New Poll: Majority of Canadians support expanding access to medical assistance in dying

An overwhelming majority of Canadians want expanded access to medical assistance in dying according to a new national survey commissioned by Dying with Dignity Canada (DWDC) and conducted by Ipsos.

Over eight in 10 Canadians (82%) believe people diagnosed with a grievous and irremediable medical condition, including those with dementia, should be allowed to make advance requests for medical assistance in dying (MAID).

Eighty-five percent of respondents believe a person’s request for MAID should be respected if they have been assessed and approved for assisted dying but lose their capacity to consent prior to the planned date for MAID.

Over 70% Canadians strongly support removing the requirement that a person’s death be ‘reasonably foreseeable’ for them to be eligible for MAID. 

“We are encouraged that the majority of Canadians support the removal of ‘reasonably foreseeable’ and allowing advance consent for assisted dying,” said Senator James Cowan, Chair of DWDC’s Board of Directors. “The level of support for medical assistance in dying in Canada has remained virtually unchanged since 2016, demonstrating Canadians are not wavering in their beliefs that patients have a right to access dignified end of life options.”

In the September 2019 Quebec Superior Court decision, Truchon c. Procureur general du Canada, Justice Baudouin ruled that the requirement that a person’s death be ‘reasonably foreseeable’ was unconstitutional and infringed the plaintiffs’ rights to equality and to liberty and security of the person. She gave the government until March 11, 2020, to remove it from the current legislation.

On behalf of DWDC, Senator Cowan urged federal and Quebec lawmakers to recognize Canadians’ strong and clear desire for choice.

“Canadians do not want to endure unnecessary suffering. Across regions, among healthcare practitioners, and among those who self-identified as having a chronic physical or mental condition or disability, there is support for change to the existing law on medical assistance in dying. In addition, there is a block of aging people in Canada, as well as their families, who are highly supportive of increased access to advance requests and the accompanying peace of mind. There is dignity in choice that Canadians want available to their parent, loved one, and themselves.”

The vast majority of Canadians (86%) continue to support the 2015 Supreme Court decision in Carter v Canada that struck down a total prohibition on physician-assisted dying. 

3,502 Canadians were interviewed on the Ipsos I-Say panel for the poll between January 21 - 27, 2020.  The polling period coincided with the federal government’s public consultations on removing the “reasonably foreseeable” criterion from Bill C-14, the federal law governing medically assisted death, as directed by the recent Québec court ruling and ahead of Parliament’s five-year review of the law.

Additional findings from the poll include:

  • Support is consistently strong in every region of Canada, though numbers are slightly higher in Quebec and Atlantic provinces.
  • Individuals with chronic physical or mental conditions or disability (those who report being unable to carry out the basic activities of daily living without assistance) are 84% in support of allowing Canadians with a grievous and irremediable illness to consent in advance to assisted dying (results valid within +/- 12.3%).
  • Approval was high among supporters of the three leading federal parties, including supporters of the New Democratic Party (88%) and the Liberal Party of Canada (87%) and the Conservative Party (82%).
  • Levels of support generally increased with age, and in such categories as the ‘Boomer’ generation.
  • 86% of Catholics and 79% of Protestant Christians support allowing Canadians with a grievous and irremediable illness to make advance requests for physician-assisted dying. Sample sizes for people of other faiths weren’t large enough to allow for statistically significant comparisons.
  • Individuals who self-identified as members of a regulated health profession (such as doctors, nurses and physiotherapists) are 82% in support of allowing advance consent for assisted dying where individuals are diagnosed with a serious capacity eroding condition. (results valid within +/- 8.9%).

The Council of Canadian Academies’ Reports on MAID, released in December 2018, examine the possibility of extending assisted dying access to three groups of suffering people who are currently excluded under the federal law: 1) mature minors; 2) individuals whose primary underlying condition is a severe mental illness; and 3) individuals whose right to a peaceful death is out of reach since advance requests are currently excluded from the legislation. This poll speaks specifically to the issue of advance requests, and confirms strong support for those assessed and approved for MAID to have their right to MAID respected should they lose competence prior to the planned date for MAID, and for those diagnosed with a grievous and irremediable condition which may lead to a loss of capacity to be able to have an advance request for MAID respected at a later time.

More than seven in 10 Canadians (75%) would also support allowing a patient without a diagnosis for a grievous and irremediable illness to make an advance request for physician-assisted dying that would be honoured if certain pre-stated conditions were met.

More about the poll:

The poll was conducted between January 21-27, 2020. A sample of 3,502 Canadians was surveyed online and the results have been weighted by region, age, and gender to reflect the demographic makeup of the national population. In cases where the base sample was used, the results are considered accurate with +/- 1.9 percentage points, 19 times out of 20.

Click here for data and a further breakdown of poll results.

Dying With Dignity Canada is the national organization committed to improving quality of dying and expanding end-of-life choice.