In 2022, a staggering 4.1 per cent of all deaths in Canada were attributed to euthanasia and assisted suicide (euphemistically named “Medical Assistance in Dying” (MAiD)), according to figures provided in the latest annual report on euthanasia statistics, released by the country's health ministry.
This equates to 13,241 individuals - 36 people per day - who opted for euthanasia, representing a significant 31 per cent increase from the previous year.
Canada’s law requires a person to have a grievous and irremediable medical condition, make a voluntary request free from external pressure, and provide informed consent in order to be eligible.
Concerns have been growing about the regime however in recent years, with media reports revealing that financial hardship or lack of healthcare access were driving Canadians to opt for assisted suicide. Disturbing stories included instances of economically disadvantaged women with chronic health conditions successfully applying for euthanasia. In addition, four Canadian military veterans were reportedly "pressured" into choosing euthanasia by a now-suspended Veterans Affairs Canada caseworker.
Health Canada's fourth annual report on its euthanasia statistics reveals a startling surge in deaths since the regime began in 2016, with a thirteenfold increase. Cancer was the most frequently cited underlying medical condition (63%), followed by various respiratory, cardiovascular, and neurological conditions.
The primary sources of suffering cited by those seeking euthanasia and assisted suicide were the loss of meaningful activities (86.3%), the inability to perform daily tasks (81.9%), and concerns about pain control (59.2%).
Since Canada legalised euthanasia in 2016, the scope of its regime has expanded significantly. In 2021, the Canadian parliament passed Bill C-7, removing the requirement that only those with a terminal illness could request euthanasia. Next March, the program will further expand to include individuals whose sole issue is a mental illness.
In Quebec, Dr Michel Bureau, the head of the Commission sur les soins de fin de vie, the independent body that monitors the practice, has raised concerns about doctors no longer treating euthanasia as a last resort:
“Quebecers have stopped appreciating MAID as an exceptional procedure for people with incurable illnesses whose suffering is unbearable, Dr. Michel Bureau said in a recent interview.
“We’re now no longer dealing with an exceptional treatment, but a treatment that is very frequent,” said Bureau.
The commission recently sent a memo to doctors reminding them of the criteria involved and calling on them to abide by the legal requirements, observing also that:
“Medical aid in dying is not there to replace natural death”.
With 6.1 per cent of all deaths in Quebec attributable to euthanasia, it would seem this message is not cutting through, as more and more people turn to euthanasia as their default way of dying.
Here in Australia, the ACT government has recently introduced a bill to legalise euthanasia and assisted suicide into the Legislative Assembly. The laws have been described as “the most liberal euthanasia laws” in the country, with no need for a predicted time of death for terminally ill patients to access the scheme.
With such a broad starting point, it may not be too long before the ACT finds itself headed in the same direction as Canada.
If you live in the ACT, please consider calling or emailing your local MLA to express your opposition to these euthanasia laws. Find contact details here.