Euthanasia: Who wants to be unpopular?

In general, I’m not a data geek. I take no pleasure in sifting through endless amounts of ones and zero’s looking for a rare gem or new insight. I’m more like a parrot. I hear or read something, decide whether it fits neatly into my current world view then repeat it to anyone who will listen.

From start to finish I’ve read the latest reports from Canada and the Netherlands on euthanasia. Canada just completed their 5th anniversary of making euthanasia legal and Netherlands having just completed their 20th year.

The data when it comes to gender, age and main condition leading to a euthanasia request are all similar with little variance.

The average age of recipients in Canada was 76.3 years old. Expressed in a different way 95.1% of MAiD (Medical Assistance in Dying) patients were over 56 and 83.3% were aged 65 or older. The Netherlands were similar with 70% of users being over 70 years old when they died.

In Denmark it’s often argued that legalizing euthanasia will open up pandora’s box leading to abuse and widespread use. To put things into a little perspective in Canada a total of 139 people between 18 and 45 years old chose MAiD in 2021. Out of a population of 38,250,000 million people that’s 0.000363%.

Common condition is cancer

In Canada it’s still illegal for patients under 18, but in the Netherlands, it’s been opened up to minors between 12 and 17 years. In all cases involving minors unsurprisingly they have extra control measures and review of cases in place. In 2022 the Netherlands had 1 case including a minor. That represents 0.011% of the 8,720 patients for that died that year.

Overwhelmingly between the two countries the most common main condition listed by applicants for euthanasia was cancer.  57.8% of patients in the Netherlands and 65.6% of patients in Canada. Cardiovascular, respiratory and neurological conditions come in 2nd, 3rd and 4th consecutively.

Guest opinion: The decision to legalise euthanasia doesn’t start or end with feelings

In Canada, British Columbia shares a similar population size with Denmark. It’s not a very scientific approach, but if you extrapolate their numbers to Denmark, it would look something like this.
During the first full year that medical assistance in death was available in 2017 the population was 4,924,000. That first year 677 people used MAiD. That’s 0.014 percent of the population.

Fast forward 4 years. If our little imaginary experiment works out and Aktiv Dødshjælp has been available in Denmark for the same time it would look something like this: 2,009 total deaths by Euthanasia representing 0.039% of the population.  In 2021 there were a total of 57,152 deaths of various kinds in Denmark. Aktiv dødshjælp deaths would account for 3.5% of total deaths in the country.

If we zoom in a little bit that would mean 20 people 18 to 45, 69 people 46 to 55, 195 people 56 to 64, 276 people 65 to 70, 309 people 71 to 75, 291 people 76 to 80 with similar numbers from 81 to 90+.

Nothing happens in Folketinget

In a country (Denmark) where over 70% of the population have been shown to be in favor of aktiv dødshjælp for terminally ill patients you seem to be having a very difficult time getting it passed in Folketinget. Come to think of it you can’t even get a proper vote. It seems like the biggest roadblocks are the Danish Medical Association hand in hand with the Danish Council on Ethics. I’m not integrated sufficiently enough into the Danish system to comment, but I will. The Danish Council on Ethics seems to be ubiquitously present in Danish governmental decisions.

I read in a Danish Medical Journal* a survey that “a more positive attitude was found among younger physicians” towards Euthanasia. It may surprise you, but The Danish Medical Association board is not full of youngsters.

In Denmark many conversations have played out discussing who would do these procedures? In the Netherlands 80.4% of people carrying out euthanasia requests are General Practitioner MD’s. In Canada 94.4% of MAiD providers are physicians. Out of the 1,577 Canadian doctors, 47.9% of them do between 2 and 9 MAiD procedures a year. I’ve travelled all over the world and met many doctors.

I don’t want to lump them all together, but I have a very hard time believing that Danish Doctors are a completely different species to their Canadian and Dutch colleagues. Is it possible that the values and ethical concerns of Danish Doctors could be so diabolically in contrast with the others? I doubt it.

I know what it is… Danish Doctors are human. They, like us, are susceptible to the opinions, culture and pressure of popular opinion in their profession. Pro euthanasia talk must be deeply frowned upon and terribly unpopular.

Who wants to be unpopular?