Growing number of Manitobans are accessing MAID services, say health officials

For 2022, the province counted 223 medically assisted deaths compared to 24 when the service became available in 2016.

Growing number of Manitobans are accessing MAiD services, say health officials
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Amid continued controversy surrounding federal legislation on medically assisted death, data indicates that Manitoba has observed increased requests for the procedure since it became legal in Canada.

According to Shared Health, the number of formal requests for medical assistance in dying (MAID) climbed from 36 made in 2016 to 387 in 2021. 

For the following year, the province counted 341 formal written requests, of which 314 requests were approved, leading to 223 medically assisted deaths in Manitoba last year, compared to 24 when the service became available in 2016.

The public disclosure of provincial MAID data comes as the Trudeau Liberals tabled a bill Thursday to delay an expansion of the procedure to include people with mental disorders as their sole underlying condition.

The Trudeau Liberals initially passed MAID legislation in 2016 as Bill C-14 for Canadians suffering from physical injuries and illness but a Quebec Superior Court ruling in 2019 compelled the feds to change the law, citing it was "too restrictive."

The federal government did not plan to extend MAID eligibility to people whose sole underlying condition is a mental illness under Bill C-7, but the Senate argued that excluding them from the law would violate their right to equal treatment.

Initially set for March 2023 — due to a two-year sunset clause built into an update to the MAID law in 2021 — a decision on expanding assisted dying for mental illness in Canada is delayed until 2024.

Justice Minister David Lametti, who tabled Thursday’s bill, announced in December 2022 that Ottawa intended to seek the delay after hearing concerns the healthcare system might not be prepared for an expanded regime.

Lametti contends that most stakeholders involved in administering assisted dying would have been ready to accommodate the expansion next month. However, some provinces and legal and regulatory bodies needed more time due in part to delays caused by the COVID pandemic.

Trudeau's justice minister faced pushback over comments made on a Toronto Star podcast in December in which he appeared to "dehumanize" those seeking to end their lives and the medical professionals in charge.

"Remember that suicide generally is available to people. This is a group within the population who, for physical and possibly mental reasons, can't make that choice to do it themselves," said Lametti. 

"Ultimately, this provides a more humane way for them to make a decision they otherwise would have made if they were able in some other way."

A spokesperson for Shared Health told Global News on Thursday that Manitoba is extrapolating the data for MAID to anticipate future demand "with the aim of offering services in a way that ensures safety, protects those who may be vulnerable, and supports both patients and providers in making informed decisions."

Officials said there are typically more approvals for the service than deaths yearly due to withdrawal requests or people dying before they get MAID.

According to the province, cancer and heart disease are the most common underlying conditions of MAID patients — also the leading causes of death in Canada.

In 2021, 62% of patient deaths in Manitoba were caused by cancer, followed by 13% each for cardiovascular conditions.

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