Medically assisted deaths jumped by 31 per cent in Canada last year as part of a continuing trend since the practice was legalized in 2016 for those with a serious and incurable illness or disability, a federal report says.
Health Canada says in the report that 13,241 people chose medical assistance in dying (MAID) in 2022, for a total of 44,958 deaths so far, and that the average annual growth rate has been31 per cent from 2019 to 2022.
The fourth annual report comes before MAID is expected to expand next spring to include people with a mental disorder as the sole underlying condition, though some psychiatrists are calling for more addiction and mental health services.
The report says 63 per cent of people who received MAID last year had cancer and 19 per cent had heart conditions. All provinces except Manitoba and Yukon continued to experience a steady year-over-year growth in MAID.
It says nearly 78 per cent of patients received palliative care, a level similar to the previous three years, and that half of patients got that care for a month or more, similar to the level reported in 2021.
Nearly 20 per cent of MAID recipients did not receive palliative care, but almost 88 per cent had access to it.
“The receipt of palliative care services is more common amongst individuals with a main condition of cancer, while disability support services were more commonly received by individuals suffering from a neurological condition,” says the report, released Tuesday.
In a message accompanying the fourth annual MAID report, Health Minister Mark Holland says Ottawa is collaborating with provinces and territories to ensure the safe and consistent delivery of the provision.
“Through this ongoing collaboration, we continue to advance core principles of safety, accessibility and the protection of persons who may be vulnerable, throughout the MAID system,” he said.
However, Rebecca Vachon, health program director at the public-policy group Cardus, said it’s alarming that four per cent of all deaths in Canada last year involved euthanasia, “especially when we’re looking at continuing to expand eligibility in March.”
The fact that some people chose not to receive palliative care may suggest more investments are needed in that service, said Vachon, adding a lack of good data makes it challenging to address resources.
While the lack of trained MAID providers has been a concern due to the growth in applicants, the report says there were 1,837 practitioners licensed to provide that service in 2022 compared to 1,542 practitioners a year earlier.
Doctors performed nearly 91 per cent of the procedures, with nurse practitioners doing the rest.