Doctor-assisted suicide supported by majority of Canadians in new poll

More than three quarters of Canadians in a new online poll supported doctor-assisted suicide, as the issue heads the Supreme Court next week.

Survey suggests backing is strongest in Nova Scotia and B.C.

MP Steven Fletcher, pictured in 2011, says the issue of dying with dignity is of 'great importance' to him and needs to be discussed openly by Canadians. (Adrian Wyld/The Canadian Press)

More than three quarters of Canadians in a new online poll supported doctor-assisted suicide, as the issue heads the Supreme Court next week.

Eighty-four per cent of people surveyed said they agreed that "a doctor should be able to help someone end their life if the person is a competent adult who is terminally ill, suffering unbearably and repeatedly asks for assistance to die."

Nearly 90 per cent of Nova Scotians and British Columbians in the survey agreed with the statement. More men agreed with it than women.

This is a topic that is of great importance to me and needs to be discussed openly by all Canadians.- MP Steven Fletcher

Sixteen per cent of people disagreed with the statement. Support was lowest in Saskatchewan, Manitoba, Newfoundland and Labrador, New Brunswick and Prince Edward Island.

From those who supported the right to die, 88 per cent supported it for patients with a "terminal illness that results in unbearable suffering." That number dropped slightly — to 86 per cent in favour — for patients with a "serious incurable illness or condition, with an advanced state of weakened capacity that is permanent, incurable, and results in unbearable suffering."

Only 67 per cent of respondents expressed support for patients with a "permanent and severe disability that significantly impacts quality of life and the ability to carry out basic activities of daily living."

More than half responded that they had a family member or friend die after suffering.

Member of Parliament Steven Fletcher said he welcomes the poll and its results.

"This is a topic that is of great importance to me and needs to be discussed openly by all Canadians and it needs to be done now," he wrote.

Earlier this year, Fletcher, who is paralyzed from the neck down following a 1996 car crash, introduced private member's bills that would allow for assisted suicide for some individuals.

Last month, Health Minister Rona Ambrose said she wants to make it a priority for Canada to do a better job caring for people who are dying.

"Let's talk about making sure we have the best end-of-life care before we start talking about assisted suicide and euthanasia," she said at the time, acknowledging that the debate is set to heat up again this fall.

Supreme Court to hear case this month

The Supreme Court of Canada will begin hearing Carter v. Canada next week. The appeal case challenges the criminality of physician-assisted suicide.

The case was originally launched in 2011 by the B.C. Civil Liberties Association, Gloria Taylor and the family of Kay Carter. Both those women suffered from degenerative conditions and have died.  

In 2012, the B.C. Supreme Court ruled in their favour and gave Parliament one year to rewrite the laws against assisted dying.

However, the federal government appealed the decision and the B.C. Court of Appeal overturned the ruling in 2013.

The assisted suicide poll was commissioned by Canadian charity Dying with Dignity. It was conducted online by Ipsos, a market research company, which surveyed more than 2,500 Canadians between August 21 and 29.

The group identified the poll as the most comprehensive survey of the Canadian public's perception on the issue ever undertaken.