British Columbia

Vancouver Island reports B.C.'s highest assisted death rate

Six months after medically assisted death became legal in Canada it is proving particularly popular on Vancouver Island.

'This is a much more rapid rise than happened in the Netherlands,' says Island Health doctor

Former nurse Noreen Campbell died with a physician's assistance at home in January 2017. The Vancouver Island Health authority reported 77 medically assisted deaths on Vancouver Island from June 17, 2016 to Jan. 10, 2017. (CBC)

Six months after medically assisted death became legal in Canada it is proving particularly popular on Vancouver Island.

From June 17, 2016 when Bill C-14 was enacted to Jan.10 2017, 188 medically assisted deaths were reported to the BC Coroners Service.

Of that number, 77 were residents of Vancouver Island, which has a population of about 760,000.  

It represents two per cent of all deaths on the Island during that time, according to Dr. David Robertson, the executive lead on medical aid in dying for Island Health.

By comparison there were 58 medically assisted deaths during that period in the Vancouver Coastal Health region which has more than one million residents.

There were 24 in the Fraser Health region, which has a population of about 1.6 million.

Interior Health reported 23 and the Northern Health Authority reported five. 

Dr. David Robertson oversees Island Health facilities and staff involved in services related to medically assisted death. (CHEK News)

"This is a much more rapid rise than happened in the Netherlands (where assisted dying was legalized in 2002)," Robertson told On the Island host Gregor Craigie.

Robertson said in the Netherlands, medically assisted deaths gradually increased to 4 per cent of all deaths, but it is too early to tell if the rate on the Island or elsewhere in Canada will reach that level. 

He said factors for the higher rate of assisted death could include the older population on the Island and a higher level of awareness and acceptance of the concept because of Victoria resident Sue Rodriguez's national crusade for the right to assisted dying in the 1990s.

Twelve physicians on Vancouver Island currently provide medical aid in dying. (CHEK News)

Twelve physicians on Vancouver Island currently provide medical assistance in dying, though 38 have received training to do so.

The majority of deaths occur at home, according to Island Health while the health authority estimates that for each assisted death performed, between five and 10 assessments are carried out where the patient is deemed ineligible.

In addition, many more requests for information are received where the patient doesn't go ahead with the assessment.


To hear the full interview with Dr. David Robertson click on the audio labelled "Vancouver Island reports B.C.'s highest assisted death rate".


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