Under new law Québec euthanasia numbers much higher than expected

By Alex Schadenberg, Executive Director, Euthanasia Prevention Coalition

Quebec Health Minister Gaetan Barrette

Quebec Health Minister Gaetan Barrette

The Québec end-of-life care commission has reported that during the first 7 months under the euthanasia law there were 262 reported euthanasia deaths, a number that is much higher than the expected total of 100 for an entire year.

Caroline Plante reported in The Montreal Gazette [http://montrealgazette.com/news/quebec/more-seeking-medical-aid-to-die-than-expected-barrette]that Québec’s Health Minister, Gaétan Barrette, seemed surprised by the number of deaths:

The minister presented Quebec’s end-of-life care commission’s first report at the National Assembly on Thursday. He expressed surprise that since the law came into effect Dec. 10, 2015, 262 people have resorted to what the provincial government calls “end-of-life care” and what Ottawa refers to as voluntary euthanasia.

“I mentioned many times that I was expecting about 100,” Barrette said during the news conference. “It’s almost three times that. Actually, on a one-year period, it will be over 300 … that in itself is surprising to me.”

The report says medical aid to die wasn’t administered for 87 requests: 36 of them did not meet the criteria set out in the law, 24 people changed their minds, 21 died before receiving the aid, one has asked for a delay and five requests are still being processed.

Even though the number of euthanasia deaths is much higher than forecast during the Bill 52 debate, Plante also reported that Barrette may reduce the requirement that two independent physicians approve the death:

[T]he minister said he is considering making some adjustments to simplify the paperwork and ease the obligation of seeking a second opinion from an objective and independent doctor, who must agree that there is no hope of recovery.

Barrette said in certain, more isolated towns, it is difficult to find a second doctor who is completely independent from the patient.

Barrette first extended the reach of the law last June when he stripped palliative doctors and institutions of their conscience rights by ordering them to participate in the euthanasia law.

Ingrid Peritz reported in The Globe and Mail that of the 262 deaths, 21 failed to meet the legal requirements of the law:

The report found that of the cases it examined, 21 failed to meet the legal restrictions.

The vast majority of those – 18 – involved questions about the independence of the second doctor who is required to sign off on the assisted death. Mr. Barrette said the problem often arises in smaller communities where doctors know one another.

Of the remaining three cases, two were instances in which assisted death was administered without proving the patient was at the end of life. In one case, it wasn’t proven that the patient was facing a serious and incurable illness, as required under the law.

All 21 cases have been referred to Quebec’s College of Physicians, which will review them, a spokeswoman said.

The 262 reported euthanasia deaths were for the period December 10, 2015 to June 30, 2016. Since the Québec euthanasia law is based on the Belgian euthanasia law and since nearly half of the assisted deaths in Belgium are not reported, we wonder how many euthanasia deaths have actually occurred in Québec?

Editor’s note. This appeared on Mr. Schadenberg’s blog and is reposted with permission.