Ottawa/Queen's Park




This is the full text of the speech given in the House of Commons by Larry Miller, Member of Parliament for Bruce-Grey-Owen Sound, on May 31st 2016, concerning Bill C-14, medical assistance in dying.  The opinion piece he references was published on The Hub on May 5 - here - and the full text of the bill is available here.


Madam Speaker, it is a pleasure to speak to the bill today in the House of Commons and share my time with the Hon. member for Renfrew—Nipissing—Pembroke.

I am pleased to rise in the House today to speak to the legislation, as I said. I have had the honour of being a member of Parliament since 2004. I can honestly say that this is one of the most sensitive and controversial pieces of legislation that I have spoken to in the House. This is an issue that many Canadians have very strong opinions on, so it very important that throughout this process we respect all sides and ensure that we can come up with the best legislation possible, which responds to as many concerns as possible.

Today I would like to share some of my personal opinions on the legislation, as well as the expressed opinions of my constituents, many whom I have heard from. My vote on the bill will be based on what my constituents want and what my own conscience is telling me.

I recently wrote an op-ed in my local newspapers and distributed it to all media in the riding to connect with and consult with my constituents on the bill. I asked them to send their concerns to my office so that when I vote on the bill, I can be confident that I am voting in a manner that represents the views of my constituents. As of right now, the majority of my constituents, almost 80%, have told me to vote against the legislation. I want to point out that some of them are totally opposed to the bill and some
would support some small amendments but are against it in its current form.

Emails and letters are still coming in as we speak. The main concerns that have been presented by those who disagree with the bill are the need for further protections for the vulnerable, further protections for the conscience rights of health care workers, and the need for an improved national palliative care strategy.

I share many of the same concerns as my constituents. It is absolutely vital that there are safeguards for those who are vulnerable. For me, this includes three different groups of people. The first group would be children. We need to have a more robust discussion and study whether children under 18 years old should be allowed access to physician-assisted dying and who has the authority to make that decision.

Second, it is paramount that those who have debilitating diseases, such as Alzheimer's, have a number of safeguards to ensure that they have fully consented to physician-assisted death while they were in a sound state of mind. The bill, as it is currently drafted, has a number of important first steps, but I feel it could go much further. The question is simple. Are there enough safeguards? Are we certain that we have it right?

I appreciate the work that was done by the special committee that was struck to hold consultations before drafting the bill and also the work done by the justice committee. This has been a very one-sided and rushed process. When it comes to protecting the vulnerable, I do not want to leave any stone
unturned. A matter like this deserves an intense and lengthy study by parliamentarians, all parliamentarians. It is very disturbing to know that at this point the government is not willing to have that full debate.

Furthermore, it was made very clear in the House last night that the government is not willing to even entertain the notion of adopting any amendments, and that is wrong. On such a sensitive matter, it would have been my hope that the government would take a more sincere approach to working with other parties in an attempt to get the bill right.

A number of important amendments that would have addressed some very serious concerns were voted down by the government last night. I was deeply disappointed to see partisanship take precedence over common sense. It was refreshing to see some individuals, in all parties, vote according to their
consciences and beliefs. That does not happen enough in this place, so I thank those members.

Finally is the question of whether the bill would allow those with mental illnesses to have access to physician-assisted death, as expressed by some of my colleagues. I would be very troubled if this was the case. It is my firm belief that mental illness is, in fact, an illness.

That being said, I would find it very troubling if an individual who was suffering from a mental illness had access to physician-assisted death. Mental illness quite possibly could mean that someone in a very poor state of mind, to use that terminology, could ask for assisted suicide when he or she would in all likelihood maybe not make this choice if in a sound state of mind. I believe this would send a wrong message to others suffering from mental illness. I am afraid that it would encourage more suicide, assisted or otherwise.

There are many groups in my riding who have put in a tremendous amount of work to combat mental illness and educate those suffering with mental illness that help is always available. We need to send that message that help is always available. Being able to seek physician-assisted death for a mental illness would, in my mind, run counter to this work. This is another area that deserves much closer study so that we as members of Parliament can be confident that the bill would not allow this.

Furthermore, National Nursing Week was only a few weeks ago. In light of this, it is very important to reiterate that we need robust protections for the conscience rights of health care professionals. Last night, the government had an opportunity to recognize the conscience rights of health care professionals, but chose not to take it. An amendment proposed by my colleague, the member for Sherwood Park—Fort Saskatchewan would have recognized that medical practitioners and health care professionals are free to refuse to provide direct or indirect medical assistance in dying.
Unfortunately the government voted against this amendment.

The Charter of Rights and Freedoms states, "Everyone has the following fundamental freedoms". What is first on that list? It is freedom of conscience and religion. I urge the government to put partisanship aside and recognize the charter rights of health care professionals. No one should be forced to perform any task that goes against his or her freedom of conscience or beliefs.

I am not trying to reopen a previous debate held in the House, but I have to use an example that is very similar to the point that I am trying to make right now. Therefore, I would compare this to ministers or clergy who do not believe in performing same-sex marriages. Freedom of conscience and religion
are fundamental freedoms that protect individuals who do not wish to take part in something that runs counter to their beliefs. This same kind of thing is not in the bill. Simply put, someone should not be required to participate in something or provide any service that she or he does not believe in. This must be an important consideration in designing the regulatory framework. Again, I wish that we had more time to hear from concerned health care professionals about this.

I would like to conclude with a comment on the timeline of this issue, and voice my concerns around putting forward legislation in such a rushed manner.

As I said earlier, I have been a member of Parliament since 2004, and in that 12 years that I have spent in this place, this bill is near or at the top of the list of the most intense and deeply sensitive matters I have spoken to.

I fully recognize, as we all do in the House, the limitations on the orders that come from the Supreme Court. However, having said that, rushing through the bill and getting it not right is not worth the sake of a few days or weeks, whatever it takes. I urge all members to think about that. June 6 is
a date that everybody has hard ingrained in their minds, but I am quite sure the courts would allow flexibility.

Let us take the time and do it right. Given the sensitivity and public concern with this issue, I do not think that it is appropriate or prudent to rush through this process. I fully understand that there is a stated deadline, as I said, that the court has given Parliament to have it done. However, with this in mind, once again I have to point out that I have a number of concerns with the Supreme Court's limiting the ability of members of Parliament to have the time to have a robust debate and to allow for a more intense study of this important issue.

On too many instances I have heard some members say they will just have to revisit this in the future or they will revisit that part of it, as if they are admitting that this is a flawed bill, and it is a flawed bill.


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