My speech in Parliament on Medically-Assisted Dying

Ms. Libby Davies (Vancouver East, NDP):

Mr. Speaker, I will be sharing my time with the member for Timmins—James Bay.

I am very pleased to participate in this debate today. I want to begin my remarks by reflecting on the importance of this issue and on it really being a non-partisan issue.

I want to thank the member for Charleswood—St. James—Assiniboia for the bills he has presented in the House. I know that there are also two members in the Senate, from two different parties, a former Liberal and a Conservative, who have presented a bill. I think it reflects the deep feeling that individual members of Parliament have on the issue of medically assisted dying.

In fact, the member for Charleswood—St. James—Assiniboia and I attended a forum in Calgary in August of last year. We did a forum together with Dying with Dignity Canada and other organizations. People were a bit taken aback that a Conservative member and an NDP member would be at the same meeting talking about the same issue. Yet I think it was a good discussion, and we shared very similar viewpoints on what needed to be done.

I also want to remember the incredible work that was done by a former member of Parliament, who is well known to us, Svend Robinson. He rose on many occasions in this House and spoke about medically assisted dying. In fact, he was one of the key people who worked with and helped Sue Rodriguez in her battle, both legal and medical. She had tremendous courage. Svend was someone who was by her side to support and assist her. He never gave up on that issue.

I also remember Francine Lalonde, who was a wonderful member of Parliament from the Bloc Québécois. She brought forward a private member’s bill in the House on medically assisted dying. I voted for the bill. In fact, I voted twice for it, because she brought it back again. Ms. Lalonde has since passed away, but she was a tremendous advocate on this issue. We again thank her for her work.

Right there, members can see that this is a very non-partisan issue. I think it reflects the feelings on this issue in Canadian society.

I also want to pay tribute to my colleague from Timmins—James Bay for the hard work he has done on palliative care, because it is part of the debate in terms of ensuring that there is a continuum of care. To me, the issue of palliative care and medically assisted dying are not things that are mutually exclusive, where it is either/or. It is something that is part of a process and a choice people need to have. We need to have much better access to palliative care in this country.

Even with the passage of Motion No. 456 by the member for Timmins—James Bay and the debate that took place in this House, the fact is that we have made very little progress. I think there are some very serious questions as to why we have not seen the follow-through from the government, whose members actually voted for the motion.

I also want to point out the organizations in this country, such as Dying with Dignity Canada, and others. They have done incredible work, not just on the legal front but also in education and working with local communities and people who are interested in this issue.

I did a forum in Vancouver with Dying with Dignity Canada about six weeks ago. It was a very interesting meeting. There was a diversity of people who came to the meeting. We had presentations. This was before the Supreme Court of Canada decision. It was a serious discussion that reflected the seriousness with which people look at this issue. What really stood out for me was that people were very clear that this is an issue about consent and choice and that the state, and I think it is very well reflected in the Supreme Court decision, should not be in the position of making a decision for adults in terms of what they decide to do about the end of their lives, the care they have, or when they need to end their lives based on their unique and particular circumstances.

I passionately believe that members of Parliament can be opposed to medically assisted dying, but can still support the decision by the Supreme Court of Canada and the premise that this is about an individual’s decision. That is not something that I or anyone else in this place should be able to pass judgement on.

I do believe that we have an incredible responsibility to follow up the decision by the Supreme Court, which was unanimous, to make sure that we do not drop the ball and we do not somehow push this somewhere to the back, because we consider it to be controversial, or for some other reason. This is an issue about here and now. This is about people now who are suffering and who have very compelling situations where they need to be able to make a decision about their own life and what happens. For that reason, I thank the Liberal members who brought the motion forward today.

I agree with the last person who intervened. If we do not start now, then when will we? I have heard arguments that there will not be enough time and that an election is forthcoming. We can always come up with 1,001 reasons why this is not the appropriate time or why we should not begin our work now. I can think of one compelling reason why we should start now, which is that for some people time is running out. Unless we do our job, we are completely abdicating the responsibility that has been given to us by the Supreme Court of Canada.

Like my colleague from Charleswood—St. James—Assiniboia, I wish that we were not following on the heels of the Supreme Court of Canada. I wish that we, as Parliament, had been able to arrive at this in our own way and through our own process, as happened in Quebec. The process there was really quite incredible. They went through the proper consultations and eventually came forward with their legislation.

