We’ve previously blogged about medical assistance in dying (MAID), including a challenge filed to the CPSO’s policy on effective referral for assisted dying and a request for the Justice Minister to grant an immediate moratorium on all medically assisted deaths until governing legislation is changed to ensure that all necessary services are in place to assist patients. It is clear that the MAID legislation, which the federal government passed two years ago, has resulted in multi-faceted discussion and debate around the various implications of the legislation, as well as various components of the legislation itself.
Recently, CBC News reported that there were 1,523 medically assisted deaths in Canada in the last six months- an increase of almost 30% since the previous six months.
The above figure accounted for 1.07% of all deaths in Canada in that period of time, and is consistent with reports from other jurisdictions which offer assisted death, where this number ranges from 0.3 to 4%. Since the federal MAID legislation came into force two years ago, 3,714 Canadians have received medical aid in dying.
The majority of Canadians choosing assisted death are between 56 and 90 years old, with the average age being 73 years old. The most common underlying condition resulting in people seeking MAID was cancer, which was cited in 65% of cases.
Unlike in other jurisdictions such as the Netherlands where more than 80% of its assisted deaths occurred at home, in Canada the setting for MAID is usually a hospital (40.5%), a patients home (43.3%), or a long-term care facility. There were more cases of MAID in larger urban centres (55.9%) compared to areas with smaller populations (41.6%).
The CEO of Dying with Dignity Canada noted that she was not surprised to see the numbers increasing, but noted that the eligibility criteria too restrictive and that many Canadians still face too many barriers to an assisted death. She noted that many Canadians die before the assessment process is complete:
“If their health is already precarious, the longer it takes to get the help they need, the greater (the risk) is that they will lose capacity or die before they’re able to complete their request.”
The British Columbia Civil Liberties Association (BCCLA) filed a constitutional challenge to the MAID legislation within 10 days of it being passed, arguing that the legislation violates the Charter rights of Canadians.
The legislation requires that the death of the person seeking MAID must be “reasonably foreseeable”. The BCCLA’s lawsuit was filed on behalf of a B.C. woman with spinal muscular atrophy. The woman fears that her condition will cause her years of unbearable physical and mental suffering, but that she will be unable to receive MAID because her natural death is not “reasonably foreseeable”.
The federal government launched independent reviews following the passing of the legislation in order to decide whether it should be expanded to cover Canadians suffering from mental illness, mature minors, and those with conditions that may erode their competence and who wish to make advance plans for their death.
We will continue to follow the ongoing debate over MAID in Canada and will provide information as this discussion unfolds.
At Wise Health Law, we are passionate about helping healthcare organizations, regulated health professionals, and regulated health professional associations understand and protect their legal rights. We follow developments in the law and are consistently at the forefront of change and innovation. For the convenience of our clients, we have offices in both Toronto and Oakville, Ontario, and are easily accessible. Contact us online, or at 416-915-4234 for a consultation.