Physician Assisted Suicide (PAS)
2002 to 2016: Polls in Canada
Public opinion polls:
2002-NOV-28: A poll shows that most Canadian adults favored physician
assisted suicide: A Canadian polling firm, COMPAS, conducted a poll
from 2002-NOV-16 to 19, asking Canadians a variety of questions, ranging
from abortion access to the legalization of prostitution. They found that physician
assisted suicide was supported by 55% of Canadian adults; it was opposed by
Will Johnston, a Vancouver family physician and co-chair of the Euthanasia Prevention Coalition said that he is "... appalled by this
new evidence" that the public favors assisted suicide. He raised the fear that any law that allows terminally ill persons in pain to ask for help in committing suicide will result in doctors taking the initiative to murder their patients without the latter's consent. He said:
ask 'should you allow something', no matter what it is, sounds like an
appeal to freedom. In this case, the freedom is to be in danger from the
medical system instead of to be guaranteed the medical system's best
attempt at helping a terminal illness."
Robert Buckman, a University of Toronto medical doctor said that the public is turning
to favor mercy killing and will likely reach 80% approval within a decade.
"I think the change in law will happen when it is consistently
80% to 90% of the public who say we want to see this happen and we want it
safe and humane." 1
Buckland's estimate was relatively accurate. Circa 13 years later, public support was about 85% and the Supreme Court of Canada decided in favor of legalizing PAS.
- 2007-MAY: "A Health Psychology study found that 6% of
patients in palliative care surveyed (22 out of a total of 379) said that they
would request physician-assisted suicide if such a procedure were legally
- 2007-JUN-08: A significant majority of terminal cancer patients
favor access to PAS: 379 palliative care cancer patients from St. Johns,
Quebec City, Ottawa, Winnipeg, Saskatoon, Edmonton, Kelowna and Vancouver were
individually interviewed between 2001 and 2003. The study was funded by the Canadian Institutes of Health Research and published in the Health
Psychology journal. Results were:
- 63% said that physician assisted suicide (PAS) should be legalized in
- 40% said that they would consider making a request for PAS if their health
condition degenerated into the "worse case scenario." Their typical
concern was "uncontrollable pain." Many mentioned that they would feel
more comfortable if they were able to know that the PAS option was available to them in the future if they needed it.
- 10% said that if PAS were available, they would have already requested it --
again because of uncontrollable pain. However, when their pain was brought under
control, many changed their mind.
- 5.8% said that if they could have access to PAS, "they would definitely
initiate a request to end their lives right away in their current circumstances." 3
- 2009-MAR: A newspaper poll showed majority support for
PAS: During early 2009-MAR, the Globe and Mail newspaper conducted a poll
of its online readers asking "Would you support making assisted suicide a
choice available to terminally ill patients?" The results among almost 20,000
respondents was 55% in favor, 45% opposed. Since the Globe and Mail is a
relatively conservative newspaper, one might expect a national survey to show
support for PAS somewhat higher than 55%.
- 2009-JUL: Replicated poll: During mid-JUL, the Globe and Mail conducted another public opinion poll on PAS. They asked: "Do you support the
legalization of assisted suicide?" Results from the 15,027 respondents was
64% in favor and 36% opposed -- a significant increase in support. However, the two polls asked different questons. Thus the results of the two polls cannot be directly compared.
- 2009-NOV: Environics conducted a poll for LifeCanada, which is a national association of local and provincial educational pro-life groups. Results showed that 61% of Canadian adults favor the legalization of "euthanasia." As noted below, the poll defined "euthanasia" very broadly. So their results are not a good indication of support for most PAS legislation that would be limited to terminally ill individuals in intractable pain with a very limited life expectancy. Support varied across the country: from 75% in Quebec, to 52% in Atlantic Canada, and 51% in Saskatchewan.
