Health Canada says more than 2,000 medically assisted deaths since legalization

Health Canada has released its second interim report on physician-assisted death in Canada. Staff Files / Global News

A new report from Health Canada found more than 2,000 Canadians made the decision to end their lives with the help of a doctor since medically assisted death became legal in the country.

There were 1,982 medically assisted deaths in the one-year period after it became legal in June 2016, and another 167 in Quebec since it was legalized in that province in December 2015, according to the report released Friday.

Health Canada said the number of assisted deaths has been rising, with 803 assisted deaths reported in the first six months after it became legal compared to 1,179 deaths that occurred in the following six months from January to June 2017.

READ MORE: B.C. assisted dying review finds program working well, but room for improvement

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Surprising number of people on Vancouver Island choosing assisted death

This represents a 47 per cent increase, according to the report, but accounts for less than one per cent of all deaths in Canada.

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“Cancer was the most frequently cited underlying medical condition associated with an assisted death, representing approximately 63 per cent of all assisted dying cases among reporting jurisdictions,” the report said.

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This is consistent with other jurisdictions around the world that allow some form of assisted dying, including Oregon (72 per cent), Belgium (69 per cent) and the Netherlands (71 per cent.)

Other findings from Health Canada’s second interim report on medically assisted deaths include that the average patient was 73 when they died, and there have been five total self-administered deaths (assisted suicide) since becoming legal.

READ MORE: Ontario creating service to help people seeking medically assisted dying

Click to play video: '365 people in Ontario ended their lives with medical help since assisted dying became law'
365 people in Ontario ended their lives with medical help since assisted dying became law

And while the majority of cases, 150, involved people aged 56 to 85, there were 18 cases of people aged 18 to 45.

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The report also noted a small increase in people choosing to end their lives at home rather than in hospital.

“Between January 1 and June 30, 2017, approximately 42 per cent of all cases of assisted dying took place in hospital, as compared to 50 per cent in the first six months that the legislation was implemented,” the report found. “It is still too early to determine whether this is the beginning of a longer-term shift attributable to improved system integration and policies designed to facilitate home-based assisted death.”

The health agency said that more changes are expected as laws around assisted death have been clarified or expanded.

“It is expected that how services are organized, delivered and monitored will continue to evolve as data becomes more available and jurisdictions are able to evaluate existing policies and service delivery models,” the report said.

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