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Canada reports large increase in assisted suicide

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Shutterstock | Algernon7
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Loss of ability to engage in “meaningful life activities” is a major reason given.

Canadians’ use of physician-assisted suicide nearly doubled between 2018 and 2019, the nation’s health ministry said in the first official report on Canada’s experience with assisted suicide.

The “First Annual Report on Medical Assistance in Dying in Canada, 2019” was published last month. “The number of medically assisted deaths is steadily increasing. In 2019, there were 5,631 cases of MAID reported in Canada, accounting for 2.0% of all deaths in Canada.” It continued:

The number of cases of MAID in 2019 represents an increase of 26.1% over 2018 numbers, with all provinces experiencing a steady year over year growth in the number of cases of MAID since its introduction into law in 2016. When all data sources are considered, the total number of medically assisted deaths reported in Canada since the enactment of federal legislation is 13,946.

The data for the report primarily came from the federal monitoring system for MAID, which was launched on November 1, 2018. Prior to that date, data was provided voluntarily by provinces and territories.

The average age of persons who opted for assisted suicide in Canada was 75.2 years, with men only slightly outweighing women, 50.9% to 49.1%. Cancer (67.2%) was the most commonly cited underlying medical condition, followed by respiratory (10.8%) and neurological (10.4%) conditions.

Practitioners reported that suffering among persons choosing assisted suicide “was closely tied to a loss of autonomy,” the report noted. “Loss of ability to engage in meaningful life activities (82.1%) followed closely by loss of ability to perform activities of daily living (78.1%), and inadequate control of symptoms other than pain, or concern about it (56.4%) were the most frequently reported descriptions of the patient’s intolerable suffering.”

Canada legalized assisted suicide in 2016. The report noted that the federal legislature might in the future consider allowing assisted suicide for “mature minors.”

Last year, 92.2% of requests for assisted suicide were approved, out of a total of 7,336 applications.

Canadians who opt for assisted suicide have the option to administer the lethal drugs to themselves, but very few do. Last year, the number of people who chose to self-administer was “fewer than seven.”

In February, Cardinal Thomas Collins, the Archbishop of Toronto, released a statement criticizing a legislative attempt to expand euthanasia without expanding the availability of palliative care.

“Where is the political will to push forward on palliative care for all Canadians?” Cardinal Collins asked. “Only 30% of Canadians have access to quality palliative care even though we know that pain and loneliness are among the biggest fears of those who are suffering. … If all Canadians had access to quality palliative care, fewer would seek lethal injection. But instead of developing an overall culture of care, we are rushing towards death on demand.”

The cardinal added that doctors will be forced to comply with requests for euthanasia, as Canada does not have conscience rights protections for medical professionals.

“Those who feel that their life no longer has value must be assured by all of us that this is absolutely not the case,” Collins added. “There is dignity within each human life, not just when we are young, healthy and able, but even more so, when we are fragile and vulnerable.”

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