The poll also found that 70% of Canadians were worried that future assisted suicide legislation might result in sick, disabled or elderly persons being killed without their consent. That result is to be expected from the very broad definition of "euthanasia" that the poll used, which included involuntary euthanasia against the will of the victim. Also, 56% were concerned that elderly persons would be pressured to accept euthanasia due to rising health care costs.
Delores Doherty is a pediatrician in Newfoundland. Speaking for LifeCanada, she said:
"The idea that Canadians are clamoring for euthanasia is not accurate, despite the impression that may have been left from some polls. ... Canadians are conflicted. They have mixed feelings. While a majority favors legalization, most also have serious concerns about it." 4
2010-FEB: A poll conducted by Angus Reid Public Opinion on FEB-02 and 03 found that most Canadians support the legalization of euthanasia. The question asked was: "Generally speaking, do you support or oppose legalizing euthanasia in Canada?" Results were 67% favored legalization; 23% opposed; 10% had no opinion or refused to answer. These results changed little from an earlier poll in 2009-AUG when support was 71%, opposition 23% and 8% not sure. N = 1,003; margin of error is ±3.1% 5
- 2015-AUG-23: Results from a Forum poll 8 were released on 2015-AUG-29. They found that 77% of Canadian adults supports assisted suicide for individuals who are terminally ill. 12% are opposed. This is an increase of ten percentage points compared with a similar poll by the same company in 2011. The opinions of 1,440 adults were sampled, making the margin of error approximately ±2.6%.
Linda Jarrett is an assisted-dying advocate, and former French teacher. She has been living with multiple sclerosis for 17 years, and was encouraged by the CMA findings. She said:
"It is important to me that polls are showing more and more people in agreement. C’est ma vie, c’est mon choix. (It’s my life, it should be my choice.)" 7
She directed a comment to federal politicians:
"Listen to your constituents, accept the results of valid polls that show this is what people want. And yes, protect the vulnerable, yes protect those who would be preyed upon, but for heaven’s sake don’t close the doors to all of those people out there who support choice at end of life." 7
At the time, the federal government was under the control of the Conservative Party of Canada. No action was taken by the government.
2015-AUG: The Canadian Medical Association conducted a poll of its members. They issued the results during the same week as the Forum poll described above. They found that 63% of physicians would refuse to help a patient commit suicide; 29% said that they would help.
Dr. Jeff Blackmer, vice-president of medical professionalism at the CMA, said that physicians are:
"... the ones who will be tasked with doing this. So it’s a very different filter that doctors are using, and they’re looking at it really from their role as healers and as a profession that has obviously not participated in this in Canada." 7
2016-FEB: Ipsos Reid -- a market research company -- conducted a poll of Canadian adults on behalf of Dying with Dignity Canada. Results showed that:
- 85% of Canadian adults support the court ruling to legalize PAS: (53% strongly support it; 34% support it "somewhat.")
- 15% of adults oppose the ruling: (7% strongly; 7% "somewhat.")
- 2,500 adults were involved in the polling. The margin of error was ±2 percentage points. 9
- 2016-MAR: Global TV conducted a public opinion poll on their web site. They asked the question:
"What do you think of the decision to allow a Calgary woman access to physician-assisted death?"
Three options were given. Results were:
- 88%: "This is the right decision to support Albertans with terminal illnesses."
- 9%: "I don’t believe in [permitting] physician-assisted death."
- 2%: other responses.
- 0.8%: "The decision should have been delayed until federal legislation [becomes effective]." 10,11
The Supreme Court of Canada has given the federal government until 2016-JUN-06 to have legislation in place to allow medical aid in dying (MAID).
Comments on the accuracy and usefulness of these polls:
Many of the above polls are of little use in assessing national support and opposition to the legalization of PAS. Consider:
Many media reports about public opinion polls do not include the precise question asked. To ask people whether they "favor euthanasia" will probably give very different results than asking them if they supported:
"... allowing terminally ill people, who are in severe pain, with limited life expectancy, and not depressed to request help from their physicians to end their life with dignity."
