84 per cent of Canadians Support Assisted Dying

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Landmark survey results released in advance of Supreme Court case hearing

By A Correspondent

In the most comprehensive Canadian survey ever undertaken on the public’s perception of dying with dignity, a resounding 84 per cent of respondents support assisted dying.

“Canadians overwhelmingly support assisted dying, including high levels of support from health professionals, the disability community and religious communities. Those who oppose legalization of assisted dying are a vanishing small minority,” said Wanda Morris, CEO of Dying With Dignity Canada. “It’s a clear signal from the Canadian people that it’s time to recognize the right of the terminally ill to end their lives with dignity and compassion.”

The poll, commissioned by Dying with Dignity Canada and conducted by Ipsos Reid, asked Canadians if a doctor should be able to help someone end their life if the person is a competent adult who is terminally ill, suffering unbearably and repeatedly asks for assistance to die.

Highlights from the poll include (detailed survey results can be found here) :

  • Support for assisted dying is highest in Nova Scotia (89 per cent) and BC (87 per cent) followed by Ontario (85 per cent) and Quebec (84 per cent). Support is lowest in the rest of Atlantic Canada (80 per cent) and Saskatchewan/Manitoba (79 per cent).
  • Individuals from the disability community (those who are severely physically disabled and unable to carry out the basic activities of daily living without assistance) are 85 per cent in support of medically assisted dying.

  • Individuals who identified as members of a regulated health profession (such as doctors, nurses and physiotherapists) were 85 per cent in support of assisted dying.
  • 80 per cent of all Christians support assisted dying, including 83 per cent of Catholics. (Sample sizes for other religious affiliations, though reflective of the Canadian population, were too small to draw conclusions.)
  • Most Canadians generally agree with the concept of assisted dying, regardless of how it is specifically defined. Nine in 10 (91 per cent) agree that a person should not be forced to endure drawn-out suffering, and a similar proportion (91 per cent) agree that palliative care is not enough.
  • Support for the right to die is highest when speaking about patients who have a “terminal illness that results in unbearable suffering” (88 per cent) or a “serious incurable illness or condition, with an advanced state of weakened capacity that is permanent, incurable, and results in unbearable suffering” (86 per cent). There was still considerable support for assisted dying for individuals with a “permanent and severe disability that significantly impacts quality of life and the ability to carry out basic activities of daily living” (67 per cent).

“These results reflect a major disconnect between the leaders of these communities – many of whom have publicly and aggressively opposed assisted dying – and their constituent communities,” said Morris. “There is far greater support for assisted dying than Canadians realize. The framing of the issue as being equally two-sided has left Canadians with an exaggerated impression of the opposition who still oppose the legalization of assisted dying.” 

Perspectives on the survey results

Dr. James Downar, palliative care doctor and co-chair of Dying With Dignity’s Physician Advisory Council

Healthcare workers want to cure disease and alleviate suffering, but we know that our best efforts and our most advanced technologies cannot always control physical or psychological suffering in the terminally ill. When you look at these poll results and the motions passed at the recent annual meeting of the Canadian Medical Association, you are seeing a strong endorsement by healthcare professionals of increased choice at the end of life.

We want Canadians to have good palliative care, but we also want them to have the option of a compassionate medically-assisted death if palliative care is unable to relieve their suffering.

Dr. Brett Belchetz, ER physician, Dying With Dignity’s Physician Advisory Council

As an emergency room physician I too often see the most desperate, terminally ill patients, whose existence has been reduced to constant suffering with zero dignity.  Their pain is endless, and they are often unable to feed themselves, toilet themselves, or wash themselves.  These are people who plead with medical professionals, like myself, to help end their suffering, the way an able bodied person might be able to do of their own accord.

Unfortunately, should I do anything to help with their choice for a dignified and painless death, I would face criminal charges, and imprisonment of up to 14 years.  It is no wonder 85 per cent of health professionals, and 84 per cent of the public support the legalization of assisted dying. It is unclear who the federal government is representing as it continues to fight to keep such an act of compassion within the criminal domain.

Rev. Canon John C. Smith, Anglican Minister from Nova Scotia

As a Christian I believe compassion is the cornerstone of our faith.  Having witnessed the horrific deaths of some of my congregants I am not surprised by the degree of support for assisted dying among the faithful. If the church is to remain relevant in the 21st century, we need to adapt to the modern world. Modern medicine has provided tremendous gifts, but it has a shadow side; sometimes we use our technology not to prolong life but only to prolong dying.

I call on my fellow church leaders to join me in publicly supporting the legalization of assisted dying. If we are going to be true to the teachings of the gospels, we need to speak truth to power and stand up for the provision of compassionate choice - the option of assisted dying at end of life.

About the survey

These are some of the results of an Ipsos Reid survey conducted between August 21st to 29, 2014 on behalf of Dying with Dignity Canada. The results are based on a sample of n=2,515 Canadian collected online via the Ipsos I-Say panel. The precision of Ipsos online surveys is measured using a Bayesian credibility interval. In this case, the survey results are accurate to within +/- 2.2 percentage points, 19 times out of 20, had the entire population of Canadian adults been surveyed.  All sample surveys and polls may be subject to other sources of error, including, but not limited to coverage error, and measurement error.

About Dying With Dignity Canada

Dying With Dignity Canada is the national organization helping Canadians to avoid unwanted suffering at the end of life.  We help Canadians manage their end-of-life choices and obtain peace of mind about their deaths.

JULY 2017

Vol. 11 - No. 12


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