There is a vacuum now. Unless we begin today or next week, we are letting down an awful lot of people. We are copping out, and we cannot afford to cop out on this issue.

Maybe this special committee is not perfect. Maybe someone thinks that it should be slightly different. I certainly agree with my colleague from Timmins—James Bay that we wish it included the issue of palliative care in a more formal way. Should this motion pass, we will do our best to ensure that these issues are also covered.

However, the fact is that this is the motion before us today and that we will be voting on today. I cannot see any reason why we would not support it, because it is about a process. It is about us as parliamentarians doing our job to uphold this very historic landmark decision made by the Supreme Court of Canada.

In the name of Sue Rodriguez and all the people who have suffered and brought forward the current legal action and sacrificed so much, I really feel that we are compelled to take action here. It will be very disappointing if we do not meet that goal and if we do not meet that responsibility and we somehow just slough it off and say there is this excuse and that excuse. There are no more excuses.

This is a day for us to recognize what we are here to do as members of Parliament for our constituents. It is a day for us to get above partisan politics. In that way, I find the decision by the Supreme Court of Canada very affirming. It affirms what we need to do. Let us make sure that we take it up and affirm our responsibility to work with each other and set up a process to ensure that this consultation does take place, so that within a year, we can do the job that has been set out for us.

Hon. Steven Fletcher (Charleswood—St. James—Assiniboia, CPC):

Mr. Speaker, I would like to thank the member for Vancouver East for her comments. I thank her for bringing up that forum that we did together. I do recall it. It was actually in July. I remember it because it was during Stampede week and there was a glorious blue sky that evening. It was hot, and the venue was in an obscure building with no air conditioning and only one fan. There was little notice for the forum, yet we had a fantastic turnout. Even some media turned out.

I would like to give the member for Vancouver East the opportunity to relay to the House some of the comments and feelings of the people who attended that day.

Ms. Libby Davies:

Mr. Speaker, I am glad that the member’s memory is better than mine. I now remember that it was a hot day and that it was during the Calgary Stampede. What I remember most about that meeting is that people were so surprised that we were there, that a member from the government side and a member from the official opposition could be at the same meeting and have a respectful discussion. It spoke clearly to me as to how people in this country are so cynical about politics. They see us in question period and that is the view they have of us and they do not know that there are many instances where MPs do work together.

The motion by my colleague from Timmins—James Bay on palliative care is another very fine example of how the House can come together on the wording and approve a motion on the importance of palliative care and the need for a federal strategy.

Therefore, I would like to see us go further, to take that up and say that we are willing to work together on this issue and are willing to make sure that there is a genuine, meaningful, democratic consultation that will lead to the necessary legislative framework.

Hon. John McKay (Scarborough—Guildwood, Lib.):

Mr. Speaker, I want to thank colleagues for what I regard as a largely respectful debate throughout the day and minimal partisanship. I want to address the one specific issue that seems to be of most concern, because once people work through the issues around physician-assisted suicide, it comes down to giving an appropriate, respectful length of time to what should be the legislative response. Therefore, I would be interested in the hon. member’s views with respect to the compressed 12-month timeline that the Supreme Court has given in deference to Parliament, whether she has any thoughts as to whether that is sufficient and, if it is sufficient, if this is the appropriate motion to get it going.

Ms. Libby Davies:

Mr. Speaker, I do not know all of the reasons that the Supreme Court of Canada justices laid down one year. I could possibly speculate that they felt this was such a compelling issue affecting the dignity of people, their right to life, and their own decision-making process that they really wanted to make sure that Parliament did not just wander off and do nothing, or do whatever over whatever period of time. Therefore, the specific timeframe of a year, which I do not think is too short, is very important because it is now moving us to do something. It has been somewhat disconcerting that we have not seen anything proactive from the government on what it wants to do. If it has ideas, then let it bring them forward. Right now we have this motion that lays out a particular cause.

I would point out that if a special committee gets going relatively quickly, there is nothing to prevent it from meeting during the summer. We have committees that meet throughout the summer all the time. Therefore, from a logistical point of view, this is very doable. If we do not start now, then we are just delaying it further.