Those Canadians most likely to be affected by legal euthanasia—the elderly and the disabled—are more strongly opposed to changing the law than others, according to a March Environics poll. Among Canadians over the age of 60, 49% opposed legalizing euthanasia compared to 40% of all Canadians. Among disabled Canadians, 29% strongly opposed euthanasia compared to 23% of those without disabilities.
“Canadians have heard the stories from places like Belgium and the Netherlands where patient consent requirements are ignored and that scares people,” said Natalie Sonnen, Executive Director of LifeCanada, which commissioned the poll.
“Older and vulnerable Canadians can see this affecting them directly,” she said. “They worry that they will be seen as a burden. That’s not an unrealistic concern. Earlier this year, a Japanese government official expressed the view that elderly people in his country should ‘hurry up and die’ to relieve costs on the country.”
The poll found a higher level of support among Canadians for legalization of assisted suicide (63%) than for euthanasia (55%). But that support was hesitant, according to Environics, with only 29% expressing strong support.
The poll comes at a time when federal laws prohibiting assisted suicide and euthanasia are being challenged in several provinces. A BC Supreme Court ruling in the Carter case, which would allow assisted suicide, is before the BC Court of Appeal. The Quebec government has promised legislation on “medical aid in dying” this year. And Susan Griffiths, a Manitoba resident with multiple system atrophy, has gone to die in Switzerland, where assisted suicide is legal.
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“When doctors abandon the ‘do no harm’ principle, what replaces it?” Ms. Sonnen asked. “It will be a utilitarian approach of reducing costs, freeing up beds and judgments about someone else’s quality of life. This is an area where policy-makers should tread carefully.”
The survey of 2,008 Canadians has a margin of error of 2.2%, 19 times out of 20.
For a copy of the Environics Report, Canadians’ Attitudes toward End-of-life Issues,” visit www.lifecanada.org.