According to the latest figures, about 3,000 Canadians were euthanised in 2018. The Fourth Interim Report on Medical Assistance in Dying says that there were at least 2,614 “medically assisted deaths” in Canada between January 1 and October 31. At the current rate, when all the figures are in, deaths in November and December will probably push last year’s total above 3,000.
These numbers have barely been reported in the media, but they offer an astonishing insight into how quickly euthanasia – or as they call it there, Medical Assistance in Dying (MAID) — can take hold once legal roadblocks have been removed.
Although euthanasia was only legalised in Canada in June 2016, it has rocketed ahead. In the 10 months covered by this report, euthanasia accounted for 1.12% of all deaths in Canada.
According to the report, “The percentage of deaths due to MAID in Canada also continues to remain within the percentage of medically assisted deaths provided in other countries where 0.4% (Oregon, USA, 2017) to 4% (Netherlands, 2017) of total deaths has been attributed to a medically assisted death.”
This is meant to be reassuring, but comparing two figures which differ by a factor of ten and relate to two different practices (assisted suicide in Oregon and euthanasia in the Netherlands) is meaningless.
There have been at least 6,749 medically assisted deaths since June 2016. However, this number does not include data from the Yukon, Northwest Territories and Nunavut. Some figures are also missing from Quebec.
Cancer appears to be the most frequently cited underlying medical condition, accounting for approximately 64% of all deaths. Most people who were euthanised were between 56 and 90, with an average age of 72. Most deaths occurred in a hospital (44%) or in a patient's home (42%). Doctors were the main agents (93%), with nurse practitioners providing the rest.
It is interesting to note that only 6 of all reported MAID deaths were attributable to assisted suicide. Nearly all patients wanted their doctors to administer a lethal injection. The reasons for this are a bit mysterious. Do patients lack the “courage” to kill themselves? Do they want someone else to shoulder the moral responsibility? Does a lethal injection seem like more an ordinary medical procedure? Do they feel less abandoned and lonely? It’s hard to say. But it suggests that if euthanasia were legalised in, say, Oregon, where only assisted suicide is currently allowed, euthanasia deaths would soar.
This is the last interim report now that regulations standardising euthanasia statistics across Canada have come into force.
Wesley J. Smith commented in the National Review: “This means well over 3,000 people are killed by their doctors each year in Canada, which — if my math is correct — is more than 250 a month, more than 58 a week, and more than eight per day. Heck, that’s about one every three hours.”
What should alarm all Canadians – and their neighbours to the south where assisted dying is a hot topic — is that in a mere two years, euthanasia has become so widespread. And already a government-appointed committee is hard at work studying whether the criteria for euthanasia should be expanded to include children and teenagers, people with mental illness and advance directives.
So will Canadian euthanasia deaths stop at 4%, as in the Netherlands? There's no reason to say that they will.
Michael Cook is editor of MercatorNet