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Statement on Second Reading of Bill C-14: An Act to amend the Criminal Code and to make related amendments to other Acts

Honourable senators, I rise today to speak on second reading of Bill C-14, An Act to amend the Criminal Code and to make related amendments to other Acts.

Colleagues, while I agree with medical assistance in dying, I do have some reservations about this bill. Some of these concerns may not be entirely new, but I still would like to go on record.

My first reservation stems from the proposed eligibility requirements. It is unclear when death becomes reasonably foreseeable. I understand that medicine is not an exact science and that ambiguity allows health care providers to make these decisions on a case-by-case basis. However, I am concerned that different interpretations may lead to unequal standards of care.

I am surprised that "reasonably foreseeable" was added to the eligibility criteria. As far as I am aware, no other jurisdictions where medical assistance in dying is legal have this requirement.

Dr. Grant of the Federation of Medical Regulatory Authorities of Canada said at the Legal and Constitutional Affairs Committee on May 10 that "if the language remains unchanged, there will be a variety of interpretations of 'reasonably foreseeable'" across the provinces.

Honourable senators, I urge you to request that the Government of Canada provide clearer parameters to the provinces and territories so that health care providers are prepared to handle requests for assisted dying. This step would ensure that Canadians who need end-of-life support have equal access to this treatment and that those involved in this process are given the necessary guidelines and protections.

My second reservation has to do with the exclusion of Canadians who suffer from progressive or chronic illnesses but who are not terminal. Those who are diagnosed with debilitating physical or mental conditions can experience a serious decline in their quality of life although their death is not reasonably foreseeable.

Colleagues, I think we should ask ourselves: Who are we to determine what an acceptable quality of life is for another person? One cannot decide what the right choice is for someone else.

For this reason, I want to emphasize the importance of respecting a patient's right to choose. The decision to end one's life is a personal one. We must avoid taking a patronizing approach.

This bill disregards the Carter decision by limiting eligibility to those who are near death. We need amendments to ensure that this legislation respects the constitutional rights guaranteed by the Supreme Court's decision. This is a matter of compassion and justice.

Finally, I am disappointed that Bill C-14 does not provide Canadians with the option to request medical assistance in dying through an advance care directive.

I agree with the recommendation made by the Legal and Constitutional Affairs Committee to enable patients diagnosed with chronic or progressive illnesses that are not terminal, such as Alzheimer's, to have the autonomy to make important medical decisions.

Allow me to get personal for a minute. A close friend of mine suffered from a disease that caused him intolerable pain that couldn't be relieved by palliative therapies. His disease severely impacted his quality of life until he travelled abroad last year to access medical assistance in dying.

I am not sure whether he would have been covered by this bill, but I am thankful that he was able to die peacefully and legally, surrounded by his family.

I am saddened that others have had to endure unimaginable suffering until their natural death or take severe measures to end their own lives. This is not acceptable.

I have heard from Canadians regarding Bill C-14. I understand that it is a sensitive issue, but where we all agree is that this legislation is needed and that we should do our best to improve it.

Honourable senators, we have a unique opportunity to ensure that those wishing to end their lives can do so in a safe and dignified way. Bill C-14 is not perfect, but it's a start.

Thank you.


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