The Commission on end-of-life care has called upon doctors in Quebec practicing euthanasia, officially designated as “Medical Assistance in Dying (MAD), to follow the law more strictly.
Indeed, the exponential increase in the number of euthanasia in that Canadian province raises serious questions. The latest annual report on MAD in Canada for 2021 revealed an overall increase in the number of euthanasia of 32.4% reaching a figure of 3.3% of deaths, i.e. 10,064 cases. For Quebec which legalised euthanasia in 2015, this represents 5.5% of deaths, thus overtaking both Belgium and the Netherlands which have had a law to cover euthanasia for 21 years. This proportion is expected to reach 7% in 2023.
This warning is made in the context of changes in the law at the federal level as well as in Quebec which operates under a specific legislative framework. In 2023, Quebec voted for a highly controversial extension to the law: the handicapped whose life expectancy is not threatened are now eligible for euthanasia. Additionally, from the next 7th December, all palliative care centres are compelled to perform euthanasia on request.
Radio Canada has reported that the Commission recorded several breaches in the law: non-compliant euthanasia practices or “euthanasia administered at the limit of the mandatory conditions”, or lack of rigour regarding the opinion of a second doctor and “shopping around” i.e. resorting to doctors who are less rigid. The commission also points out that ageing is not an incurable disease and does not justify MAD.
An editorial in the Washington Post pointed out on 13th September that “The more the practice develops, the greater the risk of errors or abuse, in a context where errors or mistakes have irreversible consequences”.
According to the citizens’ network “Vivre dans la Dignité (Living with dignity)” : “It should be understood also that these reminders are being given whereas the true situation is probably more serious than is being described by the Commission with respect to end of life care, as it currently refuses to admit that there is any abuse.“
In fact, a scientific study issued last August, headed The Realities of Medical Assistance in Dying in Canada, warns of the serious loopholes in the euthanasia procedures. The authors concluded that “The Canadian system for medical assistance in dying does not provide the protective measures, the collection of data and the supervision necessary to protect Canadians against premature death”.
Under such conditions, it is doubtful that a mere reminder of the law will be enough to prevent the breaches observed.