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Bill C-7 - Medical Assistance in Dying - Conscience Rights

Honourable senators, I rise to speak to the theme of conscience rights under Bill C-7. I feel this is the appropriate theme and the right time to voice my concern over the direction that this debate has gone at certain times.

In a discussion around conscience rights and the expectation that this bill places on medical practitioners, many without their consent, an equally valid discussion is the conscience rights of senators as we debate, amend and vote on this bill. I think most of our colleagues have been impacted by this legislation at some point in our lives, if not within our own immediate or extended families, friends, neighbours and colleagues —

This is a critical piece of legislation that can stir visceral emotions that understandably have the possibility of hasty reactions and decision that can have far-reaching and ill-considered unintended consequences.

I have noted during the course of debate on Bill C-7 the numerous speeches of senators who have had their own personal experiences with assisted dying. This has given honourable senators a specific lens through which they view this legislation, and that lens can sometimes impact one’s objectivity. The heady expectation of our job is a fine line to walk, and the blending of our collective and personal emotions and experiences with such sensitive themes and such a delicate piece of legislation is a difficult thing to deny. However, I would urge my colleagues to try and ensure that objectivity and the facts we have heard from witnesses and Canadian citizens guide our judgment on this bill.

We have a sacred obligation in our role as senators to ensure minority rights are not only understood but are also given agency. Whether these individuals be considered minorities based on their race, disability, religion, creed, sexuality or any other relevant defining feature, we senators have a duty to ensure their voices and concerns are elevated and appropriately considered. Having one or multiple of these groups feel threatened and cast aside by a bill we are considering in the Senate should activate bells and red flags that greater diligence is required.

Honourable senators, we are placed at a disadvantage when appropriately balancing the concerns and recommendations we have heard from many disparate groups and points of view. We can access statistics for how many Canadians have accessed MAID, but we cannot access the number of disabled, racialized Canadians or health professionals who feel their concerns are not being heard, or feel that this piece of legislation could put their lives or their patients in danger. Without adequate and fulsome work being done to ensure these minority voices are being accommodated, we are putting certain groups at risk of being further disadvantaged, marginalized and/or quieted.

Despite the amendments that have been put forward to try to correct some of this bill’s shortcomings, we still have a bill before us that is considered discriminatory by a number of concerned groups and people who feel they may be an unintended consequence of this bill. I think we would all agree that one such case of an unintended consequence in a matter of life and death is one too many.

As a First Nations senator, I have seen the reality on reserve. I have seen elders who die in pain, but who do so with the acceptance and acknowledgment that this is part of their life’s journey. I am concerned about the message this bill sends to our First Nations youth and the cultural ramifications it could have, wherein they arrive at the end of their life’s journey with the belief that the sacredness with which life used to be revered will be diluted and made to feel unimportant and less consequential. I am concerned that the message our First Nations youth are left with is that their life is not sacred and appreciated, as had been with their elders, and that their life doesn’t carry the same weight and meaning. This is because we now have people who are here to help you die.

It is this issue and various other concerns that I have heard from a number of other groups across the country that form the conscience rights and conscience decisions with which I vote on this bill and its amendment.

Honourable senators, in my life, I too have been impacted by the concept of assisted dying, as many of you have. However, I am striving to not let my personal experience impact on my duty and expectation, to give voice and agency to those minority groups that feel unheard and left vulnerable by this bill. As such, it is with great sincerity that I urge all senators to do the same and to strive to approach this bill with objectivity and with the interest of all Canadians, equally, front of mind. Thank you.

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