A new report on Canada’s fledgling doctor-assisted suicide regime reveals that more than 1,100 people have chosen to end their own lives with the help of a physician in the first six months of 2017.
The report, prepared by Health Canada and published on Friday, calculated that physician-assisted suicides account for 0.9 percent of all deaths in that window.
The first half of the year saw a nearly 47 percent hike in the number of medically-assisted deaths in Canada over the six months prior — the first six months where physician assisted suicide was legal in Canada.
The public reporting was designed to allay fears that the doctor-assisted suicide regime could be turned into state-driven euthanasia. Health Minister Ginette Petitpas Taylor said in a statement that the report “exemplifies the continued commitment of all governments to a rigorous and transparent process for this complex and sensitive issue.”
The numbers show a sustained high demand for the right to voluntary euthanasia, although Canada’s rate of doctor-assisted suicide is relatively low compared with other countries where the practice is legal.
“I thought what would happen would be is we’d have a bubble of people and then it would settle down. But we’re seeing it’s not,” Dr. James Silvius, who handles doctor-assisted suicide for Alberta, told VICE News last September. Since then, cases have only increased.
Canada legalized voluntary euthanasia for terminally-ill patients last June, after the Supreme Court struck down laws criminalizing the practise earlier in 2016.
The law includes numerous safeguards and requirements for those wanting medical aid in dying; the person must have a “grievous and irremediable” medical condition and that death must be “reasonably foreseeable.”
That, critics say, will exclude an array of younger patients who are living in pain and suffering, but who may not die for decades to come.
The age breakdown of those who received medical assistance in dying shows that the vast majority were older than 50 (the average age for voluntary euthanasia was 73) although six percent of those deaths were for patients under the age of 55.
Most of the deaths were due to cancer, with a quarter reporting neurodegenerative diseases.