Canada and euthanasia.

Canada’s MAID law seems to be following the example of The Netherlands and Belgium

The first official data have been published on Canada’s so-called Medical Aid in Dying (MAID) law.  These tell us that in the six months between June and December 2016 507 people died under the terms of the MAID law, all but three of them from physician-administered euthanasia (as distinct from physician-assisted suicide).  In addition, there were 296 euthanasia deaths in Quebec under that Province’s ‘End of Life Care’ act.  

According to the report, this total of 803 premature deaths represents 0.6 per cent of all deaths in Canada.  The report attempts to draw comparisons with data from The Netherlands and Belgium, which have similar laws.  These comparisons are flawed.  We are looking at the first six months of Canada’s MAID law and the first year of Quebec’s ‘End of Life Care’ law.  In both The Netherlands and Belgium death rates from euthanasia now are very much higher than in the first year following legalisation – and they are continuing to rise year by year.

With its heavy weighting towards physician-administered euthanasia (only 0.4 per cent of MAID deaths in the last six months of 2016 were from self-administration of lethal drugs) Canada’s situation is analogous to that of The Netherlands and Belgium rather than Oregon.  The advocates of legalisation in Britain tell us that they are campaigning for what they call ‘assisted dying’ and that this does not include allowing doctors to administer lethal drugs to patients.  Yet they proclaim that Canada was the first Commonwealth country to legalise assisted dying.  It is clear, however, that ‘assisted dying’ on the Canadian model consists almost entirely of euthanasia.   

In fact, both the Westminster and Holyrood Parliaments have shown themselves to be fully alive to the dangers of licensing doctors to involve themselves in deliberately bringing about the deaths of patients.  Legalisation of such acts would represent a major change both to the criminal law and to the principles underlying clinical practice.  MPs and MSPs have looked carefully at the evidence that is emerging from the minority of jurisdictions which have chosen to go down the ‘assisted dying’ road.  They are uncomfortable with what they see, and the latest report from Canada is unlikely to provide any reassurance.