More than 100 Canadians have opted for assisted death since law passed

Doctors and nurse practitioners have helped hasten the deaths of more than 100 Canadians since the federal law governing medical aid in dying was passed in June.

Federal government is required to record assisted deaths but has yet to begin tracking numbers

Since the assisted dying law passed in mid-June, more than 100 patients have taken advantage of service, with only some provinces reporting their figures. (Getty Images/Blend Images)

Doctors and nurse practitioners have helped hasten the deaths of more than 100 Canadians since the federal law governing medical aid in dying was passed in June.

The actual number of deaths is probably significantly higher because several provinces could not, or would not, provide complete data. Quebec, which was the first province to adopt a law on doctor-assisted death, provided no data whatsoever.

Watch the documentary Road to Mercy on CBC Firsthand on Thursday October 6 at 9 p.m. on CBC TV. 

The federal law governing medical aid in dying came into effect June 17, after weeks of passionate, and sometimes very personal, political debate. However, the federal government isn't yet officially tracking the number of deaths.

CBC News called all 13 provinces and territories in an effort to find out:

  • Ontario's coroner recorded 49 cases of medically assisted death.
  • British Columbia reported 46.
  • Alberta's provincial health authority said there were 15 cases.
  • Manitoba had eight recorded cases. 
  • The Yukon, New Brunswick and Nova Scotia all declined to provide a precise number, citing privacy concerns.
  • Nunavut, Northwest Territories, Prince Edward Island, and Newfoundland and Labrador all said they had no reported deaths during that two-month period.
  • Saskatchewan said there were fewer than five cases.

Newfoundland and Labrador did have one request. "The individual; however, died of natural causes before the service was provided," said a Health and Community Services official.

Officials in Nova Scotia explained their reasons for declining to provide numbers: "Essentially, these are very small numbers and the risk of an infringement of confidentiality or distress for families who may identify with the numbers have resulted in our decision to not provide the numbers."

Things seem to be proceeding relatively well with respect to availability of physicians and interpretation of federal legislation- CMA spokesperson

In Quebec, where a provincial law has made doctor-assisted death available since December 2015, the Ministry of Health and Social Services said it could not provide a figure yet. An official said the ministry was supposed to receive the data by the end of September.

Federal government isn't counting...yet

The new law requires the federal government to come up with guidelines for what data should be recorded when someone asks for a medically assisted death. But that hasn't happened yet.

"These regulations could include specifying the kind of information to be provided, the body that would analyze the information, and how often reports would be published," said a spokesperson for Health Minister Jane Philpott.

Right now the government is still working on an interim protocol to track the numbers.

There are also dozens of medically-assisted deaths that took place before the legislation was passed.

Initially, when the Supreme Court declared it was unconstitutional to stop suffering Canadians from accessing medical aid in dying, the court gave the then-Conservative government 12 months to put a new law in place.

When the Liberals came into power, the court granted that government a four-month extension, but said, during that time, Canadians who wanted a doctor's help to die could apply to a provincial judge for permission . There was also a brief period of time after the Supreme Court's deadline expired where there was no new federal legislation in place.

'Things seem to be proceeding relatively well'

One group that represents Canadian doctors said things seem to be off to a fairly good start. 

The Canadian Medical Association has generally been supportive of the government's approach on this issue. It just wrapped a general meeting with members in Vancouver in August.

"Based on anecdotal reports from CMA members, things seem to be proceeding relatively well with respect to availability of physicians and interpretation of federal legislation, " said a spokesperson in a statement.

However, one civil rights group has already launched a legal challenge, saying Canadians who are suffering, but not nearing the end of life, should still be able to access medical assistance in death.  An official with the justice minister's office said it was the only legal challenge of the legislation.


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