary procedure: the committee stage. Five or six of us were in the House of Commons yesterday to hear the final debate on this bill during Private Members’ Hour. Here are a few reflections.
The house was a lot emptier than I expected it to be. Very few cabinet ministers attended the debate, but we did see two of our pro-life heroes MPs Brad Trost and Maurice Vellacott. After a discussion about representation by population (or something) was finished, the speaker of the house was asked to recognize that the clock was at 5:30 p.m., which meant the Private Members’ Hour was to begin.
Liberal MP Mauril Belanger from Ottawa-Vanier spoke first. He called for more dialogue on the issue, and will vote in favour of the bill going to the committee stage. He also called for clearer definitions of terms like euthanasia, assisted suicide and “dying with dignity”.
Next was NDP MP Bill Siksay from Burnaby, BC. He pledged his support for the bill, insisting that the right to die would not turn into the duty to die. He is committed to providing choice for those that wish to end their lives.
Bloq MP Nicole Demers from Laval, QC also spoke about providing choice. She said,
As long as one has a life to live and wants to live it, life should go on. However, when an individual can no longer endure the pain they are suffering, I want them to have choices.
MP Nicole Demers
After hearing just about enough choice rhetoric, Conservative MP Tim Uppal from Edmonton spoke with the voice of truth. He is opposed to the bill and does not believe that doctors should be given the authority to end a life. I was waiting for him to mention the Hippocratic Oath, but he didn’t. He also expressed concerns with the bill itself, saying the scope was much too broad, and the safeguards for informed consent were not sufficient.
Liberal MP Mike Savage from Dartmouth, NS, spoke next. He told an emotional story about his parents, who both died of cancer six weeks apart. Even though his parents suffered, he said, they were still able to be in control of their lives until the end. I liked his emphasis on palliative care:
Let us focus on palliative care and home care. Let us provide the supports that people need in their time of need. Let us be very mindful of people with disabilities, particularly people who are not always able to make decisions on their own and who rely upon others for support, guidance and the everyday aspects of their lives.
MP Mike Savage
NDP MP Jim Maloway from Winnipeg, MB also spoke against the bill.
I am concerned about the point made by some members that if we were to adopt this measure, it would cut back the impetus to improve palliative care. As long as assisted suicide is illegal, the pressure will still be on governments and jurisdictions to develop palliative care as quickly as possible. If we passed legislation like this bill, then the pressure would be off.
MP Jim Maloway
He also expressed concerns with the way the issue has developed in Holland, where the minister who introduced the euthanasia bill to the Dutch Parliament has since changed her mind. He advocated for increased support for palliative care programs.
The last MP to speak before Ms Lalonde had the floor to respond was NDP MP Charlie Angus from Timmins, ON. He also opposes the bill. He also advocated for increased support for palliative care.
It is possible to treat people with dignity right through the final moments. However, that has to be a decision we make as a society and a commitment we make to each other that we will be there as a society, we will be there with the medical system, we will be there as family and we will be there as a community.
MP Charlie Angus
Then Francine Lalonde had an opportunity to respond. She spoke quite passionately about the issue. For Lalonde, someone who has fought cancer herself, this issue is somewhat personal. She concluded with this:
I can tell you that when I wrote that [newspaper article in 2005], I did not know what unbearable pain was. Now I do and I have learned that medicine, with all its progress, can only provide help with side effects such as hallucinations or other terrible effects to the body. We have to have the right to choose. I am speaking on behalf of the vulnerable. They are the ones who need this type of legislation the most because only this type of legislation will allow them to be the people they choose to be. There are currently many places where people can die and with all the instruments available to doctors, it is possible to help people die without them having to ask.
MP Francine Lalonde
It is the vulnerable that have the most to fear if this bill passes. As is seen in European countries who have legalized euthanasia, the “right to die” can easily become “the duty to die” and “the expectation to die”. This is symptomatic of a devaluing of human life. I hope this is not happening in Canada, but so much of what I hear and see tells me it is happening.
Dr. Catherine Ferrier in a letter to the editor in the National Post yesterday says it best.
. . . the slippery slope has definitely materialized in jurisdictions where euthanasia is legal. In the Netherlands, euthanasia is administered routinely to patients who are not terminally ill but rather have chronic diseases or psychological distress; to patients who are incapable of consenting or who are capable but were not consulted; and to children, including newborns. Dying with dignity should indeed be a right for all Canadians, but Ms. Lalonde’s proposal of allowing doctors to kill patients is the worst possible way of reaching this goal.
Dr. Catherine Ferrier
We will be going back to the House this evening to witness the vote. I hope our politicians will have the courage to stand up for the dignity of human life and oppose this bill.
*quotes taken from a transcript of the debate on OpenParliament.ca.