Senator Pana Merchant—Third reading of Bill C-14, An Act to amend the Criminal Code and to make related amendments to other Acts (medical assistance in dying)Published on 15 June 2016 Hansard and Statements by Senator Pana Merchant (retired)
Hon. Pana Merchant:
Honourable senators, I say to my fellow senators of varied views that I respect your depth of understanding and the clarity of your positions with regard to this complex and emotional decision vis-à-vis this legislation.
Colleagues, I am concerned about where the right to assisted suicide legislation is going to take us, the legitimatization of the idea of suicide which is implied, and the change in our approach to the sanctity of life. I am concerned that as this practice becomes normalized, “the system” will lead to unintended consequences and wrongful deaths — a high price to pay to acquire the right and to justify the practice on which we are now embarking.
I do not accept that the current interpretation of the Charter by the Supreme Court meaningfully informs our decision, as members of Parliament, to determine what is right for society. With great respect for the depth of your empathy, and sensitive to your stand on this legislation, I will speak briefly on Bill C-14.
Honourable senators, I am disheartened by the decision of the Supreme Court. I am concerned about where the right to assisted suicide legislation is going to take us and about the profound change in our approach as we contemplate the sanctity of life. For thousands of years, the issue of sanctity of human life has been considered in a broader legal, medical and moral scope than to consider the issue of suicide as an individual right.
Human life is not owned only by us as individuals, but throughout history the protection of human life has been a part of community; and if life can be possessed, our lives are possessed by us both individually and collectively within our communities. That is not a reflection of religion, although all religions reflect that value; it is instead an expression of the community’s value of life and human dignity.
In the Carter decision itself, the Supreme Court held that sanctity of life is the most fundamental value but — different from their 1993 decision — held that the Charter trumps sanctity of life.
I wish it had been open to me to vote neither “yes” nor “no” to the amendments, but I voted “no” as the least harm.
The Supreme Court, in its current interpretation, created a dilemma for the government. If the government did nothing, then suicide and assisted suicide would be ungoverned.
The Supreme Court, having held implicitly that suicide itself — which for hundreds of years was a crime — is no longer a crime, would now visit upon Canada a circumstance with no limits or controls whatsoever. The government instead decided to attempt to throw grappling hooks on what could become a runaway train of uncontrolled suicide and assistance to suicide.
I voted “no” to amendments because, while well-intentioned, I disagree with enlarging the ambit for assisted suicide.
The problem with change is that the legislation going back to the House of Commons might never be passed and our nation would slide toward increasing numbers of suicides and assisted suicides without any controls whatsoever.
Colleagues, I oppose suicide and assistance to suicide. But the option of “no” is not available to us. The options available to us are some controls or no controls. I oppose the amendments, and now I struggle with how I’m going to vote tonight. I may decide to abstain because of the enlarged scope of this bill; however, I do commend all of you sincerely for your respectful debate in dealing with this very difficult issue.