Statement made on 16 June 2009 by Senator Lucie Pépin (retired)
Hon. Lucie Pépin:
Honourable senators, like abortion, assisted suicide is an issue that angers and divides people. Very often, the emotion around assisted suicide dominates the discussion of this issue.
Last month, a woman in Trois-Rivières, a city in my senatorial division, allegedly committed suicide with her spouse's help. I pay tribute to her memory. The unclear circumstances around this death reopened the debate on assisted suicide, a debate that resurfaces occasionally but has not yet reached a conclusion.
Assisted suicide is certainly an extremely complicated issue, but we cannot keep on sweeping it under the carpet.
In recent years, a number of cases of assisted suicide have gone before the courts, and some have received more media attention than others. More than once, judges stated that such matters were more Parliament's responsibility than the courts'.
That was the opinion of the two judges of the British Columbia Court of Appeal who dismissed Sue Rodriguez's appeal in March 1993. In 2004, in the Marielle Houle case, the Superior Court judge stated that it was up to parliamentarians to legislate on this issue.
Most legislators are afraid of how the public will react, but the public is actually more open than we may think. In June 2007, according to an Ipsos-Reid poll, 76 per cent of respondents felt that terminally ill patients had the right to die.
The Canadian Hospice Palliative Care Association recently reminded us that Canadians take it for granted that specialized care will be available at the end of their lives. Yet only four in 10 Canadians receive the quality end-of-life care they need.
It is crucial that palliative care be improved and that informal caregivers receive better support, as the Special Senate Committee on Aging has suggested.
It is also crucial that we consider how to give people who so desire the opportunity to die under medical supervision.
I know that there is currently a private member's bill before the House of Commons that would amend the Criminal Code.
This bill sets out the conditions under which a person who is at the end of life or is suffering from a debilitating illness could be helped to die with dignity once he or she has expressed his or her free and informed consent to die.
This medical assistance would be provided under strict, safe conditions, to avoid prolonged suffering.
Such a law, modelled on the laws of Belgium and the Netherlands, would reduce suicide among people at the end of life, who would be reassured to know that they have this opportunity.
Every being has the right to die in peace and with dignity. However, we have to recognize that this is not always the case for everyone.
It is time to put the conditions in place so that Canadians who so desire can die without having to leave their loved ones to defend themselves in court or without having to die abroad, like Elizabeth MacDonald, a Canadian with multiple sclerosis who died in Switzerland with the help of the Dignitas organization.