Majority of Canada's new generation of doctors would offer medical aid in dying, study finds

A new McGill University study shows the next generation of physicians will be more open to helping their ailing patients end their lives.

McGill study shows 71 per cent of recent medical school grads were open to it

McGill researchers surveyed medical students across Canada and found that their opinions were varied based on religious backgrounds and geography. (Chris Kreussling)

A new study out of McGill University shows that the next generation of Canadian physicians will be more open to helping their ailing patients end their lives through medical assistance in dying (MAID).

Of 1,200 medical students surveyed during the 2016-2017 academic year, 71 per cent reported they would be willing to provide legal medical assistance in dying to their patients.

The study was conducted by a team made up of researchers from the medicine, law, and sociology faculties at McGill who published their results in the peer-reviewed research journal BMC Medical Ethics, earlier this month.

James Falconer, one of the study's co-authors and a PhD candidate in the sociology department, explained that the team wanted to hear from future doctors specifically.

"This was going to be the first class of medical students that was going to graduate into a new legal landscape and medical landscape in Canada," he explained.

Medical assistance in dying has been legal in Canada since 2016.

Results vary across the country

Researchers surveyed students across Canada and found that their data reflected variations based on the respondents' religious backgrounds and geography.

The study found that more medical students from Quebec were willing to provide MAID, while more students from Alberta were not.

Falconer said this isn't a huge cause for concern, since Alberta came in only a few points lower than the national average, with 63 per cent of students saying they would be willing.

The rate of response for Quebec was well above the average, at 85 per cent.

The study also found that the students who reported being more religious and attending a high frequency of religious activities were less willing.

Falconer said that he hopes this data will help advance the conversation in Canada, adding that, to his knowledge, this was the largest survey in North America on this issue to date.

A report examining the impact of Quebec's end-of-life care law was tabled in the National Assembly last Wednesday, revealing that access to aid in dying is unequal across the province. 

So far, 1,632 people have received a medically assisted death in Quebec. From 2016 to 2017, the number of people who received medical aid to die increased by 73 per cent, according to the report. 

With files from CBC's Sudha Krishnan