Debates of the Senate  
1st Session, 42st Parliament, Volume 150, Issue 45
  Wednesday, June 8, 2016
Speech on Senator Joyal's Amendment to Bill C-14 (Third Reading)

Hon. Lillian Eva Dyck: Honourable senators, I would like to join the debate on Bill C-14. I rise in support of Senator Joyal's amendment to Bill C-14, medical assistance in dying.

First, I would like to acknowledge the work of the members of the Standing Senate Committee on Legal and Constitutional Affairs who undertook a comprehensive special joint pre-study of this bill and who have just now completed their committee's study of the bill. I would also like to acknowledge the many senators who spoke so eloquently at second reading.

Colleagues, I am in support of medical assistance in dying, and I support this amendment to make the bill consistent with theCarter decision because the bill unfairly limits a person's access to medical assistance in dying to a time when their natural death is reasonably foreseeable.

Colleagues, I would like to explain why I support this amendment. I have read through the Carter decision over and over and have thought carefully about it. As many of you know, I am a neurochemist. My training and much of my research work involved quantitative analyses, precise measurements. Precision is a hallmark of the natural sciences. Legislators, too, have to be precise in their words.

My analysis, comparing the language in the Carter decision and in Bill C-14, reveals what many other senators have said: The bill adds in other words, words like "reasonably foreseeable natural death" that were absent in the Carter decision. Other senators have outlined how imprecise some of these new words are.

While Bill C-14 is supposed to fulfill the rights of people with grievous and irremediable medical conditions, suffering from intolerable pain, to consent to medically assisted death, I have concluded that the provision in the bill that limits their access to medically assisted death to a time when their natural death is reasonably foreseeable does not fulfill their rights under section 7 of the Charter of Rights and Freedoms. Thus, the bill is unconstitutional, as Senator Joyal and Senator Baker have so eloquently already stated. So we cannot pass the bill as is.

Moreover, this is not just a legal technicality, albeit an important one. It has real consequences for the person. As other senators have pointed out, if we pass Bill C-14, this will force some of the people with grievous and irremediable medical conditions to endure intolerable pain for longer periods of time than others with the same condition who are deemed to be closer to a natural death.

Perhaps I should mention that this is one of the factors. Prolonged intolerable suffering is the factor within the Carter condition that was said to infringe upon that person's section 7 Charter rights to life, liberty and security.

Colleagues, the Supreme Court, in the Carter decision, ruled that consenting adults have a right to seek medical help to end their lives if they have grievous and irremediable medical conditions that cause them suffering that they deem intolerable. There was no mention in the court decision about limiting this right to a time when that person's natural death was reasonably foreseeable. But Bill C-14 has imposed two conditions that actually limit the time when an eligible person can access medical assistance in dying.

While adults suffering from a grievous and irremediable disease, illness or disability can request and consent to medical assistance in dying, they must be "in an advanced stage of irreversible decline," and their natural death must be "reasonably foreseeable." These restrictions or limitations were not part of the Carter decision. As I have said, other senators have pointed this out.

Other senators have also said that the legislation that Parliament enacts does not have to follow the Supreme Court decision exactly. However, it should comply with the Charter.

Like many of you, colleagues, I, too, have concluded that Bill C-14 will fail the Charter challenge and thus would become invalid, and we should get it right before we actually pass it.

It is clear to me from the Carter decision that Gloria Taylor, one of the appellants in the Carter challenge, as well as other witnesses, wanted to be able to decide the time when they would die with medical assistance. Gloria Taylor stated:

I do not want my life to end violently. I do not want my mode of death to be traumatic for my family members. I want the legal right to die peacefully, at the time of my own choosing . . . .

"At the time of my own choosing" is what she said, "in the embrace of my family and friends." She continued:

I know that I am dying, but I am far from depressed. I have some down time - that is part and parcel of the experience of knowing that you are terminal. But there is still a lot of good in my life; there are still things, like special times with my granddaughter and family, that bring me extreme joy. I will not waste any of my remaining time being depressed. I intend to get every bit of happiness I can wring from what is left of my life so long as it remains a life of quality; but I do not want to live a life without quality. There will come a point when I will know that enough is enough. I cannot say precisely when that time will be. It is not a question of "when I can't walk" or "when I can't talk." There is no pre-set trigger moment. I just know that, globally, there will be some point in time when I will be able to say "this is it, this is the point where life is just not worthwhile." When that time comes, I want to be able to call my family together, tell them of my decision, say a dignified good-bye and obtain final closure for me and for them.

Colleagues, I believe it is clear from Gloria Taylor's words that she knew that she would know when she would be ready to die and that she wanted to choose the actual time of her assisted death. She talks about the timing so clearly and consistently.

Furthermore, in the evidence from the other witnesses with grievous and irremediable diseases, such as Huntington's disease and advanced-stage cancer, there was:

. . . a constant theme that they suffer from the knowledge that they lack the ability to bring a peaceful end to their lives at a time and in a manner of their own choosing.

Again, at a specific time.

Colleagues, I believe, from the testimonies of Gloria Taylor and other witnesses, that they wanted to be able to choose the time at which they would die with medical assistance. To me, that is the essential element of granting someone the right to medical assistance in dying: You, yourself, get to choose the time of your death. Your doctor doesn't get to choose when you die; you do. But, in Bill C-14, someone else gets to decide when you can consent to medical assistance in dying. You will not get to choose the time when you can end your life with medical assistance. To me, that is clearly not right.

Colleagues, I would argue that because a doctor or nurse determines a time when an eligible person can die with medical assistance, this loss of choice contravenes that person's section 7 Charter rights.

Frankly, I wouldn't want to be a medical doctor or a nurse placed in the position of making that decision for someone else. What if the doctor thinks your natural death is foreseeable, say, in three months, but you disagree and think you will live six more months? Could that doctor be accused of advising or encouraging you to undertake medical assistance in dying because you yourself are not ready to take that step?

Colleagues, for these reasons, I support the amendments that will broaden the scope of the bill so that no one with a grievous and irremediable medical condition who requests medical assistance in dying will be denied this just because they are deemed to be not close enough to their natural death. Therefore, I support Senator Joyal's amendment.