Bioethics Blogs

Euthanasia in Canada: Early Returns

Last week’s New England Journal of Medicine carried a report from physicians in Toronto about early results implementing “Medical Assistance in Dying,” or “MAiD,” the preferred euphemism for doctor-assisted suicide or euthanasia, in Canada.

“MAiD” became legally sanctioned throughout Canada in 2016.  It includes not only assisted suicide—where a doctor provides a patient with a drug prescription intended to be lethal if taken as directed—but also euthanasia, in which a doctor actively kills a patient, at the latter’s request (at least for now).  The recounts provisions in Canadian law intended to limit “MAiD” to people whose medical condition is deteriorating from a serious, incurable disorder, and to ensure that people who receive “MAiD” do so after freely requesting it, and affirming that request after 10 days to think it over.

To keep things “controlled,” the Toronto program is entirely hospital based, limited to lethal IV injection for which recipients are evaluated and ultimately killed by dedicated physicians who have freely agreed to participate.  The specific hospital ward where a patient is euthanized is rotated, so that no ward gets the title of the “MAiD ward,” but the medical team is set.

Some noteworthy points:

  • MAiD was assigned to the Department of Supportive Care. Other clinical departments demurred out of concerns like “conscientious objections of staff” and “obscuring their specialty’s role in protecting life.”
  • As reported elsewhere, patients receiving MAiD sought it because of loss of autonomy, as well as inability to enjoy life, not because of uncontrolled physical symptoms. These people “tended to be white and relatively affluent.”
  • From March 2016 to March 2017:

o   74 MAiD inquiries in the region served by the Toronto investigators.

The views, opinions and positions expressed by these authors and blogs are theirs and do not necessarily represent that of the Bioethics Research Library and Kennedy Institute of Ethics or Georgetown University.