60 medically assisted deaths in Alberta this year, majority happened in Edmonton: AHS

Click to play video: 'Medically assisted death demand growing in Alberta'
Medically assisted death demand growing in Alberta
WATCH ABOVE: Several dozen Albertans have sought medical assistance to end their lives this year. As Julia Wong explains, demand for the service is growing – Dec 14, 2016

Several dozen Albertans suffering intolerably from health conditions have sought medical assistance to end their lives this year. Ninety per cent of assisted dying cases in the province have taken place since June, according to the latest numbers released from Alberta Health Services.

READ MORE: Calgary woman with ALS first in Alberta to be granted physician-assisted death

A total of 60 Albertans have used assisted dying since Feb. 6, 2016.

Statistics from AHS show the majority of deaths were in the Edmonton zone:

  • South zone: 8
  • Calgary and central zone: 19
  • Edmonton zone: 28
  • North zone: 5

Silvius said doctors in the Edmonton zone were trained earlier than those elsewhere in Alberta, which explains why the city saw higher numbers.

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“What we’ve been seeing is in other parts of the province, the numbers have actually grown fairly significantly more recently as it has become more of a practice people are comfortable with,” said Dr. James Silvius, AHS’s lead for medical assistance in dying preparedness.

Demand for the service continues to grow across much the province, instead of tapering off following an initial surge of interest.

“There is not a good way to predict it, we have been surprised actually that the numbers haven’t stabilized — they’ve continued to increase,” Silvius said.

“There’s still a lot of media interest, there’s still a lot of public interest on this issue, it’s still relatively new, it’s finding its place appropriately in therapy,” he explained.

AHS said most of the patients were suffering from cancer, multiple sclerosis, and amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), also called Lou Gehrig’s disease.

The average age of people receiving the service ranged:

  • South zone: 71
  • Calgary and central zone: 69
  • Edmonton zone: 70
  • North zone: 66

The Supreme Court of Canada struck down the country’s assisted dying laws as unconstitutional in Feb. 2015, and gave the government a year to come up with legislation to allow for medical assisted dying.

In February, the Supreme Court gave the government an additional four months to craft a new law. Canadians who were not terminally ill but were still suffering greatly had the right to an assisted death between February and June, and during that time six Alberta deaths occurred.

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READ MORE: Feds looking into whether assisted dying appropriate for mentally ill, mature minors

A court order was needed to allow for assisted dying in between the law being struck down and it becoming law.

Bill C-14 officially became law on June 17, and it tightened the rules to limit the right to assisted dying to those whose natural death is “reasonably foreseeable.”

RELATED: Alberta government introduces motion on physician-assisted death

In Alberta, 41 of the deaths were in a healthcare facility of some type, while 19 were in the community. The figures also show six patients were transferred to receive assisted dying: four from faith-based facilities and two from non-faith based facilities to an AHS facility or the patient’s home.

READ MORE: Should a Catholic receive a church funeral after assisted death? Scholars divided

AHS also rejected 28 people for not meeting the criteria to receive assisted dying, such as a mental health diagnosis, loss of capacity and death not being reasonably foreseeable.

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