At least 970 people in Canada received an assisted death last year, according to a new federal report that provides the first official snapshot of how medical aid in dying is playing out in hospitals and homes across the country.
Assisted deaths accounted for about 0.6 per cent of all deaths nationwide, says the Health Canada report released Wednesday.
Nearly half of all the assisted deaths – 463 – took place in Quebec, where a separate end-of-life law took effect on Dec. 10, 2015, six months before the federal law kicked in.
There were 507 medically assisted deaths in the rest of Canada between June 17 and Dec. 31 of last year, the report says.
The average age of the patients was 72. The cases were split almost evenly between men and women, and about half of all the assisted deaths took place in hospitals.
Cancer was the illness cited most often by patients granted an assisted death (in 56.8 per cent of cases), followed by neurodegenerative conditions such as multiple sclerosis and amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (23.2 per cent,) and cardiovascular and respiratory diseases (10.5 per cent.)
Health Canada is in the midst of crafting regulations that will determine how assisted dying is to be monitored in the future, beginning next year.
The formal monitoring regime is expected to include a broader set of indicators, including how well the eligibility criteria and safeguards in the law are working.
That data will be supplied to the federal government directly by the physicians, nurse practitioners and pharmacists taking part in assisted dying.
In the meantime, the interim report includes data provided by the provinces, most of which has already been made public.
Some provinces have been collecting richer data that reveals the level of interest in hastening death with the help of a doctor.
Manitoba, for instance, reported that as of Dec. 31, its medical-aid-in-dying team had received 96 contacts or inquiries about assisted death and 68 formal requests.
Twenty-one of those requests culminated in an assisted death. Another 20 were rejected, and the rest did not proceed for other reasons, such as a patient dying of natural causes before the process – including a 10-day reflection period stipulated in the law – was finished.
Canada joined just a handful of other countries that permit assisted death after the Supreme Court in 2015 struck down the Criminal Code provision that made it illegal to assist in a suicide.
The proportion of medically assisted deaths in the Netherlands and Belgium, two other countries that allow assisted death, was 3.75 per cent and 1.83 per cent, respectively, in 2015.