Mr. Speaker, a few years ago, members from all parties in the House, including myself, established a committee on palliative and compassionate care. The mandate of the committee was to study the nature and scope of palliative care in Canada. I would like to congratulate the member for Sarnia — Lambton for following up on the committee’s work with this important initiative.
My inspiration for joining the all-party parliamentary committee on palliative care, which was an ad hoc committee, was Teresa Dellar, a friend and Montreal social worker who founded the West Island Palliative Care Residence in my riding of Lac-Saint-Louis in Montreal’s West Island.
The residence has 23 beds making it the largest palliative care facility in Canada. It is a model for palliative and end-of-life care across Canada and throughout the world.
I had the joy and honour of being present at Rideau Hall this past November 25 with Teresa’s husband, Gavin Fernandes, and sons Jonathon and Nicholas, when Teresa was awarded the Meritorious Service Cross by the Governor General for her vision and pioneering work in palliative care—and I would underscore that the member for Sarnia—Lambton happened to be there as well that day.
Some amendments will be necessary to make the bill better fit the constitutional and practical realities of health care in Canada.
For example, clause 2(1) calls on the Minister of Health to:
- develop and implement a framework designed to give Canadians access to palliative care — provided through hospitals, home care, long-term care facilities and residential hospices — that, among other things,
- (a) defines what palliative care is;
Unfortunately, it is not within federal jurisdiction to give, or require provinces and territories to give, access to palliative care.
That said, the federal government is well placed to support the efforts of the provinces and territories and stakeholder organizations, by focusing on aligning and extending federal levers in relation to health care system improvements.
We have already seen the government move in this direction during negotiations over a new health care accord, when it offered $5 billion over 10 years to the provinces for home care, a commitment that Marie-France Juneau, executive director of NOVA West Island, formerly the Victorian Order of Nurses, no doubt welcomed.
NOVA West Island offers indispensable services in a home setting to Montreal West Islanders dealing with cancer and other debilitating diseases like ALS.
Federal funding would benefit NOVA and its patients and leverage the efforts of its volunteers. In 2015–16 alone, 16,532 volunteer hours were donated by 232 active volunteers lending a hand with respect to a number of NOVA’s services.
Clause 4(1) of the bill also requires amendment. Currently, it requires that the Minister of Health undertake a review and table a report on the effectiveness of the stipulated palliative care framework every five years. However, this would require the minister to report on progress in an area where the government has few levers to directly make change.
Instead, therefore, it would be more advisable to have the government simply report on the state of palliative care in Canada after five years, in this way aligning the bill with the law on medical aid in dying, which requires a parliamentary review on the state of palliative care in Canada within five years of its coming into force.
The federal government is also not in a position to dictate to the provinces what specifically constitutes medically necessary services that must be provided to be eligible for federal funding under the Canada Health Act.
It is further worth noting that there is, in fact, no positive right to publicly funded health care in Canada. This was affirmed in the 2005 Chaoulli decision, where the Supreme Court said, “The Charter does not confer a freestanding constitutional right to health care”, even though medicare is rightly considered a de facto right by Canadians — an entrenched, morally rooted societal norm, I would argue.
The federal government has never waded into defining what actually constitutes a medically necessary service. Nonetheless, I believe Canadians will come to expect palliative care as something that should morally and ethically be broadly made available to them at end of life — in other words, a de facto right.
The question is how this right will come to be realized. Some believe it will materialize through the courts. There are those who argue that under section 7 of the charter, the section that affirms the right to life, liberty, and security of the person, individuals must be afforded autonomous choice at the end of life, the basic principle at the core of the medical aid in dying legislation. However, if the degree of pain control provided by palliative care is not available, an individual’s choice has in fact been limited.
In terms of section 15, the charter’s equality provision, others make the argument that current provincial palliative care programs, although not technically viewed as medically necessary since the aim is not to cure but to care, de facto discriminate according to disability because they are generally aimed at those dying from cancer. It is interesting to note in this regard that the West Island Palliative Care Residence, once again a leader, caters not only to cancer patients but also to those with other terminal illnesses. A 2014 Globe and Mail article highlighting the residence stated:
At the outset, 98 per cent of palliative-care patients had terminal cancer…Increasingly, however, the hospice is seeing more patients with end-stage cardiovascular and renal disease, and with conditions such as ALS and multiple sclerosis
Also, palliative care is generally needed by those who are older. Therefore, some argue that the absence of broad access to palliative care amounts to a form of age discrimination.
I would like to take a moment to discuss the West Island Palliative Care Residence’s vision for expanding palliative care in Canada. I believe it dovetails with the general framework and intent of Bill C-277. In particular, I would like to propose that the government partner with the residence, given its reputation as a national leading edge centre of excellence in palliative care, in advancing the palliative care agenda in Canada.
The residence draws on a community, namely Montreal’s West Island, which harbours a critical mass of resources, including the leadership talents of medical practitioners connected to the McGill University and Université de Montréal medical centres. The residence has an important role to play in education and training and in the transfer of practice-based research and knowledge to the broader Canadian community. It intends to play this role by creating a newly formed division called the Montreal institute for palliative care. It is my hope that the minister will seize the opportunity to partner with the institute in fulfilling the government’s expressed commitment to palliative care.
It is often said that the measure of a society’s degree of enlightenment and civilization is found in how it treats its minorities and the extent to which it internalizes the principle of the equality of all its citizens, in the manner in which it accepts and integrates those with disabilities, physical and intellectual, and in how compassionately it embraces those struggling with mental illness. However, I would add to this list how it supports and comforts its citizens at the most vulnerable moment of their life; that is, at the end of life itself.
I recently read some interesting words of our Governor General, His Excellency, the Right Hon. David Johnston, which I am paraphrasing now. He said that the idea of Canada was worthy of expression and refinement. If the Canadian idea is embodied in, among other things, our national publicly funded health care system, then to make palliative care a more prominent part of that system is to further refine the idea of medicare and of what it means to be Canadian.
Let Canada show the world once again, like we have so many other times before, what it means to be a profoundly civilized nation, a nation that gathers its collective resources to enhance the dignity of the individual at the very moment when dignity itself is everything.