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Doctor says focus on patients, not dollars

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New report calculates assisted suicide could save $34.7 million to $138.8 million a year
By Agnieszka Krawczynski

Photo: Vancouver family doctor Williard Johnston opposes assisted suicide.

Assisted suicide could save Canada’s health-care system millions of dollars each year, according to a new report.

The study, published in the Canadian Medical Association Journal Jan. 23, said the now-legal practice could save this country between $34.7 million and $138.8 million annually.

Its authors contrast that with the smaller price tag, an estimated $1.5 million to $14.8 million, of implementing assisted suicide.

“If Canadians adopt medical assistance in dying in a manner and extent similar to those of the Netherlands and Belgium, we can expect a reduction in health-care spending in the range of tens of millions of dollars per year,” wrote University of Calgary authors Aaron Trachtenberg and Braden Manns.

They add: “We are not suggesting medical assistance in dying as a measure to cut costs. At an individual level, neither patients nor physicians should consider the costs when making the very personal decision to request, or provide, this intervention.”

Opponents of assisted dying legislation are not buying it.

“Consider the pressure this creates for someone who is already feeling they have lost value,” said Alex Schadenberg, the executive director of the Euthanasia Prevention Coalition.

“What if I was a person with a disability? I’m not going to get better. I’m not going to get cheaper. I would feel a lot of pressure.”

He worries reports like this will convince people that taking a lethal injection is the right thing to do for the sake of saving society money.

“I find this very crass because you have people who might now consider euthanasia or assisted suicide because they’re thinking to themselves: ‘What is the purpose of living anyway? Look how much it’s costing,’” he said.

Vancouver family doctor Williard Johnston also called the report “crass” as well as “nihilistic.”

“Of course it’s cheaper to kill people. You don’t have to think, you don’t have to care,” he said.

The study’s numbers contrast “a worst-case scenario for wasteful, inappropriate care,” with the relatively lower cost of a lethal dose, he said. But there is another option for patients besides suicide and expensive and futile long stays in hospital: palliative care.

“Palliative care just means avoiding harmful or useless treatments while maximizing comfort care, which is not expensive,” he said.

The report’s authors themselves admit that palliative care can reduce end-of-life costs between 40 and 70 per cent.

“Show me the proof that you have to spend $138.8 million if you don’t kill people,” Johnston said.

“Why not just save money by avoiding wasteful, expensive, futile care and (instead) maximizing human contact?”

The report also estimates that assisted suicide will account for 1 to 4 per cent of all deaths in Canada.

Last Updated on Friday, 03 February 2017 10:45  

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