The two newspaper polls during 2009 are virtually useless because only the readers of the newspaper were involved. As a group, they might have very different opinions than the average Canadian. Also, only the opinions of those who were sufficiently motivated to express their opinion were counted.
The Environics poll of 2009 defined "euthanasia" as "the use of lethal means to take the life of someone who is sick, depressed, elderly or disabled." This is a very broad definition. Many of the public would probably suggest that depressed people be given pills to get rid of their depression, rather to kill them. Elderly people and disabled people may need support, but don't necessarily want to shorten their life.
And then, there is the occasional person who confuses "euthanasia" with "Youth in Asia."
The Angus Reid polls of 2009 and 2010 asked the question:
"Generally speaking, do you support or oppose legalizing euthanasia in Canada?"
To some polling subjects, "euthanasia" might have brought back memories involuntary euthanasia programs such as the program of extermination of physically healthy but mentally challenged individuals by the Nazi government in Germany during the mid 19th century. At the other extreme, "euthanasia" might be interpreted by some people as allowing terminally ill patients who were not depressed but which are in intractable pain, and expected to die within a few months to ask for and obtain help from their physician to speed the dying process.
LifeCanada board member Peter Ryan, chairperson of the committee that handled the Environics survey said that:
" Many people are unclear about what euthanasia is. For instance, they may mistakenly think it’s every time you shut off life support. Such people may have told Angus Reid they support legalization. That throws results off." 6
Fortunately, the Ipsos-Reid poll of 2016-FEB avoided the ambiguous term "euthanasia," and asked the polling subjects specifically about "physician-assisted death." Further, the polling size was 2,500 adults, and thus the margin of error is only ±2 percentage points. We can conclude that on the date of the poll, close to 85% of adult Canadians favor giving access to physician medical assistance in dying (MAID) to those who are eligible to receive it, and who wish it for themselves.
These results would appear to be one more indication of the gradual secularization of the Canadian culture, and the weakening of the authority of conservative religious groups.
The following information sources were used to prepare and update the above essay. The hyperlinks are not necessarily still active today.
- The Right-To-Die Society of Canada has a web page at: http://www.righttodie.ca/
- Marlisa Tiedemann & Dominique Valiquet, "Euthanasia and Assisted Suicide in
Canada," Library of Parliament, at: http://www.parl.gc.ca/
- Anne-Marie Tobin, "Terminal patients favour ending life," The Toronto Star,
2007-JUN-08, Page L7.
- Steven Ertelt, "Canadian Poll Shows Concerns of Hurting Disabled by Legalizing Assisted Suicide," Life Site News, 2009-NOV-03, at: http://www.lifenews.com/
- "Most Canadians Generally Agree with Euthanasia," Angus Reid, 2010-FEB-16, at: http://www.angus-reid.com/
- "Canadian Euthanasia Poll Questioned," Life Site News, 2010-MAR-04, at: http://www.lifesitenews.com/
- Ben Spurr, "77% of Canadians support assisted suicide, poll shows," The Toronto Star, 2015-AUG-28.
- The Forum Poll™ is "Canada's leading public opinion poll and covering social and political issues at the municipal, provincial, and federal ..." level. See: http://poll.forumresearch.com/
- "Eight in Ten (80%) Canadians Support Advance Consent to Physician-Assisted Dying," Ipsos Reid, 2016-FEB-11, at: http://www.ipsos-na.com/
- Erika Tucker, "Calgary woman with ALS first in Alberta to be granted physician-assisted death," Global News, 2016-MAR-01, at: http://globalnews.ca/
- "What do you think of the decision to allow a Calgary woman access to physician-assisted death?," Poll Daddy, as of 2016-MAR-04, at: https://polldaddy.com/
Copyright © 1999 to 2016, by Ontario Consultants on Religious Tolerance
Latest update: 2016-FEB-26
Author: B.A. Robinson