‘Suffering is something they want to alleviate’: medically-assisted deaths on rise in Canada
More Canadians than ever before are now turning to doctors for help in dying a dignified death.
According to statistics from Health Canada, medically-assisted deaths in this country rose nearly 30 per cent in the second half of 2017, with most taking place in the patient’s home.
Between July and December of last year, 1,525 patients sought a medically-assisted death, up from 875 in the first six months of the year.
A fight to die requires Canadians to meet all of the criteria as set out by the federal government.
“I think that for a lot of people, they want to have control of their own lives and that includes the method of their death,” said Bryan Salte, associate registrar and legal counsel for the College of Physicians and Surgeons of Saskatchewan.
Since becoming legal in 2016 and December 2017, 3,714 Canadians have opted for this so-called medical mercy in order to end their lives.
The majority of the time, the patient had been diagnosed with a type of cancer.
In Saskatoon and surrounding areas, 56 individuals have died with either a doctor or nurse practitioner by their bedside. Approximately 148 patients have applied for an assessment.
According to Dr. Paul Babyn, the Saskatchewan Health Authority’s physician executive for provincial programs, among those patients, the demographic was more men than women with an average age of 75 years old.
“Generally, it’s the recognition that they have suffering, and that suffering is something they want to alleviate.”
The data also shows that since the new law was introduced, 1,066 Canadians had their request for a medically-assisted death denied.
The two main reasons were loss competency and their natural death wasn’t reasonably foreseeable.
An estimated 148 Canadians died while waiting for their request to be fulfilled.
In Saskatchewan, a huge challenge is the limited number of physicians assisting patients with this dying wish and how far they have to travel.
“It is difficult for some of the patients to get access and it can take a longer period of time for our patients in more remote communities to have access to this service,” said Babyn.
“They generally can’t travel well so the physician and appropriate assessment team must come to the patient and that can take time to organize.”
It is hoped that accessibility will increase as more health-care professionals provide this end-of-life service.
“That is one of the very real concerns right now,” said Salte.
“What number of physicians are prepared to participate in this because it is not ideal for anybody to take a physician from Saskatoon and have them drive for four hours in order to do the assessments and perhaps come back later.”
There are two types of medical assistance in dying available to Canadians — the substance is administered by a physician or nurse practitioner, or the patient can self-administer.
According to Salte, documentation shows that in five per cent of cases, patients have failed to die when they try do it themselves, therefore, a medical professional needs to be on standby.
Overall, medically-assisted deaths only account for about one per cent of deaths in Canada and the average age of the patient was 73 years old.