Canadian survey considers death with dignity for children

As fewer people are likely to have access to health care for their illnesses in the future, we’d expect more discussion ahead about laws to allow patients to die with dignity with medical assistance despite the uncomfortable nature of the topic.

But that’s for adults. The possibility of medical-assisted death for children seems like a bridge too far. But a survey out this morning in Canada goes there, according to the CBC.

The Canadian Paediatric Society asked 2,600 pediatricians whether they’ve had inquiries regarding assisted death for minors. About 40-percent agreed to respond and of those, 35 said they had “exploratory discussions” about a total of 60 patients under the age of 18 in the preceding year. Nine pediatricians received “explicit requests” for assisted death from a total of 17 minors.

Another 118 said they’d had some discussions with parents about 419 kids.

In a separate survey, about half of those who’d chosen to participate said they’d support legislation legalizing assisted death for children, the CBC says.

Legislation enacted in June 2016 allowed eligible adults the right to seek out assisted death in cases of incurable illness or intolerable suffering. The bill also ordered an independent review regarding the idea of assisted death for mature minors. The review will be presented to Parliament in December 2018.

[Dr. Dawn] Davies, who was one of the co-authors of the two surveys, said only two countries — Belgium and the Netherlands — have laws allowing assisted death for children and such cases are extremely rare.

“I don’t know how much we can learn from them because the numbers at this point are so small,” she said. “Globally, there does not seem to be a lot of places to look for direction.”

In the meantime, as a palliative care physician, Davies thinks there might be fewer requests for assisted death if end-of-life care were improved.

“Given that all of us will eventually die, it’s going to be the common experience of our entire population,” she said.

“Medical assistance in dying … is accessible to every Canadian, but excellent palliative care has not been similarly enshrined.”

“I didn’t think that there would be that much support for it,” said Davies, who also notes the number of participating pediatricians in the survey makes it far too early to say there’ll be a push for changes in the current law.