FAQ #7 | In places where forms of assisted dying are already legal, how many people actually choose it?
International experience shows us that after euthanasia and/or assisted suicide has become law the number of people who choose to die in this way each year will inevitably grow. When legislation like the End of Life Choice Act is initially passed, the trend has been that for the first few years the number of people assisted to die will slowly increase as people become acquainted with the new law and practices. After a few years, however, we see the annual numbers increase much more rapidly. This may be due to a shift in societal perception of death, dying, pain, and care. In fact, in Canada this upward trend began just a year into legalisation. It took five years for Belgium and the Netherlands to reach the per capita death rate from euthanasia that Canada reached in just one year. This could suggest that as assisted dying practices become more widely accepted, its progression is much faster in countries that are adopting it now than in those countries that adopted it at the beginning of the 21st century.
The increase in assisted deaths in jurisdictions with assisted dying legislation is seen in the graphs below:
Source: Adapted from Oregon Public Health Division, Center for Health Statistics, Oregon Death with Dignity Act, Data Summary 2019, (February 25, 2020), 14.
Source: Adapted from data found in Regional Euthanasia Review Committees, “Annual Reports,” available at https://english.euthanasiecommissie.nl/the-committees/documents/publications/annual-reports/2002/annual-reports/annual-reports (accessed 20 March 2020)
*Mathematically adjusted over 6 months, from official base number of 2,614 deaths over 10 months.
**Excludes Quebec, Northwest Territories, Yukon, and Nunavot
Source: Health Canada, “Medical Assistance in Dying, Fourth Interim Report” (April 2019), 5.
Can we expect the same trends in New Zealand?
While it might be tempting to claim that the experience and legislation passed here in New Zealand would be different, and numbers of unnatural deaths from euthanasia and assisted suicide would remain minimal, there is no evidence to suggest that our experience would be different. The rapidly increasing number of people being assisted to die in Oregon, the Netherlands, and even Canada should give us reason to pause. In fact, former British civil servant and president of UK think tank Living and Dying Well Robert Preston has suggested that, if the legislation were similar to the Dutch example, each year over 1,000 New Zealanders would be assisted to die.
GO TO NEXT FAQ #8 –If we vote in favour of the End of Life Choice Act, is that going to be the end of the debate?