TORONTO - An overwhelming majority of Canadians surveyed in an online poll support assisted dying for those suffering from a terminal illness that results in "unbearable suffering," a pro-euthanasia group said Wednesday, ahead of a Supreme Court of Canada hearing on the controversial issue.
The online survey — commissioned by the euthanasia-supporting group Dying With Dignity Canada and conducted by Ipsos Reid — found that over 90 per cent of respondents agree with the concept of assisted dying.
While over 85 per cent of respondents support the right to die in the case of patients suffering from a terminal or serious incurable illness that results in unbearable suffering, that support drops to 67 per cent for people with a permanent and severe disability that significantly impacts their quality of life.
The poll also showed that support for euthanasia is the highest in Nova Scotia with 89 per cent and the lowest in Saskatchewan and Manitoba with 79 per cent.
"Support in our poll was across every age group, every income bracket, all education levels, both genders and community regardless of size," said Wanda Morris, CEO of Dying With Dignity Canada.
"We believe that it's time to stop unwanted suffering at end of life, now."
But opponents of the right to die questioned the credibility of the poll.
"This poll is written in such a way to give you a stronger response in favour," said Alex Schadenberg, executive director of the Euthanasia Prevention Coalition.
"This question is clearly designed to drive the numbers up."
Schadenberg acknowledged that there's support for euthanasia in Canada, saying the group's own polls show "Canadians fear dying a bad death," but he insisted the level of support was not as high as suggested in the latest poll.
The Supreme Court of Canada will begin hearings Oct. 15 on the Criminal Code ban on assisted suicides.
The challenge is brought by the British Columbia Civil Liberties Association, which argues that the laws criminalizing those who help hasten death for seriously ill individuals are unconstitutional.
"It's time for the laws to be changed and for Canada to be a compassionate society that offers choice to those who suffer at end of life," said Morris, whose group is planning to hold rallies across the country to mark the start of the court hearing.
Assisted suicide is legal in Switzerland, the Netherlands and Belgium as well as in Oregon and Washington in the United States.
In June, Quebec became the first jurisdiction in Canada to allow euthanasia, but that legislation has already been challenged in court.
The online survey of 2,515 people was conducted between Aug. 21 and 29. The polling industry's professional body, the Marketing Research and Intelligence Association, says online surveys cannot be assigned a margin of error because they do not randomly sample the population.
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Here's a look at the state of Euthanasia laws in Canada and their history.
Suicide hasn't been a crime in Canada since 1972. (Shutterstock)
Doctor-assisted suicide is illegal, although the ruling of the B.C. Supreme Court will force Parliament to alter the law within one year. The Criminal Code of Canada states in section 241 that: "Every one who (a) counsels a person to commit suicide, or (b) aids or abets a person to commit suicide, whether suicide ensues or not, is guilty of an indictable offence and liable to imprisonment for a term not exceeding fourteen years." (Alamy)
Passive euthanasia involves letting a patient die instead of prolonging life with medical measures. Passive euthanasia is legal in Canada. The decision is left in the hands of family or a designated proxy. Written wishes, including those found in living wills, do not have to be followed by family or a proxy. (Alamy)
Sue Rodriguez, who suffered from amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (also known as Lou Gehrig's disease), launched a case asking the Supreme Court of Canada to allow her to end her own life on the grounds that the current law discriminated against her disability. Because suicide is legal in Canada and Rodriguez was unable to end her life because of a lack of mobility, she argued it was discriminatory to prevent her from ending her own life with the aid of another. The court refused her request in 1993, but one year later she ended her life anyway with the help of an unnamed doctor. (CP)
Robert Latimer was convicted of second-degree murder in the 1993 death of his severely disabled daughter Tracy. A lack of oxygen during Tracy's birth led to cerebral palsy and serious mental and physical disabilities, including seizures and the inability to walk or talk. Her father ended Tracy's life by placing her in his truck and connecting a hose to the vehicle's exhaust.The case led to a heated debate over euthanasia in Canada and two Supreme Court challenges. Latimer was granted day parole in 2008 and full parole in 2010. (CP)
Former Bloc Québécois MP Francine Lalonde tried repeatedly to get legislation legalizing euthanasia in Canada passed. Bill C-407 and Bill C-384 were both aimed at making assisted suicide legal. C-384 was defeated in the House 228 to 59, with many Bloc MPs and a handful of members from all other parties voting for the legislation. Tetraplegic Tory MP Steven Fletcher, pictured, made the following statement after C-384 was defeated: "I would like to be recorded as abstaining on this bill. The reason is I believe end of life issues need to be debated more in our country. I believe that life should be the first choice but not the only choice and that we have to ensure that resources and supports are provided to Canadians so that choice is free. I believe, when all is said and done, the individual is ultimately responsible. I want to make this decision for myself, and if I cannot, I want my family to make the decision. I believe most Canadians, or many Canadians, feel the same. As William Henley said in his poem Invictus, "I am the master of my fate: I am the captain of my soul."(CP)