Bill C-314 – Medical Assistance in Dying
October 5, 2023
Mr. Len Webber (Calgary Confederation, CPC): Mr. Speaker, today I rise to speak to Bill C-314, an act that would amend the Criminal Code in regard to medical assistance in dying.
This enactment would amend the Criminal Code to provide that a mental disorder is not a grievous and irremediable medical condition for which a person could receive medical assistance in dying.
This is not the first time I have risen in this House to speak on the issue of medical assistance in dying, MAID, and I thank the hon. member for Abbotsford for the opportunity to speak to his bill.
As we know, MAID is an extremely complex issue that has generated some strong opinions on both sides. In May 2016, when I rose here to speak in support of the MAID legislation, I stated that, “when it comes to something as personal and sensitive as death, it is better to have options available, even if we do not like them, even if we do not believe in them. It is better to have some legal framework [in place] than none at all.”
I quoted from many letters I received from constituents in my speech back then and read letters from Ken, Connie, Valerie, Debra Lee, Catherine, Tracey, Doug and David. They all shared their personal perspectives with me, and it was extremely helpful in my own personal deliberations.
In the years since MAID was legalized, I have come to have known a number of people who have found comfort, personally and for their families, in the MAID process. Their death was foreseeable, there was no chance of recovery and when the dying process appeared to be both prolonged and cruel, it was an option they took advantage of. Their death was dignified, it was planned and it was peaceful. It allowed them to say their goodbyes to their loved ones, to their friends, when they could.
However, that being said, I am a very big proponent of hospice and palliative care, which must always be a viable and an available option to someone contemplating MAID. In the strongest of terms, MAID cannot be seen as a substitute for good palliative care, and it should never be.
Through my family’s volunteer experience with Hospice Calgary, and later with my wife’s final days with breast cancer at the Agape Manor Hospice care facility, I saw first-hand how critical it is we have a proper, well-funded palliative care system here in Canada. I saw then how underfunded this specialized care is within our health care system, and it is still that way today.
Canadians should have access to the support and care they need while living through one of the toughest times in their lives. We need to do better and we can do better, but we certainly have a long way to go.
However, today we are here to address the concerns of Canadians when it comes to the implementation of MAID with mental illness as the sole eligibility. This is the gist of Bill C-314. Should there be a permanent exclusion from MAID for people whose sole underlying condition is a mental disorder?
Back in 2016, during the original MAID debate, I had a meeting with a constituent, a young man named Anton. He came to my office, and Anton is the reason I am rising to speak today. He was a 25-year-old or 26-year-old, fit, good looking, articulate, intelligent and healthy young guy. When I say “healthy”, though, I mean in the physical sense only.
Anton came to my office to discuss his desire to have access to medical assistance in dying. He literally wanted to die. He shared with me his mental struggles and he said he was tired of living and he just wanted to die. It was something I just could not comprehend. This young guy seemed to have everything going for him and he wanted to die.
Anton felt the requirement in MAID that one’s death be foreseeable was unfair, a barrier and should not be in the legislation. He felt if one wanted to die, one should be allowed to through MAID, no questions asked. It should be as easy as going to get a haircut, he said.
I did ask him if he ever thought of taking his own life and why he would need MAID. He said he did not want to put a bullet in his head, jump off a chair with a noose around his neck or cut his wrists. That seemed too fearful for him, too painful and unfair for whomever would find him. We talked for what seemed like hours in my office.
I found it odd that he never once mentioned anything about a doctor, any treatments he was receiving or any medication he was on, so I asked him if he had seen a doctor. He had not spoken to a single health professional about his desire to end his life. I encouraged him to, and I said he needs to talk to somebody because I was certainly not the guy to talk to about suicidal tendencies.
When he was leaving the office, he said he would seek some help. I gave him a hug, and I have had many sleepless nights since wondering if there was anything else I could have done.
About three months later, Anton requested another meeting with me. He told me that he had sought help and went to see a doctor. Whether it was a psychiatrist or psychologist, I do not know, but he told me of his horrific episode. The very doctor who Anton went to seek help from called the police, saying that Anton was a danger to himself and needed to be protected. Anton was taken away by the police and locked in a padded room for 14 hours without any food or water. He told me he only got out because he finally convinced authorities that he was fine, that he was normal and that things were good. He basically had to lie his way out. He said it was the worst experience of his life. He asked for help and had gotten none.
That is the problem. Many Canadians are just not getting the mental health assistance they need. Clearly, we need to put better supports in mental health and people’s access to that help. We should be careful in asking police to be mental health professionals. We need to make sure we have the right people in the right place at the right time. I am pleased to hear that some police forces are now using health professionals in the field, but we still have a long way to go.
We need to put vulnerable Canadians back in control of their lives. We want to see them get the help they need and provide them with the social and mental health supports they need. We must never give up on them and allow them to prematurely choose MAID over access to mental health care.
Since 2016, I have heard nothing from Anton. I have often wondered whether he is still alive or dead. Before this speech, I tried to seek him out, and I went to social media. I had some assistance and found some information on Anton. I discovered that he had found love abroad. He is working to bring his new wife or girlfriend to Canada and is excited to start a new business. I know that if MAID legislation in 2016 had permitted mental health as a sole reason, it is quite possible that Anton would have ended his life without exploring all of his options. He never would have found the love and support that he has today.
I am very grateful for the perspective that Anton has given me on this issue, as it has profoundly convinced me that those whose sole condition is a mental disorder should not have access to medical assistance in dying. That is why I support the hon. member for Abbotsford’s private member’s bill, Bill C-314.