April 20, 2024

‘Medical aid in dying’ saves money: Canadian report

These savings should “in no way be interpreted” to suggest that assisted dying be used to reduce health-care costs.

Since Canada’s law on euthanasia and assisted suicide came into effect four years ago, health-care costs have dropped millions of dollars, according to a Parliamentary Budget Officer (PBO) report.

The report on assisted dying calculates that since becoming legal on June 17, 2016, Canada's health-care costs have dropped C$86.9 million. “The total net reduction in costs from current legislation plus the incremental savings from bill C-7 will add up to $149.0 million,” the report says. “While this amount may appear significant, it only represents 0.08% of total provincial health care budgets for 2021.”

Although this could sound grotesquely utilitarian, it stresses that these savings should “in no way be interpreted” to suggest that assisted dying be used to reduce health-care costs.

Many studies have shown that health-care costs in the last year of life, and especially the last month, are “disproportionately high,” the PBO report stated. The costs represent between 10 and 20% of total health-care costs despite those patients representing about 1% of the population.

The assumptions in the calculations of cost-savings in 2021 are as follows:

  • Medically assisted deaths will represent 2.2% of all deaths;
  • 51% of patients will be male;
  • 13% will be between 18 and 59 years old, 50% between 60 and 79, and 37% 80 years old and over;
  • 66% will have cancer as the main underlying condition;
  • 14% will see their life shortened by 2 weeks, 25% by one month, 45% by three months, 13% by six months and 3% by a year.

The government statisticians have gathered some very revealing figures. For instance, it took 16 years for “medically assisted deaths” in Belgium to rise from about 0.2% of all deaths in 2003 to about 2.4% in 2019. But in Canada they are forecast to rise from about 0.3% in 2016 to 2.6% in 2021 – a mere five years.

Alex Schadenberg, of the Euthanasia Prevention Coalition, in Canada, estimates that 19,000 Canadians have died since legalisation.

The government has until December 18 to amend the law to comply with a Quebec court ruling year that it is unconstitutional to allow euthanasia only for people whose natural death is “reasonably foreseeable”.

Michael Cook is editor of BioEdge

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