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No evidence child in Alberta received assisted death procedure

Social media posts spread the claim that a 13-year-old cancer patient died after agreeing to assisted suicide without parental consent at a hospital in the Canadian city of Edmonton. The provincial health network in Alberta said this is false and the law allowing medical assistance in dying does not apply to minors.

"Canadian 'health' officials offered suicide to the distraught girl, who signed the 'MAiD' document. The family tried to stop the killing but were unsuccessful," claims the caption of a January 31, 2024 Facebook video.

The video shows a static picture of Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau accompanied by audio claiming that the Stollery Children's Hospital in Edmonton, Alberta, approved a medical assistance in dying (MAID) procedure for a 13-year-old with cancer without her parents' consent and that the girl was dead within two days after signing the paperwork.

Numerous iterations of the claim appeared on Facebook, Instagram, TikTok, YouTube, Rumble and X (formerly Twitter) in various text, photo and video formats, including claims written in French.

Some of the posts indicated the sound comes from voice recordings in direct messages, but AFP was not able to determine the origin of the audio.

The speaker seemed to attribute the story to Olympic figure skater Jamie Salé, who AFP has previously fact-checked for spreading misinformation. The audio warns parents against leaving children alone in area hospitals because the girl purportedly signed the consent while her parents were running an errand.

<span>Screenshot of a Facebook post, taken February 1, 2024</span>
Screenshot of a Facebook post, taken February 1, 2024
<span>Screenshot of an Instagram post, taken February 1, 2024</span>
Screenshot of an Instagram post, taken February 1, 2024

James Wood, a spokesman for Alberta Health Services, which manages the Stollery (archived here), said the claims circulating on social media are unfounded.

"Because of the concerning nature of the allegation, we have confirmed with the MAID coordination team there is no basis to the allegations," Wood said in a February 1 email to AFP.

He said that Alberta follows federal laws regarding MAID, which do not allow minors access to the procedure.

False claims purporting MAID is available to minors in Canada circulate regularly on social media. The country's public health agency, Health Canada, has told AFP in the past that patients must be at least 18 years old to access the procedure and spokeswoman Anne Génier confirmed in a February 1 email that this policy had not changed.

Administering MAID to someone under 18 would be considered a criminal offense -- either murder or aiding a person to die by suicide -- which Génier said in a February 5 email could be punishable by up to life in prison.

<span>Screenshot of a post on X, taken February 1, 2024</span>
Screenshot of a post on X, taken February 1, 2024

MAID eligibility in Canada

Canada's MAID law was first passed in 2016 and allows assisted suicide to a patient who is experiencing "enduring and intolerable suffering" (archived here).

Originally, the death of the patient needed to be reasonably foreseeable, but a 2021 update to the law makes the procedure available to people whose demise is not assuredly imminent (archived here).

The law requires that a patient's application be approved by at least two doctors or nurse practitioners and the law stipulates that consent may be withdrawn at any time.

The claims spreading online purport the 13-year-old cancer patient was dead within two days of signing the consent forms for MAID. While each request is unique, Health Canada's Génier explained that in the case when a natural death is not reasonably foreseeable, legislation typically requires a minimum of 90 days between the day on which the assessment for eligibility begins and when the procedure is actually administered.

AFP has previously fact-checked claims that "mature minors" had been granted access to medical assistance in dying. The claims were based on a doctrine in Canada that allows older minors to make their own medical decisions (archived here).

While certain groups have advocated for MAID to be opened up to minors (archived here and here), the procedure remains available only to those over 18.

According to the most recent annual report, the average age of those being given the procedure in 2022 was 77 years old and the majority of patients who received medically assisted death had been diagnosed with cancer (archived here). The document reports that 13,241 people in the country were granted MAID in 2022. The procedure has been administered to more than 44,900 patients since it was legalized in 2016.

<span>Screenshot of Health Canada graph, taken February 2, 2024, showing the age distribution of MAID recipients in 2022</span>
Screenshot of Health Canada graph, taken February 2, 2024, showing the age distribution of MAID recipients in 2022
<span>Screenshot of Health Canada graph, taken February 2, 2024, showing the main underlying conditions of MAID recipients in 2022</span>
Screenshot of Health Canada graph, taken February 2, 2024, showing the main underlying conditions of MAID recipients in 2022

Controversial procedure

The Canadian government had plans to open up the procedure to patients solely suffering from mental illness (archived here), but Health Minister Mark Holland announced on February 1, 2024 that the expansion of MAID would be pushed back to at least 2027, saying the provinces' and territories' health systems were not yet ready.

A January 2024 committee report said practitioners had concerns over distinguishing between mentally ill patients with suicidal thoughts and those seeking medical assistance in dying (archived here).

Even without an expansion of the law, some critics say the procedure is too accessible and risked presenting as an alternative to challenges experienced by people in poverty or with disabilities.

Read more of AFP's reporting on misinformation in Canada here.

February 6, 2024 This story was updated to add additional information provided by Health Canada.