Webcast archive: Euthanasia – a money saver?

This week, we discuss a new paper from the Canadian Medical Association’s journal that describes euthanasia as a way for health care systems to save money.

In this episode of Euthanasia & Disability, Amy Hasbrouck and Christian Debray discuss:

  • Report says euthanasia could save $139 million per year
  • Studies begin on broadening euthanasia in Canada
  • “Mary Kills People” makes flawed hero of death doctor

Please note that this text is only a cript and that our webcast contains additional commentary.


  • Two researchers from the University of Calgary have written a report in which they state that assisted suicide and euthanasia could save the health care system $139 million per year, over and above what it costs to administer the program.
  • The report appeared in the Canadian Medical Association Journal on Monday.  The authors estimated that the euthanasia / assisted suicide program would cost between $1.5 million and $14.8 million, depending on the number of specialists consulted, the number and cost of lethal drugs used, pharmacists’ time in preparing the injections, etc.  However the researchers also found that, depending on the number of people who are approved for assisted suicide, and how long they would have lived before a natural death, the savings to the health care system could be as high as $138.8 million per year.
  • The researchers are careful to say that cost savings should not be a consideration in individual decisions on whether to request or approve euthanasia.
  • This report, coming just six months after the start of the euthanasia / assisted suicide program, is a good example of the institutional pressure on old, ill and disabled people to “do the right thing” and “stop being a burden on their families and the health care system.”  This pressure is often expressed in hate crimes against disabled people, who are accused of being scroungers and leeches on society.  On a more subtle level, even when family members doesn’t openly suggest that someone should request euthanasia, the pressure is often there anyway, and people may accept euthanasia “for the good of the family.”
  • Despite the researchers’ protests to the contrary, everyone knows that cost will enter the assisted suicide / euthanasia decision on both an individual and institutional level; this report tells us just how much.


  • The Council of Canadian Academies’ (CCA) Board of Governors has approved a request by Minister of Health Jane Philpott and Minister of Justice and Attorney General of Canada Jody Wilson-Raybould, to undertake independent reviews related to medical assistance in dying.
  • The CCA will examine three types of requests for assisted suicide and euthanasia that were identified as complex and worthy of further study during the legislative process that led to the adoption of the Medical Assistance in Dying law:
    • requests by mature minors (children under 18 years old);
    • advance requests for people who may become incapable to consent later on;
    • requests where mental illness is the sole underlying medical condition.
  • Expert panellists will be recruited to conduct the studies.  They will gather information from peer reviewed literature, international and national organizations, health care providers, stakeholders, and other groups, then come up with recommendations.
  • Each expert panel will produce a peer-reviewed report, which is due to be completed by the end of next year (late in 2018).
  • If you have questions about the review process, or want information on making a submission, send an email to reviews@scienceadvice.ca.


  • Global TV premiered a new series called “Mary Kills People” on January 25.  The series focuses on a fictional emergency room physician, Dr. Mary Harris, who euthanizes people in her off hours.
  • The episode opens with the main character and her accomplice, Des, preparing a doped glass of champagne for a man lying in bed, who expresses his wish to die and his fear of taking the lethal drink.  Mary encourages the man to overcome his fears, while her assistant waits impatiently for the process to finish.  The man finally drinks the tainted liquid, and appears to die soon afterwards.  But as Mary and Des are preparing to leave, the man’s wife arrives home early, and they rush to clean up the scene and leave the upstairs bedroom through the balcony door.  Racing back in to pick up the payment, Mary discovers the man still alive, coughing and choking, and puts a pillow over his head to smother him.  What follows is an escape from the scene of the crime worthy of the keystone cops, capped off by a stop at the drive through for take-out Mexican food.
  • The rest of the program is spent painting the picture of a flawed but good-hearted person who is just trying to “do the right thing” for people who are “suffering.”
  • Though the character of Mary Harris is not portrayed as a traditional hero, she is certainly the center of the dramatic action, and the person with whom the audience is supposed to identify.  She is shown as a dedicated doctor saving lives and offering comfort to relatives of patients on the emergency ward.  Her partner in crime jokes about the killings, and even the police who are trying to entrap her are shown as corrupt.
  • Terminal illness is assumed to inevitably lead to suffering, and euthanasia is portrayed as the only logical response to a terminal diagnosis. No mention is made of palliative care.  Later in the episode the Mary Harris character meets with Joel, who has “an inoperable brain tumour” and wants to “die faster.”  During their first meeting, Harris does not discuss the nature of his “suffering,” options for pain control, ways to find emotional support, or assess his capacity to make this irreversible decision.  The only alternative proposed is suicide by firearm, which is dismissed out of hand by Harris.
  • The overall attitude toward assisted suicide and euthanasia is flippant. A brochure about coping with terminal diagnosis, perhaps standing in for palliative care, is dismissed as “enlightened bullshit.”
  • Though no people with obvious disabilities were shown in the first episode, TVNDY remains concerned about the “better dead than disabled” message that is so common in fictional portrayals of assisted suicide, such as “Me Before You,” and “Million Dollar Baby.”