By Alex Schadenberg, Executive Director, Euthanasia Prevention Coalition.
Canada’s life expectancy rate has dropped three years in a row from the average Canadian dying at the age of 82.3 years in 2019 to 81.3 years in 2022.
Much of the news coverage blamed the shorter life span on Covid 19 deaths but the Canadian Press reported that:
An increase in deaths among younger people last year was attributable in part to deaths under investigation by a coroner or medical examiner, which typically include suicides, homicides and drug toxicity deaths.
Further to that the Canadian Press reported:
New Brunswick saw the biggest decline in life expectancy among provinces, dropping more than a year to 79.8 years from 80.9 in 2021, the report said. Saskatchewan’s life expectancy has fallen the most over the past three years combined, dropping a full two years to 78.5 in 2022 from 80.5 in 2019. Prince Edward Island was not included in the yearly data breakdowns by province.
On December 5, Health Columnist Andre Picard wrote in the Globe and Mail that
A one-year loss in life expectancy may not seem like a big deal, but it is. It’s only the second time this sharp a drop has happened in Canada in the past century.
In fact, life expectancy has been climbing steadily for decades: 71 in 1960, 75 in 1980, 79 in 2000, and 82.3 in 2019.
Life expectancy is an oft-misunderstood measure. It’s not so much a prediction of how long an individual can expect to live, but rather a crude measure of a country’s health, the only real measure of overall population health we have.
Picard let’s Canada off the hook by suggesting that lower life expectancy is a global phenomenon:
The drop in life expectancy is a global phenomenon, unprecedented since the Second World War. The U.S., for example, saw a mind-boggling loss of 2.4 years in life expectancy between 2019 and 2021. And they already have some of the worst outcomes in the Western world, with life expectancy hitting a nadir of 76.4 years.
A report by Owen Dyer and published in the British Medical Journal on December 1 states that: US life expectancy recovered slowly from pandemic in 2022, while Canada’s fell further. Dyer explains that the US life expectancy rate improved by 1.1 years in 2022.
One factor not mentioned in any of the analysis is the effect of euthanasia (MAiD) on the Canadian rate of life expectancy. According to the Fourth Annual Report on Medical Assistance in Dying, there were 13,241 reported euthanasia deaths in Canada in 2022. According to the report
The average age of individuals at the time MAID was provided in 2022 was 77.0 years. This average age is slightly higher than the averages of 2019 (75.2), 2020 (75.3) and 2021 (76.3). The average age of females during 2022 was 77.9, compared to males at 76.1.
Euthanasia (MAiD) represented 4.1% of all deaths in Canada.
Since the average person dies by euthanasia at the age of 77 and the average Canadian dies at the age of 81.3 it is likely that death by euthanasia is dragging down the life expectancy rate.
Researchers might respond by stating that most people who die by euthanasia are terminally ill and dying soon. But since March 2021 the federal law doesn’t require that a person’s natural death must be reasonably foreseeable in order to die by euthanasia.
The Fourth Annual Report states that in 3.5% of all euthanasia deaths, the person was not terminally ill. Nonetheless, terminal illness is not defined as within weeks or days of death, but rather a person who is deemed to be terminally ill is only required to have a terminal condition.
Another factor concerning Canada’s euthanasia law is that people are not required to attempt effective treatment before being approved for death. We do not very much research data on this question but there are people who have been diagnosed with a likely treatable condition but who decide to forgo treatment and opt for euthanasia.
A study published in September 2021 by Dr. Sara Moore, a University of Ottawa medical oncologist examined 45 euthanasia deaths of people with lung cancer from the Ottawa region. She concluded that people with lung cancer who died by euthanasia were less likely to consult with a radiation or medical oncologist and less likely to undergo effective treatments. Moore’s research found that 20% of those who died by euthanasia did not consult a radiation oncologist and 22% did not consult a medical oncologist
I am not suggesting that euthanasia is the only cause of Canada’s declining life-expectancy rate but Canada’s MAiD law has affected the rate of life-expectancy.
Studies need to be done that compare outcomes for people who died by euthanasia (life-expectancy, length of time from illness to death) to people with similar health conditions who chose to receive treatment and / or died a natural death.
Editor’s note. This appeared on Mr. Schadenberg’s blog and reposted with permission.