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Medically assisted deaths spike through pandemic years

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At the young age of twenty, a B.C. man is choosing a medically assisted induced death due to extreme chronic pain and a lack of a diagnosis. 

Eric Coulam has been living with an undiagnosed gastrointestinal condition which has led to multiple hospital stays, liver and kidney disease, and severe chronic pain according to the National Post

“He’s been so robbed of his life,” said friend Brittany Yawney told the Post. “He just kept going to all of these doctors and wanting answers, but they had nothing for him.”

While Coulam might be among the youngest of those accessing medical assistance in dying, he is certainly not the only one as medically-assisted suicide spiked in the pandemic years in the Interior Health Authority, part of a broader national trend. 

According to statistics provided to iNFOnews by the Interior Health Authority, 247 B.C. interior residents used assisted dying in 2019. That number jumped 39% in 2020 to 343. It jumped 29% again in 2021 to 441 patients. That's a 79% increase in the last two years.  

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Currently living in Fort St John, Eric Coulam lived in Vernon for several years when he was young and for part of last year, and first began considering medical assistance in dying while spending time in a hospital in Kelowna according to the article.

Certain eligibility criteria must be met in order to receive the lethal drug dose. One must be age 18 or older, have the capacity to make decisions, and be eligible for publicly funded health care services. A voluntary request and informed consent is required.

Recipients must be in an advanced state of irreversible decline in capability and be enduring intolerable physical or psychological suffering that cannot be alleviated.

"I’m choosing this because I want to go out when I choose, not because some disease is taking me out," Coulam said in the article. 

According to the 2020 Report on Medical Assistance in Dying in Canada, in 2020 there were 7,595 cases reported representing a growth rate of 34.2% over the previous year. All provinces experienced steady year-over-year growth during 2020.

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The average age of assisted death recipients in 2020 was 75.3 years for both men and women, ranging from 72.1 on Prince Edward Island to 76.8 in British Columbia.

Cancer was the most commonly cited underlying medical condition in assisted dying cases followed by cardiovascular conditions, chronic respiratory conditions and neurological conditions.

Coulam has not yet set a date to end his life but a celebration of life with his close friends and family was held in late May at his father's house in Fort St. John.

To contact a reporter for this story, email Shannon Ainslie or call 250-819-6089 or email the editor. You can also submit photos, videos or news tips to the newsroom and be entered to win a monthly prize draw.

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