Highlights of the Senate’s debate on assisted dying

‘With Bill C-14, we are facing the most difficult and important area of the law that many of us will ever be forced to contend with as parliamentarians.’

(Sean Kilpatrick/CP)

(Sean Kilpatrick/CP)

As senators continue to debate Bill C-14, a look back at what has been said in the Red Chamber regarding medical assistance in dying.

Hon. Chantal Petitclerc on vulnerability:

June 3

“This affects me mostly because even if most days I like to think of myself as invincible, I know that because I am a person with a disability, I belong to what we call ‘the vulnerable.’ … A person who is vulnerable is not without rights and deserves to have those rights respected. Let us find safeguards, guarantees to protect the vulnerable. That is our job.

“I can only imagine how someone would feel if they were vulnerable, in great pain and unable to have control over their own choice. That, to me, would be betrayal not only of the body but also from our country. There is a fine line between protecting the vulnerable and patronizing them. It is my personal belief that this bill is crossing that line. That is not acceptable.”

Hon. Linda Frum on role of senate in legislation:

June 8

“Senators have no duty to act as the drafting committee of the Supreme Court. Parliament is responsible for the creation of our laws; the nine members of the Supreme Court are not. Even when I happen to agree with the substance of their decision, as I do in the Carter decision, I remain concerned that we maintain the distinction between the role of judges and the role of Parliament. Their job is to interpret laws made by others. Our job is to make those laws. With Bill C-14, we are facing the most difficult and important area of the law that many of us will ever be forced to contend with as parliamentarians.”

Hon. Salma Ataullahjan on medically assisted dying in Islam:

June 9

“In Islamic faith tradition, neither euthanasia nor assisted suicide are supported or encouraged. However, the issue of physician-assisted dying has been decided by the Supreme Court of Canada, and the majority of Canadians, including many people of the Muslim faith who have spoken to me personally, agree that some form of physician-assisted dying legislation should be enacted, as do I.

“From my own experience, I think back to when my husband’s brother was in the hospital and his illness was at the stage where his lungs were failing. At that time, he made the decision to withdraw from treatment. The pain and suffering that he endured before his eventual death could have been avoided if he had the option of physician-assisted dying.”

Hon. Josée Verner on opposing Bill C-14 in the face of death:

June 9

“On February 18, 2015, I delivered a speech here in this chamber a few days after the Supreme Court’s decision … In that speech, I commended the decision in Carter. … I said those words just a few weeks before I myself received a devastating diagnosis of colorectal cancer. The tumour was at a very advanced stage. Every day for nearly 15 long months, I lived with the awareness of another reality: death. During that period, I had time to reflect on my end of life, should it come to that, and how I would like it to happen. In the hospital, I met other Canadians who, along with their loved ones, were forced to reflect on that possibility whether they were terminal or not.

“Honourable senators, I am unable to support a bill that, contrary to the Supreme Court ruling, would set up a discriminatory system for Canadians afflicted with irremediable medical conditions and intolerable suffering.”

Hon. Nick Sibbeston on opposing Bill C-14:

June 10

“The Dene and Aboriginal people in the North treasure life and would not do anything to jeopardize or end it prematurely, even if they were sick. The answer is good palliative care and health care. I know that society has changed and those early days of the Dene, the Inuit people, have changed, but this experience and culture remains with them and remains the basis of their thinking about death.

“In my life experience, just like everyone else, I’ve seen many people get sick and die. I’ve never heard anyone say ‘I want to die. Help me to die.’ I never heard of anyone saying this. It’s always about wanting to get well, wanting to continue living with their families and relatives. Life is relished and well-remembered, and people are glad to have lived as long as they have. When life ends, natural death is accepted.”

Hon. Denise Batters on improving safeguards:

June 10

“Honourable senators, I am all too aware of what the reduced capacity of one suffering with mental illness looks like. As many of you know, my husband, former member of Parliament Dave Batters, struggled with severe anxiety and depression and died by suicide in 2009. Unfortunately, I have first-hand knowledge of the different decision-making capacities of someone with mental illness and their suicidal thoughts. For someone who is mentally ill, there can be a tunnel vision that makes that person want to end his or her life, even when there are many other viable options obvious to all around them.

“Mental illness is not a terminal condition. It is often treatable, and many of the symptoms of psychological illnesses may ebb and flow somewhat, depending on the circumstances of an individual’s life — problems, stressors, et cetera. One of the primary symptoms of many mental illnesses is the lack of perspective about one’s own life and its worth. Clearly, medical assistance in dying should not be extended to someone in that altered mental state.”

Hon. Pamela Wallin on advanced directives in medically assisted dying:

June 13

“I think many of us have had conversations with our parents and family members about the circumstances in which they no longer want to go on. I sat in a hospital room with my father just before he had heart surgery. He said, ‘If I come out of this unable to function either mentally or physically, or some combination of the both, then life has no meaning for me. Life has no quality. I’m a guy who needs to be out there able to do things, relating and connecting with people.’ He said, ‘That would be no life for me.’

“It was guidance for me; it was helpful. We didn’t, at that time, fortunately, have to deal with his passing, but it was very helpful to have the discussion, to bring it forward so that you know what your family members want and what they consider important in their lives.”

Hon. Dennis Patterson on the involvement of nurse practitioners in medically assisted dying:

June 13

“In Northern Canada, and I’ll speak of Nunavut, which is my recent experience, nurse practitioners are the backbone of health services for the residents. Northern Canada has always been a leader in offering accessible and sometimes emergency health services in remote communities. By speaking in support of this amendment, I do not want to suggest that I don’t have any confidence in nurse practitioners.

The reality, though, is that we don’t have proper Internet services in most Nunavut communities, even the most populous communities. There are no fibre optics. Bandwidth is such a serious problem that you can’t get Netflix, let alone consult with a medical practitioner by Internet.”

Hon. Murray Sinclair on how social status contributes to a person’s suffering:

June 14

“The conclusion of most of the studies is that social determinants of health are in fact a significant factor in one’s ability to access medical care. In the report, which I had the privilege to co-author at the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, we identified that indigenous people are one of the groups in Canada that is negatively affected by social conditions and by social determinants — some of which have a direct connection to residential schools but all of which have a direct connection to their economic and geographical locations — that require considerable study and further work in order to ensure that they can access the medical system in a more equitable way.”

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