Celina Caesar-Chavannes

Your member of parliament for


Whitby

Celina Caesar-Chavannes

Your member of parliament for


Whitby

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Speech on Bill C-14, Medical Assistance in Dying

Last night I spoke in the House about Bill C-14, Medical Assistance in Dying. It was an honour to stand up in support of this important legislation. This bill has amplified the discourse about life and about death. I am thankful to all who participated in the preparation and tabling of this document.

The full text of my speech is included below the video.

Mr. Speaker, before I begin I would like to acknowledge the Minister of Justice, the Minister of Health, and the parliamentary secretaries and their teams for their work on this important legislation and thank them for their efforts. I would also like to thank the chair and members of the Special Joint Committee on Physician-Assisted Dying, the witnesses they heard from, and the countless Canadians who took part in consultations right across the country. This is not an easy topic for discussion, and I commend all involved for their thoughtful, compassionate, and thorough work.

The Carter decision set out a clear objective for parliamentarians to come up with a legislative framework that allows Canadians who are suffering intolerably the right to request assistance to end their suffering. Bill C-14 is the government’s answer to this critical objective, and I stand here today proud to support this important legislation.

I have heard from constituents on both sides of the issue, some who flatly oppose allowing any access to medical assistance in death, and others who believe the legislation does not go far enough. I have also heard from people who applaud the thoughtful work on this bill and have reached out to me to express their gratitude.

In this regard, it is important to note and to reiterate what has been mentioned many times in this chamber. With this legislation, our task was not to determine if physician-assisted dying was necessary, but to determine how best to move it forward. This is an important consideration and one that is worth repeating.

Of paramount importance to me in reviewing this bill was to determine if it properly considers different interests, including balancing the right to personal autonomy at the end of life with the need to ensure robust protection for the most vulnerable in our society. I believe that this legislation achieves this balance, and that it rightly takes the necessary steps to ensure that the rights of all are respected.

With respect to personal autonomy, this legislation responds to the objective mentioned earlier, provided to us by the Supreme Court of Canada, that Canadians who are suffering intolerably have the right to request assistance to end their suffering.

I am not a lawyer, and as such will not speak to the legal ramifications of this bill. As well, I cannot speak with authority on the constitutional nuances of this bill. However, as a person of faith, it was critically important to me that section 2(a) of the Charter of Rights and Freedoms, which grants Canadians the freedom of conscience and religion, was considered and protected.

A couple of weeks ago, I had a meeting in my office with members from the St. John the Evangelist Catholic Church in Whitby. While they understood that the objective for us in this chamber was to come up with a legislative framework for medical assistance in dying, they were gravely concerned about protecting the conscience of medical professionals. They wanted some assurance that the conscience of the health care provider was protected.

Balancing the rights of medical providers and those of the patient is generally a matter of provincial and territorial concern. However, our government is committed to working with the provinces and territories to explore options to facilitate access and care coordination while recognizing the personal convictions of health care providers.

Having worked in health care based research for the bulk of my professional life, I have had the opportunity to work closely with health care professionals in a variety of capacities. It is very important to me that any legislation put forward respected the rights and personal convictions of care providers. I am very pleased to see this legislation makes mention of this while acknowledging that safeguarding those convictions requires an ongoing conversation with the provinces and territories.

The robust considerations and protections for the most vulnerable in our society inherent in this legislation are also of particular importance. This legislation sets out the criteria for the determination by medical professionals as to whether a patient suffers from a grievous or irremediable medical condition. These criteria include: they have a serious and incurable illness, disease or disability; they are in an advanced state of irreversible decline in capability; the state of decline causes them enduring physical or psychological suffering that is intolerable to them and that cannot be relieved under conditions that they consider acceptable; and that their natural death has become reasonably foreseeable.

As a mother of three children and MP for the bedroom communities in my riding of Whitby, I was pleased that the legislation also includes strict eligibility requirements that protect minors. Careful thought and consideration are required to understand and assess a minor’s ability to make a decision involving the termination of his or her life. I applaud the decision to further study this aspect of the legislation and look forward to being actively involved at that time.

Additionally, this legislation would ensure that those who make a request for assisted dying do so without coercion, having provided informed consent, and given the opportunity to, at any time and in any manner, withdraw their consent. These safeguards are fundamental to Bill C-14. The bill provides safeguards to ensure that individuals can remove consent. The requirements that the request be voluntary and that the person must decide for him or herself that he or she wants medical assistance in dying is as equally important as the requirement to have the ability to remove consent.

I am proud that this government has listened to stakeholders from across the country and has committed to ensuring that all Canadians have access to quality end-of-life care, including palliative care. Our $3 billion commitment to improving and expanding access to home care is another critically important step and I am looking forward to seeing continued progress on this vital portfolio in the months ahead.

Finally, I would like to thank and acknowledge my colleagues in the chamber for their thoughtful, measured, and respectful tone struck during this debate. This is not an easy topic of discussion. It is one that challenges us to examine our fundamental beliefs about life and death. I commend all for their work on this file.