Requests for medical assistance in dying (MAiD) have surged in Manitoba with record highs last year, according to recent data.
The program came into effect in June 2016. Shared Health said compared to a total of 36 at the time, there were 366 requests in 2023.
Additionally, 338 of those requests were approved and 236 MAiD deaths were reported by the end of 2023.
There are more approvals each year than there are deaths, due to voluntarily withdrawn requests or people dying before receiving MAID, according to officials.
The most common medical conditions of MAID patients in 2022 were cancer and heart disease.
“Often the calls that we get are more complicated calls, we know that 63 per cent of people have MAiD because they have cancer, and the average age is about 77,” said Helen Long, CEO for Dying with Dignity.
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Canada is “not ready” to expand eligibility for medical assistance in dying (MAiD) to people with mental health as their sole medical condition, Health Minister Mark Holland said Monday.
The government had been facing a March 17 deadline to expand eligibility for assisted death to people whose only medical condition is a mental illness.
The minister said the government plans to table a response to the report in the coming days that will ask for more time to implement the change, but did not say how much time the government will be asking for beyond the current March deadline.
“We agree with the conclusion that the committee has come to that the system is, at this time, not ready and more time is required,” Holland told reporters.
The College of Physicians Manitoba has a public consultation draft available on its website and its CEO, Dr. Anna Ziomek, says the main aspect that has been paused is when mental health is the only identifying condition meanwhile the consultation is about patients with other conditions where death is not reasonably foreseeable.
“So congestive heart failure for instance, you get to a point where your heart is no longer functioning well, one can guess how long that’s going to be but it is not reasonably foreseeable until you’re in the end stages,” she said.
“However if you feel that you are suffering because you can no longer do the things you like doing, you have accepted treatment that hasn’t been particularly successful, you can consent to having MAiD although the death is not a short timeline reasonably foreseeable.”
She says the role of the college is to try to balance the requirements of the standard to make sure there is safety built into the standard and yet not deny something that would be legally available through the law in Canada.
“It would appear that the decision where mental illness is the only illness that is being considered for MAiD. It would appear we are now not going to allow these patients to go forward,” she said.
However, she added if a patient has a serious incurable physical and mental illness they would not be prohibited from accessing MAiD.
Ziomek says the Canadian system is not ready to allow people to access the program if mental illness is the only concern, as it does not have enough safeguards at the moment, but she wonders if it’s discriminatory against patients with a mental health condition by not allowing them to access something that other patients can.
“What is the definition of an irremediable condition causing an advanced decline in a mental health perspective? much easier to identify physically than in the concept of mental health.”
She says if people are given a situation where the government says someone is entitled to something, we have to make sure there are processes in place that physicians who are required to participate in this process do so in a way that is transparent and clear and fair.
The document is available for feedback on the college’s website until Feb. 11. “We look for these consultations to be very broad-based, every one of them is reviewed and read and the discussion point brought up by people commenting are applied to the standard and reviewed.”
— with files from the Canadian Press
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