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Majority of Canadians support assisted dying: poll

WATCH:  A terminally-ill, young woman in the U.S. is taking charge of her life and her death. Her story puts another spotlight on the debate over the right to die. A new poll found the majority of Canadians believe it’s the right of people to choose their own death. Jennifer Tryon has the story.

TORONTO – Eighty-four per cent of Canadians say they support assisted dying, according to a new national poll released Wednesday.

Just a week before the Supreme Court of Canada will begin hearings on a landmark case on assisted dying, a Dying with Dignity and Ipsos Reid survey suggests that Canadians are supportive of the controversial idea.

“Canadians overwhelmingly support assisted dying, including high levels of support from health professionals, the disability community and religious communities. Those who oppose legalization of assisted dying are a vanishing small minority,” Wanda Morris, CEO of Dying with Dignity Canada, said in a statement.

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“It’s a clear signal from the Canadian people that it’s time to recognize the right of the terminally ill to end their lives with dignity and compassion,” she said.

READ MORE: A 29-year-old U.S. woman diagnosed with terminal brain cancer plans to end her life on Nov. 1

The poll asked Canadians if doctors should be able to help someone end their life if the person was making the decision in a competent state. The patient would be terminally ill, dealing with unbearable suffering and is asking for assistance to die.

Regional breakdowns were also included: either ends of the country reported the highest levels of support with Nova Scotia (89 per cent) and British Columbia (87 per cent) leading the way. That was followed by Ontario (85) and Quebec (84).

Support was lowest in the rest of Atlantic Canada and Saskatchewan and Manitoba at about 79 per cent.

WATCH: Patients say they want the right to choose. Crystal Goomansingh reports.

READ MORE: Assisted suicide debate heats up in Canada

Eighty-five per cent of people from the disability community who were polled said they were in support of medically assisted dying, too. The exact same percentage was recorded for people who identified themselves as part of the health care community, such as doctors and nurses.

No matter how the question was phrased, Canadians were on board with the concept of assisted dying. Ninety-one per cent of the time, they agreed that people shouldn’t be forced to “endure drawn-out suffering” and that palliative care isn’t enough in some cases.

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The Ipsos Reid poll was conducted between Aug. 21 and Aug. 29 with a sample of 2,515 people.

READ MORE: SARS doctor Donald Low urges Canadians to legalize assisted suicide in posthumous message

A statement from the office of Justice Minister Peter MacKay said the government’s position on prohibiting assisted suicide protects Canada’s most “vulnerable” citizens.

“Assisted suicide is an emotional and divisive issue for many Canadians,” said spokesperson Clarissa Lamb, in an email. “It is our Government’s position that the Criminal Code provisions prohibiting assisted suicide and euthanasia are in place to protect all persons, including those who are most vulnerable in our society.”

Canadian doctor Donald Low became a prominent figure in support of assisted suicide. The microbiologist who helped pave the way in Canada’s battle against SARS died from a brain tumour in September 2013.

WATCH: Dr. Low’s widow, Maureen Taylor, discusses the struggles they went through when assisted death was not an option

In a candid video shot eight days before his death, he urged Canadian officials to allow assisted suicide,

“In Canada, it’s illegal and it’ll be a long time before we mature to a level where we accept dying with dignity. There’s a lot of opposition to it, clinicians have opposition…,” he said.

“I wish they could live in my body for 24 hours and I think they would change that opinion. I’m just frustrated not being able to control my own life, not being able to make that decision for myself when enough is enough.”

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Assisted suicide

carmen.chai@globalnews.ca