Majority of Albertans support assisted suicide: study

EDMONTON – A study conducted by University of Alberta researchers finds 77 per cent of Albertans surveyed felt dying adults should have the right to end their life early.

U of A researcher Donna Wilson led a team that studied the views of 1,203 Albertans on assisted suicide, which is currently illegal in Canada.

“Increasingly, there are countries or states where they are allowing assisted suicide or euthanasia. Like many of those countries, Canada will have to grapple with this question,” said Wilson, a professor and Caritas Nurse Scientist in the Faculty of Nursing. “Until this point, nobody has asked the public, and that’s a very important perspective.”

Wilson, an expert in aging and end-of-life care, used data gathered in a 2010 health-care survey by the U of A’s Population Research Laboratory. When asked, “Should dying adults be able to request and get help from others to end their life early?” a total of 36.8 per cent of respondents answered yes outright.

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Another 40.6 per cent of respondents indicated yes, but with the qualification that assisted suicide “should only be allowed in certain cases or situations.” The remaining 22.6 per cent answered no.

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“You have these preconceived images of Albertans, but Alberta is a very young province—the youngest in Canada—and we really value autonomy and independence,” she said. “A lot of people realize that, ‘If I were dying, I’d want to be able to say, look, end it now. I might not want it in the end, but it would be nice to have that option.’”

The survey data show personal experience helps shape opinions on assisted suicide. Individuals who have been involved in a decision to stop or not start life-supporting treatment were 79.8 per cent in support. Even greater support—81 per cent—was observed among those who have euthanized a pet.

“It’s not just some abstract answer that ‘this isn’t right,’” Wilson said. “These are people with important experiences that made them much more open to assisted suicide.”

Wilson’s research, which was published in the March issue of Health and Social Care in the Community, comes at a time when the federal government is appealing the B.C. Supreme Court ruling to allow Gloria Taylor, who had late-stage ALS, a constitutional exemption to proceed with physician-assisted suicide. A Quebec panel has also called on that provincial government to allow “medical assistance to die.”

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Wilson’s research was funded by the Canadian Institutes of Health Research.

The full study is posted below:

U of A study: Right to hastened death

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