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Health-care costs in Canada dropped after assisted dying became legal

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Since Canada’s law on medical assistance in dying came into effect more than four years ago, health-care costs have dropped millions of dollars, according to a Parliamentary Budget Officer (PBO) report released Tuesday.

The report on assisted dying said since becoming legal on June 17, 2016, Canada’s health-care costs have dropped $86.9 million.

Read more: Bill on assisted dying to be reintroduced Monday amid upcoming court deadline

Many studies have shown that health-care costs in the last year of life, and especially the last month, are “disproportionately high,” the PBO report stated. The costs represent between 10 per cent and 20 per cent of total health-care costs despite those patients representing about one per cent of the population.

The report emphasized that the numbers should “in no way be interpreted” as suggesting assisted dying be used to reduce health-care costs.

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The PBO report added that access to medically assisted dying will result in a reduction in health-care costs for provinces. But the reduction “represents a negligible portion” of the health-care budges of provinces.

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The findings come as the federal government has reintroduced legislation, contained in Bill C-7, to amend Canada’s law on medical assistance in dying.

The government has until Dec. 18 to amend the law to comply with a Quebec court ruling last fall, which found it was unconstitutional to allow only those whose natural death is “reasonably foreseeable” to be able to get medical help to end their suffering.

Read more: New study finds medical aid in dying not driven by lack of access to palliative care

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Justice Minister David Lametti introduced a bill in response to that ruling last February but it didn’t get beyond the initial stage of the legislative process before the House of Commons adjourned in mid-March due to the coronavirus pandemic.

The bill scraps reasonably foreseeable death as a requirement for an assisted death but retains the concept to set out easier eligibility rules for those who are near death and more stringent rules for those who aren’t.

Tuesday’s PBO report also found that expanding access to medical assistance in dying would lead to nearly 1,200 more aided deaths next year.

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The budget office estimates the legislation would mean an additional 1,164 medically assisted deaths in Canada in 2021, on top of the 6,465 deaths expected under the current regime.

Provincial health budgets would see a savings of $149 million next year if the numbers hold true, largely from declines in spending on end-of-life care.

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— With files from The Canadian Press