Wednesday, May 24, 2023

Bill C-314: Parliamentary debate to prevent euthanasia for mental disorders.

Alex Schadenberg
Executive Director, Euthanasia Prevention Coalition

On Wednesday, May 17 Canada's parliament debated Bill C-314 for one hour. Bill C-314 will prevent euthanasia for mental disorders. Bill C-314 will receive it's second hour of debate in late September. Bill C-314 is a private members bill that was sponsored by Hon Ed Fast (MP).

Sign our petition supporting Bill C-314 (Petition Link).

During the debate, Ed Fast was given the first 15 minutes to speak to Bill C-314 in the house. After that there were several questions asked by Members of Parliament with responses by Ed Fast. Then several members of parliament, from the different political parties, were given time to speak to the bill.

Link to the speech from Ed Fast (Link)

Gary Anandasangaree (Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Justice and Attorney General of Canada) (Lib) spoke against Bill C-314, on behalf of the government. Andandasangaree challenged some of the language in the bill but he essentially said that the Liberal government opposes the bill. He said:
I want to reiterate that Parliament considered this two years ago during its consideration of former Bill C-7 and decided that a MAID mental illness exclusion should be temporary. The point was reinforced by Parliament's enactment of former Bill C-39 this past March.

The expert panel on MAID and mental illness has tabled its final report, which notes that the existing MAID eligibility criteria and safeguards, supported by other key resources, provide an adequate framework for the provision of MAID where the sole underlying medical condition is a mental illness. Parliament considered the issues again via the Special Joint Committee on MAID, and the majority of members agreed with the expert panel's findings.

I urge members to join me in opposing the bill and not reverse Parliament's decision by unintentionally complicating legislative interpretation in the criminal law.

Mr Luc Thériault (BQ) speaking on behalf of the separatist BQ party opposes Bill C-314. Thériault believes that MAiD (euthanasia) is necessary to end suffering and to prevent suicide in general. Thériault argued that permitting euthanasia in all circumstances allows people to live as long as possible because euthanasia is an option. He then suggests that the bill is premature because there will be a committee report on implementing euthanasia for mental illness released five months before the law is implemented in March 2024.

Alistair MacGregor (NDP) expressed his concerns with permitting euthanasia for  mental disorders and offers a neutral position. MacGregor concludes:

The question of Bill C-314 and the state of mental health care in Canada are two things weighing on me quite a bit. I am certainly going to take a lot of time to think about which way I want to go with this bill, but I appreciate the member for Abbotsford for bringing it forward and giving parliamentarians an opportunity to read the report and consider what this bill seeks to do.

Ms Michele Ferrier (CPC) spoke in support of Bill C-314. Ferrier states the following:

The fact that we need a private member's bill to say this feels outrageous. I have listened to other members in the House tonight, and I want to be very mindful of my tone. This is an interesting and emotional debate, but I really urge the members opposite who have said they are not going to support the bill to consider getting it to committee. There is so much more we need to study.

My question is how this is not already in legislation. I will tell members why. In December of 2021, the Senate added an amendment to Bill C-7, without any consultation, study or discussion, to add people with mental illness as eligible for MAID. This private member's bill is currently the only way we can protect those suffering from mental illness. It is the only way for us as parliamentarians to say to those watching that we believe their lives matter and that it is our job to ensure we fight for them. Today might be awful, but none of us know what tomorrow will bring, as no one knows what is out there for them.

The MAID committee was created after the amendment was added. How backward is that? It heard testimony from many experts, and I want everyone to listen to the following quote because it is the essence of this discussion.

Dr. John Maher, clinical psychiatrist and medical ethicist, stated, 

“Psychiatrists don't know and can't know who will get better and live decades of good life. Brain diseases are not liver diseases.” Anyone who has dealt with somebody who has a mental illness or disorder knows that we have not even scratched the surface of what we know. We do not know.
Ferrier then reads a letter that she received from a constituent:
“Dear Michelle...,

My name is Kayla...I am going to be sending this letter to several MPs, but as you are [my] MP...I thought I should send this to you first. I am very troubled by something that is going to be happening very soon in this country, and I hope you will listen to what I have to say.

“Overall, I am a very healthy individual. I have a mental health condition, but it is my sole medical condition. However, I was mortified to discover last month, that Medical Assistance in Dying (MAiD...) will be available to people whose sole health condition is a mental health condition as of March 17, 2023.”

We have since voted in the House and that date has been extended one year to March 17, 2024. However, this is still in place, and this letter is very pertinent. She goes on to say:

“Persons who suffer from mental health conditions suffer horribly. I know that. I have suffered with mine for nearly 12 years. Perhaps the most appalling things of all are that 'The law no longer requires a person's natural death to be reasonably foreseeable as an eligibility criterion for MAID,' (Government of Canada, 2021) and 'There is no obligation for a person or their healthcare practitioners to inform family members if that person has requested or received MAiD.' (CAMH, 2022)...

“I think you see this for what it is...I will be eligible to end my own life on the basis that I have an incurable mental illness.”

“Let me give you a bit more background: I have 2 university degrees in Biology and Environmental Science. I have a job that I love and have held since a little while after I graduated. I have NEVER failed to pay taxes, nor have I ever taken extended leave or gone on El due to my mental illness, no matter how hard it gets. I have a family and friends that I love dearly, and they love me too. And yet now my own government has deemed my life not worth living. This isn't just unfair. This is monstrous.

“But it gets worse. What about those people who are in the same boat that I am medically, but are much, much worse off. They cannot pay their taxes because they cannot work. They have a substance addiction. They are veterans with PTSD. They are homeless because they cannot seem to fight off their demons. These are some of the most vulnerable people in our society. To say nothing of the 'mature minors' (whatever on Earth that means) that will be able to access MAiD in the future if this doesn't stop. Make no mistake. This thing, that we dress up with the nice name MAiD, is euthanasia of our most vulnerable people because they cannot 'contribute to society' like others can. The fact that the government would offer to 'get them out of the way' this way, just because the systems that the government put in place are failing them is an unspeakable evil.”

She put in brackets, “convince them that they should die”. These are her words.

She continues, “I hope, Michelle, that you will do everything in your power as an MP as I will do everything in my power as a citizen, to abolish this law. I understand the federal government is seeking to push back the timing”, which it did, as I said. She says this is “likely because it has received so much criticism. I understand that it likely wasn't you that made any of the decisions for this law to go ahead. But I also understand that you are in more of a position to do something about it than many people are. I hope you will respond after reading this letter.

Ferrier continues:
I did respond to Kayla and we had a very powerful conversation. She gave me permission to share this letter.

I think one letter like this is enough reasonable doubt that we need to take this private member's bill very seriously. It is everything we need to know to consider and urge everyone in the House. I have heard people say, on the Bloc side, that people should have the right to choose. The reality is that people who are in such a state of mental disorder do not have that capacity. We have to help them.

I want to leave us with this. This woman's name is Elyse. She is a young university student. She said that she is so worried about this legislation to extend MAID to those with mental illness. She has struggled with mental illness, and she knows with certainty that, if someone had offered that to her during her times of illness, she would not be here today. She would not be getting her university degree. She would not be in a happy, healthy relationship, and she would not know that her life was worth living.

If one is watching at home, if one has a loved one suffering, if one is suffering, one's life matters and it is worth living. It is our job to study this to the depths to determine whether we can do this. This private member's bill is the only thing that would protect those with mental illness and mental disorder from accessing MAID. I urge every member in the House to at least pass it to committee.
We will keep you up to date on the debate concerning Bill C-314.

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