By Brian Dryden, Canadian Catholic News
[Ottawa – CCN] – A mandated report into Canada’s euthanasia system says that two per cent of all deaths in 2019 were medically-assisted and that most Canadians who decided they wanted to commit legal suicide had also received some form of palliative care.
There were 5,631 reported legal assisted suicide deaths in Canada in 2019, an increase of 26 per cent over 2018, according to the first annual report on the Canadian system of euthanasia (known as “Medical Assistance in Dying” or “MAiD”).
While the report published by the federal health ministry in July 2020 says that two per cent of all deaths in Canada in 2019 were recorded through the assisted suicide/ euthanasia system, the percentages by province were higher in B.C. (3.3%) and Quebec (2.4%).
The report also says that cancer-related illnesses were by far the most common cause of seeking euthanasia (67.2%), that the gender of those using MAiD is evenly split between males and females, and the average age of Canadians who committed suicide with the help of a doctor was 75.
Health Minister Patty Hajdu said in a message released with the report that while she has “heard many heart-warming stories from Canadians describing how MAiD granted their loved ones a calm, compassionate and peaceful ending,” the federal government acknowledges that there are critics of the system of legal euthanasia.
“I have also heard voices of concern from other Canadians, worried there are insufficient protections for those who may be vulnerable to coercion or abuse, or who may request MAiD out of a sense of hopelessness associated with their personal situation,” Hajdu said.
“Supporting individual autonomy to choose how one wishes to address intolerable pain and suffering, while ensuring the decision is made freely and not the result of external pressures or a temporary period of despair, underpins MAiD legislation in Canada,” she said.
Critics and opponents of legal medically-assisted suicide/ euthanasia in Canada, which has been in effect since 2016, have long argued that better and more palliative care should be the focus of how to meet he needs of Canadians nearing the end of life.
The Health Canada report claims that “the majority of persons who received MAiD in 2019 were reported to have received palliative care services (82.1%) and that the majority (60.8%) received these services for one month or more.” The federal report says that indicates “requests for MAiD are not necessarily being driven by a lack of access to palliative care services.”
However, Alex Schadenberg of the Euthanasia Prevention Coalition said the federal report does not indicate what kind of palliative care is being accessed and that citing registration for palliative care is a “smokescreen.”
“The reality is the report does not give any understanding of what that palliative care was,” Schadenberg told Canadian Catholic News in a phone interview
“The (federal) report just gives numbers as reported by MAiD practioners,” he said. “It doesn’t have any independent analysis of what is actually being provided.”
The federal report does acknowledge that more information is needed about the meaning of the palliative care numbers in relation to euthanasia cases.
“It is important to note that while the data provide insight into whether palliative care has been received, it does not speak to the adequacy of the services offered,” the federal report said. “This may be an area for future study.”