More than 160 doctor-assisted deaths in Quebec since 2015

Since Quebec's law allowing doctor-assisted death came into effect in December 2015, 253 patients have requested the procedure; 166 received it.

36 per cent of applicants for the procedure were rejected or changed their minds

The law requires that health institutions publish a report every six months revealing how many requests for doctor-assisted death they've received and how many they've approved. (Radio-Canada)

Since Quebec's law allowing doctor-assisted death came into effect in December 2015, 253 Quebec patients have requested the procedure, and 166 have received it.

Requests for doctor-assisted death are highest in Lanaudière, Laval, as well as east and centre-west of Montreal — all places with large numbers of end-of-life patients.

More requests than expected

The numbers came as a surprise to Dr. George L'Espérance, president of the AQDMD, a Quebec right-to-die group. 

"The bulk of experts expected that between 50 and 100 people would ask for doctor-assisted death in the first year,"  said L'Espérance.

Still, he highlights that these 166 cases represent less than one per cent of the deaths in Quebec during the same period.

"In other parts of the world where the same laws have been adopted, medical aid in dying represents between two and four per cent of deaths," he said.

L'Espérance also says it is possible that the number of requests are high due to a backlog of patients waiting for the law to come into effect.

36 per cent of requests not carried out

Eighty-seven people who requested doctor-assisted death since December 2015 did not receive it, with the highest proportion of applicants being refused in Laval and western Montreal. 

Of those 87, 16 changed their minds.

Quebec's assisted-dying law, which is narrower than the recently passed federal version, requires that applicants "be at the end of life."

In contrast, the federal law states simply that death be "reasonably foreseeable." Quebec Health Minister Gaétan Barrette has said the provincial law will need to be harmonized with the federal version. 

In February, Quebec palliative care doctor Louis Roy said that many patients who were applying for the procedure do not qualify.

He said he would like to see Quebec launch an information campaign so more people understand the criteria.