Canadian public opinion and medical aid in dying
The group Dying With Dignity has just released the results of a fairly comprehensive poll conducted by Ipsos Reid in August of 2014. http://www.dyingwithdignity.ca/database/files/library/DWD_IpsosReid2014.pdf
The results are quite dramatic. There is overwhelming support for medical aid in dying. 84% of people polled agree with the statement: “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.”
Most Canadians generally agree with the concept of assisted dying, regardless of how it is
specifically defined. Nine in ten (91%) agree that a person should not be forced to endure
drawn out suffering, and a similar proportion (91%) agree that palliative care is not
Support for the right to die is highest when speaking about patients who have a “terminal
illness that results in unbearable suffering” (88%) or a “serious incurable illness or
condition, with an advanced state of weakened capacity that is permanent, incurable, and
results in unbearable suffering” (86%)
The survey also found that only 42% of respondents thought that the majority of other Canadians were in favour of medical aid in dying.
So, what difference does this make? Obviously that many people think something should be either morally or legally permitted does not mean that it should. On the moral or ethical side we still need to work through the arguments and the reasons for whatever position, each one of us as individuals might take. (See the blog posts “Understanding the issues in end of life care” and “Slippery Slopes” below.) On the legal front, it may be that the Supreme Court as it hears the Carter case may take public opinion into account. On the political side this poll could show that the perceived political downside of legalising some form of medical aid in dying may not be as severe as anticipated. But, if there is a move to change the law the details will be critical. This discussion, of course, is far from over.