Edmonton

Alberta's publicly-funded hospitals should be required to allow assisted dying, poll says

A poll of Albertans shows that 80 per cent support the idea that publicly-funded hospitals in the province should be required to allow medically-assisted death if the hospital is physically capable of doing so.

Most respondents disapprove of government policy allowing hospitals to be exempted

The online poll surveyed 800 adult Albertans between Feb. 14 and 18, 2019. (Shutterstock)

A poll of Albertans shows that 80 per cent support the idea that publicly-funded hospitals in the province should be required to allow medically-assisted death if the hospital is physically capable of doing so.

As well, 77 per cent disagree with the province's current practice of allowing hospitals to refuse to allow the service because of their beliefs or religious affiliation, says the poll, which was commissioned by Dying With Dignity Canada.

"These results send a strong message about where Albertans stand on this issue," said Bradley Peter, a board member and co-chair of the organization's Edmonton chapter.

"Hospitals that receive millions of dollars in public funding have a duty to provide public health care, including medical assistance in dying."

Covenant Health, a Catholic health-care organization that operates 17 hospitals and care centres in Alberta, is among the health-care providers that does not allow medically-assisted death in its facilities.

Since June 2016, 76 patients seeking medical assistance in dying, known as MAID, had to be transferred to another hospital or to their home. Of those, 64 were in a faith-based facility, according to Alberta Health Services.

A series of CBC Edmonton stories in late 2018 focused on the treatment of severely-ill Albertans who requested medically-assisted dying in facilities where it is banned. Those stories were cited by the news release issued Thursday by Dying With Dignity Canada.

In one instance, a 66-year-old ALS patient who could no longer walk or speak was forced onto an Edmonton sidewalk to have her request assessed after Covenant Health refused to allow the assessment to happen by her palliative bed.

Since then, Covenant Health has agreed to allow the assessments to take place inside its facilities.

"People who qualify for MAID are some of the frailest, most vulnerable patients in Alberta's healthcare system," Peter said.

"Forcing these individuals to transfer out of hospital — sometimes to a facility many kilometres outside their community — so they can access their right to MAID is medically unnecessary, morally wrong, and runs counter to the beliefs of most Albertans."

The online poll surveyed 800 adult Albertans between Feb. 14 and 18. The questions focused on levels of support for whether publicly-funded hospitals should be required to allow medically-assisted dying on their premises.

For comparison purposes only, a probability sample of the same size would yield a margin of error to within +/- 4 percentage points, 19 times out of 20.

Among the findings:

Regionally, respondents from Edmonton were slightly less supportive of requiring hospitals to allow MAID than those in Calgary or elsewhere in the province

  • Calgary: 82 per cent
  • Edmonton: 77 per cent
  • Rest of Alberta: 80 per cent

Politically, UCP supporters were least likely to support the idea of requiring the service in Alberta hospitals.

  • UCP supporters: 70 per cent,
  • NDP supporters: 88 per cent
  • Liberal supporters: 87 per cent

Religious affiliation also affected responses, with those identifying as Catholic or Christian being least likely to support.

  • Catholics: 76 per cent
  • Protestant / other Christians: 70 per cent
  • No religious affiliation: 86 per cent
  • Another religion: 84 per cent

Following the poll's release on Thursday, the lobby group Friends of Medicare said it would like to see parties and candidates address their position on this topic as the Alberta election campaign continues.

"Eight out of 10 Albertans have spoken loud and clear," said executive director Sandra Azocar, "and it is up to those vying for our votes to listen and show that they will provide the type of leadership that is humane and follows the intent of the federal legislation."

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