John Rafferty MP – Time for a mature discussion on end-of-life care in Canada

Parliament Hill

John Rafferty MP
John Rafferty MP
OTTAWA – POLITICS – Whether it is with a friend, a family member, or a stranger it is safe to say that some issues are more difficult to discuss than others. With that being said, and given the recent decision by the Supreme Court of Canada on the legality of assisted suicide in Canada, I believe that the time has come for a mature public discussion on palliative and end-of-life care in Canada.

For those who may not have heard, the Supreme Court of Canada issued a unanimous verdict last week that struck down Criminal Code provisions which made medically assisted suicide illegal in Canada. This is not the easiest subject to discuss as we all cherish our own life and others’ and tend to avoid thinking about the end of our lives as much as possible, but in reality we have no choice. With this unanimous ruling by our Supreme Court parliament now has a year to update our laws to reflect a person’s legal right to both live and die with dignity. The debate on the legality of this matter is now over, but we must still work together to find a way that respects this legal right and find ways to improve palliative and end-of-life care in our healthcare system.

Rights and responsibilities go hand and hand in a democracy. They always have they always will. If it is the right of a person to live and die with dignity, then it is our government’s responsibility to ensure that all Canadians are able to exercise this right. The Canada Health Act lays out five requirements, or principles, for the delivery of healthcare, and states that it must be; publicly administered, comprehensive, universal, portable, and accessible. These five principles must be respected by the provinces, and they must also be extended to palliative and end of life of care. As your elected representative I understand this and will work to ensure that these principles are upheld for all Canadians throughout our lives.

Last year my New Democrat colleague Charlie Angus, the Member of Parliament for Timmins-James Bay, tabled a motion in parliament regarding palliative and end-of-life care. In a column he authored on the need for a pan-Canadian palliative care system, he argued; “Across this country, palliative care is being delivered in a patchwork manner. Some regions have wonderful palliative services while other regions make do with volunteerism and fragmented service options. Fragmented services actually cost the system a great deal more money. The differences in quality, cost and emotional/physical outcomes between a functioning palliative system and the status quo are enormous.” He, and we, see the problem and agree that we must work together towards a solution. Charlie’s non-binding motion, which passed in the House of Commons by a vote of 264-1 last May, was as follows;

Private Members Motion M-456: “That, in the opinion of the House, the government should establish a Pan-Canadian Palliative and End-of-life Care Strategy by working with provinces and territories on a flexible, integrated model of palliative care that: (a) takes into account the geographic, regional, and cultural diversity of urban and rural Canada; (b) respects the cultural, spiritual and familial needs of Canada’s First Nation, Inuit and Métis people; and (c) has the goal of (i) ensuring all Canadians have access to high quality home-based and hospice palliative end-of-life care, (ii) providing more support for caregivers, (iii) improving the quality and consistency of home and hospice palliative end-of-life care in Canada, (iv) encouraging Canadians to discuss and plan for end-of-life care.”

As parliament responds over the coming months to the unanimous Supreme Court ruling on assisted suicide I hope this government, all members of which supported Charlie’s motion, will agree at the same time to work with all parties and non-political organizations in Canada towards the shared goal of providing better and more accessible palliative and end-of-life care for all.

John Rafferty MP