Dr. James Downar, lead author of the study and a specialist in critical care and palliative care at The Ottawa Hospital and University of Ottawa, is shown in this undated handout image. Medical aid in dying is not being driven by factors such as poverty, isolation, or lack of access to proper palliative care, according to a new study by Canadian researchers. THE CANADIAN PRESS/HO-Ottawa Hospital Research Institute

Dr. James Downar, lead author of the study and a specialist in critical care and palliative care at The Ottawa Hospital and University of Ottawa, is shown in this undated handout image. Medical aid in dying is not being driven by factors such as poverty, isolation, or lack of access to proper palliative care, according to a new study by Canadian researchers. THE CANADIAN PRESS/HO-Ottawa Hospital Research Institute

Medical aid in dying not driven by lack of access to palliative care: Canadian study

Medical aid in dying was legalized in Quebec in 2014 and then across Canada in June 2016.

Medical aid in dying is not being driven by factors such as poverty, isolation, or lack of access to proper palliative care, according to a new study by Canadian researchers.

The study dispels concerns that vulnerable people were being pushed into requesting medical aid in dying because they had few other options, says lead author James Downar, palliative care specialist at The Ottawa Hospital and the University of Ottawa.

“When I look at his data … it tells me that (medical aid in dying) is really not being driven by a lack of access of to palliative care,” Downar said in an interview Tuesday. He added that the data also shows the procedure is not being driven by “socioeconomic vulnerability.”

Medical aid in dying was legalized in Quebec in 2014 and then across Canada in June 2016.

The research paper called “Early experience with medical assistance in dying in Ontario, Canada: a cohort study” was published Wednesday in the Canadian Medical Association Journal.

It analyzed clinical and socioeconomic data from 2,241 Ontarians who received the procedure between June 2016 and October 2018. Researchers compared the data to those of 186,814 Ontario residents who died during the same time period.

They found 75 per cent of Ontarians who were administered medical aid in dying were younger, wealthier and more likely to be married at the time of their death compared to the general population.

Almost half of medical aid in dying recipients were married, 85 per cent lived in a private home, and they were more likely to live in a higher income neighbourhood.

Downar said the study is the first of its scale to be conducted on medical aid in dying and benefited from Canadian data. He said he wasn’t surprised by the results because studies in the U.S. and in Switzerland produced similar findings.

Downar, who has administered medical aid in dying, said his former patients had financial means, were doctors themselves or engineers, and were well supported by their families.

“No one would have qualified them as vulnerable,” he said.

The broad findings of the study, Downar added, would likely be consistent across other provinces.

The study did not include information on how many Ontarians requested medical aid in dying and were refused.

Also unknown is why 25 per cent of those who had the procedure were not receiving palliative care.

Downar said that while it’s reassuring that medical aid in dying isn’t being driven by socioeconomic vulnerability or lack of access to palliative care, 2,241 people were suffering enough that they wanted to end their life.

He said physicians and researchers should focus on better understanding factors that lead people to request such a procedure. Factors, he said, such as existential distress.

“I think my obligation, and our obligation as health care providers and researchers is to start to understand this better.”

READ MORE: Strong support for expanding access to medically assisted dying: poll

READ MORE: Feds launch consultation on who’s allowed to seek medically assisted death

Stephanie Marin, The Canadian Press


Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter.

assisted dying

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

FILE - In this April 19, 2021, file photo, Keidy Ventura, 17, receives her first dose of the Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine in West New York, N.J. States across the country are dramatically scaling back their COVID-19 vaccine orders as interest in the shots wanes, putting the goal of herd immunity further out of reach. (AP Photo/Seth Wenig, File)
5 more deaths, 131 new cases of COVID-19 in Interior Health over the weekend

Those 18-years and older in high-transmission neighbourhoods can register for the vaccine

Rotary Club of Salmon Arm president Norm Brown talks about the work the city’s Rotary Clubs do for the community during a Rotary 75th Anniversary event at the Blackburn Park picnic shelter on Saturday, May 8, 2021. (Lachlan Labere-Salmon Arm Observer)
Salmon Arm Rotarians mark 75th anniversary

Flags placed around Blackburn Park picnic shelter for video shoot

RCMP (Phil McLachlan - Black Press Media)
High-risk takedown on Highway 1 following Anglemont shooting

Upon further investigation, the vehicle and its occupants were not associated with the shooting

Police watchdog find Salmon Arm RCMP have no involvement in head-on collision. (File photo)
Police watchdog finds Salmon Arm RCMP not involved in Highway 1 crash

Woman seriously injured on April 22 after head-on collision

A bullet hole is seen in the windshield of an RCMP vehicle approximately 4 km from Vancouver International Airport after a one person was killed during a shooting outside the international departures terminal at the airport, in Richmond, B.C., Sunday, May 9, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck
Homicide team IDs man in fatal YVR shooting as police grapple with spate of gang violence

Man, 20, charged in separate fatal shooting Burnaby over the weekend

RCMP are searching for Philip Toner, who is a ‘person of interest’ in the investigation of a suspicious death in Kootenay National Park last week. Photo courtesy BC RCMP.
RCMP identify ‘person of interest’ in Kootenay National Park suspicious death

Police are looking for Philip Toner, who was known to a woman found dead near Radium last week

Vancouver Canucks goaltender Thatcher Demko (35) makes a save on Winnipeg Jets’ Nate Thompson (11) during second period NHL action in Winnipeg, Monday, May 10, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Fred Greenslade
Vancouver Canucks see NHL playoff hopes dashed despite 3-1 win over Winnipeg

Montreal Canadiens earn final North Division post-season spot

The southern mountain caribou, an iconic species for the Splatsin First Nation, is threatened with extinction, much to the dismay of the First Nation. (Province of B.C. photo)
Okanagan First Nation band concerned over dwindling caribou herd

Southern mountain caribou at risk of extinction, much to dismay of Splatsin First Nation near Enderby

RCMP. (Phil McLachlan/Capital News)
UPDATE: Winfield road open following police, coroner investigation

Pelmewash Parkway closure near Highway 97 connection

Kelowna resident Sally Wallick helped rescue a kayaker in distress a week and a half ago. (Sally Wallick/Contributed)
VIDEO: Kelowna woman rescues capsized kayaker in Okanagan Lake

Sally Wallick is asking people to be prepared for the cold water and unpredictable winds

The B.C. legislature went from 85 seats to 87 before the 2017 election, causing a reorganization with curved rows and new desks squeezed in at the back. The next electoral boundary review could see another six seats added. (Black Press files)
B.C. election law could add six seats, remove rural protection

North, Kootenays could lose seats as cities gain more

The Independent Investigations Office of B.C. is investigating the shooting of an Indigenous woman in the Ucluelet First Nation community of Hitacu. (Black Press Media file photo)
B.C. First Nation wants ‘massive change’ after its 3rd police shooting in less than a year

Nuu-chah-nulth woman recovering from gunshot wounds in weekend incident near Ucluelet

Nurse Gurinder Rai, left, administers the Moderna COVID-19 vaccine to Maria Yule at a Fraser Health drive-thru vaccination site, in Coquitlam, B.C., on Wednesday, May 5, 2021. The site is open for vaccinations 11 hours per day to those who have pre-booked an appointment. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck
COVID vaccine bookings to open for adults 40+, or 18+ in hotspots, across B.C.

Only people who have registered will get their alert to book

Most Read