Canada’s assisted dying legislation – dispelling the myths

20 March, 2023

Humanists UK has published a report on Canada’s assisted dying legislation, in light of recent coverage in UK media and elsewhere that has expressed concern about how the law is working. We have analysed the various claims in this coverage in order to see if there are real problems and, if so, what could be done about them.

The facts surrounding some of the cases featured in the coverage are often hard to verify due to doctor/patient confidentiality. This has made our analysis difficult to conduct. It’s also always possible that there are situations that have occurred that haven’t at all come to light. But we have found that many cases have been reported in inaccurate or misleading ways, and in some instances, it appears that the problem of confidentiality has sadly been exploited by religious opponents of assisted dying to enable the propagation of misinformation.

Accounting for all this, the result is that we don’t believe that anyone in Canada has had an assisted death who shouldn’t have been able to.

The report

In the report, we consider each of the reported cases in turn, and also whether Canada’s assisted dying law could be improved. We have found that the safeguards and criteria enabled clinicians to successfully assess patients to establish whether or not they should be eligible for an assisted death. (Indeed, it is for this reason that Canada’s assisted dying law remains very popular among Canadians.) But there are also areas where we think that if the UK were to have an assisted dying law, different safeguards should be introduced so as to deliver additional clarity as to its sound operation.

We do not believe the situation in Canada gives reason for the UK not to legalise assisted dying.

We can and should learn from Canada to create laws that are right for the UK but UK legislators should not deny people here the right to make decisions about the end of their lives.

A humane assisted dying system is something that 90% of British adults support. In designing one, the UK benefits from decades of data from assisted dying’s implementation in Europe and around the world as well as a wealth of global legislative and safeguarding frameworks to consider. We can do this and get it right.

Humanists UK Assisted Dying Campaigner Nathan Stilwell said:

‘Of course it’s always possible that there are situations that we’re unaware of. But based on the evidence available, we don’t believe that any Canadian has had an assisted death who shouldn’t have been able to.

‘It is a shame that some people have knowingly or unknowingly pounced on misinformation from Canada in order to hinder the campaign here. People who are suffering from incurable illnesses in the UK deserve the right and freedom to make decisions about their own bodies – misinformation shouldn’t be the reason they are denied their rights.

‘Assisted dying has been legal in Switzerland for over 80 years. It’s been legal in the Netherlands, Belgium and the US state of Oregon for over two decades. There is ample evidence there to prove that assisted dying legislation can be safe and compassionate. Spain, Austria, and Australia have more recently legalised assisted dying. These jurisdictions would not have proceeded if they were not certain that legislation was needed and could be introduced safely.’

Dignity and choice

We have long supported attempts to legalise assisted dying in the UK and crown dependencies for those who have made a clear decision, free from coercion, to end their lives and who are physically unable to do so themselves. We support this for people who are of sound mind and are either terminally ill or incurably suffering, and on the basis that there are robust safeguards. Humanists defend the right of each individual to live by their own personal values, and the freedom to make decisions about their own life so long as this does not result in harm to others. We believe it is possible for an assisted dying law to enhance people’s freedoms in precisely this way.

We gave written and oral evidence to Jersey’s citizens’ jury in 2021 and to the UK Parliament’s last assisted dying inquiry in 2005. We intervened in support of the claimants in the 2012-14 case Nicklinson and all subsequent assisted dying cases in England and Wales, each time being the only organisation to have done so. In 2019 we helped establish the Assisted Dying Coalition, the national coalition working for assisted dying.


For further comment or information, media should contact Humanists UK Director of Public Affairs and Policy Richy Thompson at or phone 020 7324 3072 or 020 3675 0959.

Read the full report.

Read more about a decade of campaigning for the legal right to die – at home and abroad.

Read more about our campaign to legalise assisted dying in the UK.

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