10/08/2014 10:20 EDT | Updated 12/08/2014 00:59 EST

Euthanasia In Canada: Survey Shows Overwhelming Support For Assisted Dying

KatarzynaBialasiewicz via Getty Images

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.

Photo gallery Assisted Suicide Laws In Canada See Gallery