Over 450 Quebec patients received medical aid in dying last year

A total of 461 patients were granted doctor-assisted death during the first year Quebec's medical aid in dying law came into effect, according to data obtained by CBC's French-language service, Radio-Canada.

Provincial law introduced in 2016 requires that applicants 'be at the end of life'

The number of total requests as well as the rate of acceptance of medical aid in dying have increased following the first six months of the program in Quebec. (Shaun Best/Reuters)

A total of 461 patients were granted doctor-assisted death during the first year of Quebec's medical aid in dying law, according to data obtained by CBC's French-language service, Radio-Canada.

The number of requests increased significantly in the second half of 2016. From December 2015 to end of June 2016, 253 patients requested the procedure, and 166 of them underwent it.

Between June and December 2016, 468 people made requests for medically assisted dying, with 295 of them undergoing it.

According to Dr. Alain Naud, the data indicates medical aid in dying is meeting a societal need, and the process is "increasingly known to the population and caregivers."

Naud, who works in palliative care at the Centre hospitalier universitaire de Québec, a university-affiliated hospital in Quebec City, says that in some regions, access to palliative care is insufficient and many patients' requests are refused unfairly.

Canada and Quebec have two separate laws governing medical assistance in dying. Quebec's law, which is narrower than the recently passed federal version, requires that applicants "be at the end of life."

The federal law restricts medically assisted death to adults with a "foreseeable" death.

Neither law allows for advance consent, which would let terminally ill patients express their interest in medical aid in dying while they are still cognitively competent.

Number of medically assisted deaths (December 2015 - December 2016)

Number of medically assisted death cases in the first year of the law coming into effect. (Radio-Canada)

Requests, rate of acceptance vary by region

Five health services centres in Quebec saw substantial increases in the number of requests they were receiving, a rise of more than 200 per cent.

For example, the West Island Integrated University Health and Social Services Centre (CIUSSS) saw an increase of 266.7 per cent after the first six months.

Meanwhile, the data shows the rate of acceptance varies based on where the request is made.

At the CIUSSS Capitale-Nationale in Quebec City, 79 per cent of requests were granted, while numbers hovered at 61 per cent in Outaouais, 54 per cent in Lanaudière and 35.7 per cent at the CIUSSS du Nord-de-l'Île-de-Montréal.

The lowest rate of acceptance was found at the West Island centre, with only 28.6 per cent of doctor-assisted death requests being accepted.

The West Island CIUSSS provided CBC News with a report detailing the 12 requests handled during that year.

Of those, five were accepted and two were rejected, while the others either changed their minds or died before their requests could be processed.

Centres with the lowest rate of acceptance

The lowest rate for medical aid in dying in Quebec was at the West Island health centre, according to the data. (Radio-Canada)

Patients must be in 'irreversible decline'

Quebec became the first province to make it legal for terminally ill patients to choose to die with medical help.

The law went into effect on Dec. 10, 2015. 

According to Quebec's end-of-life care legislation, patients must be legal adults, capable of giving consent. They must suffer from a serious and incurable illness, and already be near the end of their natural lives.

Patients also must be in an advanced state of "irreversible decline in capability," and be experiencing constant and unbearable physical or psychological pain.

Based on a report from Radio-Canada's Davide Gentile