A vast majority of Canadians agree that medically assisted dying should be permitted under certain circumstances, but a new poll shows they have decidedly mixed feelings about the rules Ottawa has drawn up to govern the practice.
The survey, conducted by Ipsos on behalf of Global News between June 17 and June 20, reveals that a full 86 per cent of respondents believe that there are circumstances when a terminally ill person should be allowed to seek professional medical help to die.
That’s in line with other public opinion polls on the subject in recent years.
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“This is one of those areas that used to be morally contentious and is no longer as morally contentious,” said Darrell Bricker, CEO of Ipsos Public Affairs, pointing out a similar increase in support over time for same-sex marriage.
The Ipsos poll also indicates that two in three Canadians (65 per cent) agree with the final wording of the Liberal government’s assisted dying law, which states only people whose natural death is “reasonably foreseeable” should have access to assisted death.
The Senate had attempted to remove that clause, which would have broadened access considerably and brought the law more in line with a Supreme Court decision rendered last year. But the amendment was rejected by the House of Commons before the bill was passed into law last week.
Strong support for advanced consent, assisted dying for the mentally ill
On other points, however, the poll respondents were not aligned at all with the will of Parliament.
A strong majority (85 per cent) approved — either strongly or somewhat — of the idea of allowing people to sign advance consent so that they can receive help in dying if the time comes and they are no longer able to communicate their wishes.
Just 15 per cent disapproved of advance consent. Still, the Liberals did not allow for it under the law.
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And then there is the difficult question of patients who suffer from mental illness. The idea that a natural death (not suicide) must be reasonably foreseeable excludes many mentally ill patients from access to medical aid in dying.
But the poll results indicate that 61 per cent of Canadians agree (25 per cent strongly/36 per cent somewhat) that people with mental illness and physical illness should be treated the same, meaning they believe access should be equal regardless of whether the medical condition is mental or physical.
“(Assisted death) is something that, until it’s tested by actually real-life circumstances, all of these contradictions will remain in play,” Bricker said.
“It will take time for people to kind of clarify their opinions as to what this means, and how it’s actually going to be operationalized.”
The results of the poll did not vary significantly by gender, but they did vary by age. Nearly a quarter of people between the ages of 18 and 34 felt that assisted death should not be an option for Canadians, while the same was true of only 9 per cent of those aged 55 and older.
There were also geographical differences, with Quebecers expressing more support for assisted dying, and broader access, than people on the Prairies.
Bricker said that even with these variations, a “public consensus” has formed around assisted death over the last couple of decades. While the new law at times seemed controversial on Parliament Hill, he said, it wasn’t as controversial for average Canadians.
“Whether you have Lou Gehrig’s Disease or whether you’ve got such long-term depression that you really just don’t want to continue on living, they believe that it should be a choice that you make.”
The offices of Justice Minister Jody Wilson-Raybould and Health Minister Jane Philpott declined requests for interview on the poll on Tuesday.
Exclusive Global News Ipsos polls are protected by copyright. The information and/or data may only be rebroadcast or republished with full and proper credit and attribution to “Global News Ipsos.” This poll was conducted between June 17 and June 20, 2016, with a sample of 1,005 Canadians from Ipsos’ online panel. The precision of Ipsos online polls is measured using a credibility interval. This poll is accurate to within +/ – 3.5 percentage points, 19 times out of 20, had all Canadian adults been polled.