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Med J Aust 2020; 212 (5): . || doi: 10.5694/mja2.50537
Published online: 16 March 2020

A Canadian study of people who received known as medical assistance in dying in Ontario found that about three‐quarters were in the care of palliative care practitioners at the time of their request for voluntary assisted dying, and that those assisted were younger, of higher socio‐economic status, and more likely to be married than the general population. These findings ease concerns that requests for assisted dying are driven by lack of access to palliative care services or by socio‐economic vulnerability. The study was published in CMAJ with a related editorial. Voluntary assisted dying has been legal in Canada since June 2016, and by October 2018, 6749 Canadians had received medical assistance in dying. The Canadian and Quebec governments have been discussing new eligibility criteria for medical assistance in dying after the Quebec Superior Court ruled that one provision of the law violated the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms. The investigators compared clinical and socio‐economic data from the Office of the Chief Coroner for Ontario and ICES (a health informatics not‐for‐profit corporation) for 2241 Ontarians who had received medical assistance in dying with data for the 186 814 people in the province who had died during June 2016 – October 2018. The median age of patients who had received assistance to die was 75 years and half were women; almost two‐thirds of patients (64%) had cancer, 12% of patients had neurodegenerative diseases, 8.5% cardiovascular diseases, and 7.5% respiratory diseases. Patients who received assistance to die reported both physical (99.5%) and psychological (96.4%) suffering. The study found that only 6.6% of families reported problems obtaining medical assistance for dying, and these problems were not associated with socio‐economic status. The authors noted, however, that the dataset included only people who had actually received assistance, so their findings would not reflect the experience of patients who had requested but not received medical assistance in dying.



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