Euthanasia deaths increase by one third in Ontario from 2019 to 2020

Editor’s note. This article was published by the Australian Care Alliance on January 19, and reposted by the Euthanasia Prevention Coalition the same day.

Reported deaths by euthanasia in Ontario jumped by one third (32.95%)– from 1,789 in 2019 to 2,378 in 2020– according to statistics published by the Office of the Chief Coroner. 

There have been 6,694 reported cases of euthanasia (and just 2 of assistance to suicide) in Ontario since it became legal throughout Canada on June 17, 2016. 

The youngest person to die by lethal injection in Ontario was 20 years of age and the oldest was 106 years old.

Although 63% of the cases involved people with a “cancer-related” condition, just 2% of providers of euthanasia were oncologists, with 72% being family medicine or general practitioners.

In the whole of Canada in 2019 of the 81,913 deaths attributed to cancer-related conditions (neoplasms) 3,784 deaths (4.62%) were caused by euthanasia.

One supposed safeguard under the Canadian law is a “reflection period” of 10 clear days between a first request and the actual administration of the lethal substance to cause death. However, this was waived in more than one of four cases (26%) in Ontario in all cases of euthanasia through to December 2020.

In 736 cases (11% of all cases) the justification included “imminent death.” If death is imminent why not just keep the person comfortable until they die naturally? Why administer a lethal poison?

chart in the official report on euthanasia in Canada sets out the nature of the “suffering” cited by those who were requested to be killed by a lethal injection.

The official data shows that nearly half (46.1%) of Canadians who were killed by euthanasia in 2019 were not suffering due to any inadequacy in control of pain or even any concern about this. Of the 53.9% who said they were suffering in relation to the inadequacy of pain control the data does not distinguish between those (if any) who were actually experiencing inadequate control of pain and those who were “suffering”–psychologically rather than physically– from worrying (probably quite unnecessarily) about it.

However, 82.1% were said to be “suffering” from “loss of ability to engage in meaningful life activities”. And 34% were “suffering” from perceiving themselves as a burden on family, friends or caregivers.

Applying these percentages to the Ontario cases where the 10 day reflection period was waived, 604 people were killed by a lethal poison within 10 days of their expected death from natural causes because … they couldn’t get in a round of golf anymore … and 250 people were killed to relieve them of feeling they were burdening their family, friends or caregivers by taking a few more days to die naturally.

And 234 were killed prematurely because they were distressed by incontinence.

In 1,004 cases (15%) of euthanasia in Ontario since it was legalised, people who were not imminently dying were killed within less than 10 days of first requesting euthanasia based on a claim – by the medical or nurse practitioner administering the lethal poison and one other medical or nurse practitioner neither of whom need any special expertise in either the underlying condition or assessing capacity to provide informed consent – that the person was imminently losing capacity to give informed consent.

How can a person be judged at the same time to certainly have that capacity but just as certainly be about to lose it? This allows same day euthanasia by request by people not imminently dying and with rapidly diminishing capacity to consent.

When the Canadian Senate resumes on February 2, 2021 debate on Bill C-7 will continue. The Bill will repeal the current provision that requires a person’s natural death be “reasonably foreseeable” in order for them to be eligible for euthanasia.

The number of cases of euthanasia in Canada is expected to rise even more steeply each year if this change is made.