Family doctors' views on assisted dying are shifting

A new survey of Canadian family doctors is the latest sign that physicians' attitudes on assisted dying are undergoing a sea change.

This year, the College of Family Physicians of Canada polled its membership on a number of issues related to end-of-life choice. The results of the survey suggest that Canada’s medical community, which has historically been cool to the idea of assisted death, has begun to embrace physician assisted dying as a viable, compassionate treatment for patients facing intolerable, incurable suffering.

When asked whether they support the Supreme Court of Canada’s decision to decriminalize medically assisted death, 58 per cent of the respondents said yes, while another 13 per cent said they didn’t know enough about the judgment to give an informed answer. One third said they did not agree with the Supreme Court’s decision.

Compare these numbers with a 2014 poll by the Canadian Medical Association, which found that only about 45 per cent of its membership was in favour of legalizing physician assisted death.

The CFDC survey also asked whether doctors “competent, consenting dying patient end his/her own life if requested. Fifty-three per cent said they would assist “if appropriate and rigorous checks and balances are in place, and another 12 per cent responded “Yes, it’s the patient’s choice.” One third said they would not participate under any circumstances.

The sample size of survey is small. Only 372 doctors filled out the online survey, so the results aren’t necessarily representative of the College’s 30,000-plus members. However, these numbers, and the Canadian Medical Association’s recent about-face on assisted dying, suggest that a meaningful paradigm shift is well underway. 

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