October 28, 2016
Caroline Plante, Montreal Gazette
QUEBEC — Three times more Quebecers received medical aid to die in the past nine months than had been expected, said Health Minister Gaétan Barrette.
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.”
But Barrette said Quebec’s numbers are low when compared to other jurisdictions, such as the Netherlands. “When we look at other countries, the numbers on Year 1 were even higher than that. And it’s true, as many observers said in the past few days, that when this is made available to the public, the number increases all the time. I’m expecting that to happen in Quebec also,” notably as more people request the service at home, he said.
Quebec City is where the most requests for aid in dying were granted. According to the report, 45 Quebec City residents have so far received medical aid to die, compared to 54 in Montreal, which has three times the population.
“It’s normal to see differences between cities,” Barrette explained. “In Quebec City, there’s some form of homogeneity about the general population — it’s French speaking, Catholic and we know that in Quebec, that group has a different relationship with the religious principles … when we look at the social fabric of Montreal, ethnic communities are more numerous proportionally and often more religious.”
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.
Barrette said assisted dying remains a “delicate” subject, but the numbers, he said, are proof the commission is doing all the necessary checks. He said Quebecers can be reassured that everything in the system is going “very, very. very well.”
Still, the 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.
To be eligible for medical aid to die, adult patients in Quebec must be at the end of their lives, suffer from a serious and incurable illness and experience constant and unbearable pain.
Quebec’s law was the first of its kind in Canada, adopted in a free vote in the National Assembly on June 5, 2014. Since then, Ottawa has adopted its law, C-14, with much of the same language but requiring a delay of 10 days from the time a request is made to when medical assistance in dying is carried out.