Health Canada’s latest findings that assisted suicide made up 4% of all deaths in Canada has raised alarm among various groups and experts who are calling for more comprehensive palliative care options and a reconsideration of expanding eligibility for euthanasia.

Health Canada released its fourth annual report on Medical Assistance in Dying in Canada Wednesday, revealing that assisted suicide accounted for 4.1% of all deaths in the country during the past year, marking a substantial increase from previous years.

In 2022, there were 13,241 Medical Assistance in Dying (MAID) deaths reported, reflecting a staggering 31.2% growth rate compared to the previous year. 

The data also showed that all provinces, except Manitoba and the Yukon, witnessed a steady year-over-year increase in medically assisted deaths. Since the introduction of federal MAID legislation in 2016, 44,958 medically assisted deaths have been reported in Canada.

Medical ethics journalist Alexander Raikin pointed out on X (formerly Twitter) that if assisted suicide were listed as an official cause of death, it would be the fifth leading cause of death in Canada.

The social policy think tank Cardus decried the growth in a press release, emphasizing the need for enhanced palliative care options as an alternative to assisted suicide. 

They argued that the rapid growth in medically assisted deaths is alarming, and there is a pressing need to prioritize mental health care over expanding eligibility for euthanasia and assisted suicide, especially when 82% of Canadians support this approach according to a recent poll.

“It’s frightening to think of how these numbers will grow if the federal government pushes forward in its plan to expand eligibility for euthanasia and assisted suicide to those whose sole underlying condition is mental illness,” said Cardus health program director Rebecca Vachon. 

Cardus also expressed its disappointment with the Health Canada report’s vague representation of palliative care, which fails to define what access to palliative care truly means or provide details on its quality. 

As per the findings in the report, nearly one-fifth of Canadians who opted for medically assisted deaths lacked access to palliative care, and for half of those who did have access, it was available for less than a month prior to their decision for assisted suicide. 

Additionally, the report highlighted that palliative care has the potential to reduce the inclination towards medically assisted death, as evidenced by 42% of individuals who initially sought MAID ultimately retracting their requests due to improvements in their condition through palliative care.

“This points to a need to improve the quality and access to specialist palliative care before Canadians feel that their suffering is unbearable and necessitates a premature death,” said Vachon.