NEWS
11/09/2016 12:33 EST | Updated 11/10/2017 00:12 EST

Health authority says 16 Nova Scotians have chosen assisted death

HALIFAX — Sixteen Nova Scotians have died through assisted suicide, according to the provincial health authority.

The Nova Scotia Health Authority initially refused to release the numbers, citing privacy concerns. But on Wednesday it released figures of deaths up to Oct. 31.

"We have now reached sufficient numbers where we believe the risk of a breach of confidentiality is minimized," the authority said in a release Wednesday. "We will not provide additional information about individual instances, locations or providers."

Federal legislation was enacted in June after the Supreme Court of Canada struck down Canada's ban on assisted suicide in 2015.

More than 200 people country-wide have now chosen assisted death.

When asked early last month, the New Brunswick government would not reveal the number of deaths for privacy reasons, but CBC reported this week it obtained documents through freedom of information legislation showing nine such deaths in the province's English health authority.

Previously, Newfoundland and Labrador reported one death, while Prince Edward Island said none had been reported.

As of last month, 87 people had taken advantage of the law in Ontario, while the total in British Columbia was 66. Alberta tracked at least 23 deaths, Manitoba had 12, while Saskatchewan had fewer than five cases.

In June, the federal government brought in a law allowing assisted suicide for those suffering from an incurable condition and for those facing a "reasonably foreseeable" natural death, a definition critics have argued is open to too much interpretation.

Andrew MacKendrick, a spokesman for Health Minister Jane Philpott, has said the legislation calls for regulations on data collection and monitoring to be in place by next June.

"That gives the minister of health a period of time to set that system up so we can actively monitor it and understand it better," MacKendrick said last month.

Health Canada said it was working with provinces and territories to identify what data would be collected and how before developing reporting regulations.

In Ontario at least, the official cause of death is clearly noted on death certificates.

The Royal College of Physicians and Surgeons of Canada acknowledged the various views among doctors on helping patients die but said it was too early to comment on how the system was working. Quebec's physician body said it had no relevant data.

The Catholic Bishops of Alberta and the Northwest Territories produced a set of guidelines late last month directing priests to refuse funerals for some people who choose assisted suicide. The bishops called physician-assisted death a grave sin, saying it contradicted the teachings of the Catholic Church.