A just-released poll confirms what we at Dying With Dignity Canada have known for a long time — that the vast majority of Canadians support the right to physician assisted dying.
On Friday, the Toronto Star and Forum Research announced the results of their fifth-annual poll on end-of-life choice. This year, they asked 1,440 Canadians voters whether they support "physician assisted suicide for the terminally ill."
A total of 77 per cent of respondents said yes, up from 74 per cent in Forum’s 2014 poll on the same question. Notably, opposition to assisted dying dropped by a quarter, from 16 per cent to 12 per cent, in the same period. And 11 per cent — about one person in 10 — said they were undecided.
These figures are just the latest to show a growing consensus in Canada on physician assisted dying. A poll released just after the Supreme Court’s February decision to decriminalize assisted dying suggested that 78 per cent of Canadians supported the ruling.
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"Momentum is growing," says Wanda Morris, CEO of Dying With Dignity Canada, the leading organization committed to improving quality of dying, expanding end of life choices, and helping Canadians avoid unwanted suffering. "This is a validation of the Supreme Court’s decision to establish choice in dying as a right for Canadians."
The poll numbers raise questions about why candidates have been so quiet on assisted dying on the federal campaign trail. End-of-life choice has majority approval among supporters of every major federal party, according to the Forum poll. Support is highest among NDP supporters (84 per cent) and lowest among self-identified Conservatives (67 per cent). A provincial breakdown shows that support is highest in Quebec (83 per cent) and lowest in Alberta (69 per cent).
"With such strong support from the public, we’re curious as to why we haven’t seen leadership from our politicians," said Morris. "Offering meaningful access to assisted dying represents a huge opportunity for federal candidates to connect with voters who are concerned about protecting their right to a peaceful death."
The Supreme Court of Canada announced on Feb. 6, 2015 that it would be striking down the Criminal Code ban on assisted dying. It established guidelines for who will be eligible to access assisted death and gave provincial and federal lawmakers one year for the decision to come into effect.
However, for months, the federal government was mostly quiet on how it would respond to the decision. It announced a public consultation on assisted dying on July 17, with Prime Minister Stephen Harper calling the federal election less than three weeks later. None of the provinces, except for Quebec, have passed assisted dying bills.
Eleven provinces and territories, led by Ontario, have joined forces to establish a expert panel to study possible legislative responses to the Supreme Court's judgment in Carter v. Canada.
DWD Canada's 2014 poll
Last year, a poll commissioned by DWD Canada and conducted by Ipsos Reid found that 84 per cent of Canadians support the right to physician assisted dying. With a sample size of more than 2,500 Canadians, the poll was the largest of its kind ever completed in this country.
How the questions were worded might explain the disparities between the Ipsos results and Forum's. A 2013 Gallup study of U.S. public opinion polls on assisted dying show that rates of support tend to be much higher when the word “suicide,” a term loaded with stigma, is left out.
The Forum poll was conducted on Aug. 23 and 24 and has a margin of error of +/- three per cent, 19 times out of 20.
Go to Forum Research's summary of the assisted dying poll to read the full results.
MP Steven Fletcher's book released
Coinciding with the announcement of the poll Friday was the release of assisted dying advocate and retiring Conservative MP Steven Fletcher's new book, Master of My Fate. The autobiographical work chronicles the 1996 car accident that left him a quadriplegic and the ensuing evolution of his convictions on physician assisted dying.
He hopes book's release will help make end-of-life choice an election issue. "[Politicians will] talk about it if people ask and the best time to ask is during an election," Fletcher told The Canadian Press.