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Physician Assisted Suicide (PAS)

2002-2009: Polls in Canada -- almost totally useless

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Public opinion polls:

bullet 2002-NOV-28: Poll shows majority in favor of physician assisted suicide: A Canadian polling firm, COMPAS, conducted a poll from 2002-NOV-16 to 19, asking Canadians a variety of questions, ranging from abortion access to the legalization of prostitution. Physician assisted suicide is supported by 55% of Canadian adults; it is opposed by 36%. Will Johnston, a Vancouver family physician and co-chair of the Euthanasia Prevention Coalition said that he is "appalled by this new evidence" that the public favors assisted suicide. He raised the fear that any law that allows terminally ill persons in pain to ask for help in committing suicide will result in doctors taking the initiative to murder their patients without the latter's consent:

"To ask 'should you allow something', no matter what it is, sounds like an appeal to freedom. In this case, the freedom is to be in danger from the medical system instead of to be guaranteed the medical system's best attempt at helping a terminal illness."

Robert Buckman, a University of Toronto medical doctor said that the public is turning to favor mercy killing and will likely reach 80% approval within a decade. He said:

"I think the change in law will happen when it is consistently 80% to 90% of the public who say we want to see this happen and we want it safe and humane." 1

bullet 2007-MAY: "A Health Psychology study found that 6% of patients in palliative care surveyed (22 out of a total of 379) said that they would request physician-assisted suicide if such a procedure were legally available. 2
bullet 2007-JUN-08: Significant majority of terminal cancer patients favor access to PAS: 379 palliative care cancer patients from St. Johns, Quebec City, Ottawa, Winnipeg, Saskatoon, Edmonton, Kelowna and Vancouver were individually interviewed between 2001 and 2003. The study was funded by the Canadian Institutes of Health Research and published in the Health Psychology journal. Results were:

bullet 63% said that physician assisted suicide (PAS) should be legalized in Canada.

bullet 40% said that they would consider making a request for PAS if their health condition degenerated into the "worse case scenario." Their typical concern was "uncontrollable pain." Many mentioned that they would feel more comfortable if they were able to know that the PAS option was available.

bullet 10% said that if PAS were available, they would have already requested it -- again because of uncontrollable pain. However, when their pain was brought under control, many changed their mind.

bullet 5.8% said that if they could have access to PAS, "they would definitely initiate a request to end their lives right away in their current circumstances." 3
bullet 2009-MAR: Newspaper poll shows majority in favor of PAS: During early 2009-MAR, the Globe and Mail newspaper conducted a poll of its online readers asking "Would you support making assisted suicide a choice available to terminally ill patients?" The results among almost 20,000 respondents was 55% in favor, 45% opposed. Since the Globe and Mail is a relatively conservative newspaper, one might expect a national survey to show support for PAS higher than 55%.
 
bullet 2009-JUL: Replicated poll: During mid-JUL, the Globe and Mail conducted another public opinion poll on PAS. They asked: "Do you support the legalization of assisted suicide?" Results from the 15,027 respondents was 64% in favor and 36% opposed -- approaching a ratio of 2:1 in favor of PAS.

bullet 2009-NOV: A poll conducted for LifeCanada, a Canadian pro-life group, by Environics found that 61% of Canadian adults favor the legalization of "euthanasia." As noted below, the poll defined "euthanasia" very broadly to include murder of depressed and disabled persons against their will. So their results are meaningless as an indication of support for PAS requested by terminally ill individuals. Support varied across the country: from 75% in Quebec, to 52% in Atlantic Canada, and 51% in Saskatchewan.

The poll also found that 70% of Canadians were worried that future assisted suicide legislation might result in sick, disabled or elderly persons being killed without their consent. That result is to be expected from the very broad definition of "euthanasia" that they used, which included involuntary euthanasia against the will of the victim. Also, 56% were concerned that elderly persons would be pressured to accept euthanasia due to rising health care costs.

Delores Doherty of LifeCanada, who is a pediatrician in Newfoundland, said:

"The idea that Canadians are clamoring for euthanasia is not accurate, despite the impression that may have been left from some polls. ... Canadians are conflicted. They have mixed feelings. While a majority favors legalization, most also have serious concerns about it." 4


bullet

2009-AUG & 2010-FEB: A poll conducted by Angus Reid Public Opinion on FEB-02 and 03 found that most Canadians support the legalization of euthanasia. The question asked was: "Generally speaking, do you support or oppose legalizing euthanasia in Canada?"

Results were 67% favored legalization; 23% opposed; 10% had no opinion or refused to answer. Results changed little from a similar poll in 2009-AUG when support was 71%, opposition 23% and 8% not sure. N = 1003; margin of error is ±3.1% 5

Comments on the accuracy and usefullness of these polls:

All of the above are of little use in assessing national support and opposition to the legalization of PAS:

  • The COMPAS poll of 2002-NOV is no longer helpful because its results are eight years old. During this interval, it is likely that support for PAS has grown significantly.

  • The two newspaper polls during 2009 are virtually useless because only the readers of the newspaper were involved. Also, only the opinions of those who took the initiative to express their opinion in the poll were counted. These individuals probably do not resemble the average Canadian.

  • The Environics poll of 2009 involved a type of stealth question. They defined "euthanasia" as "the use of lethal means to take the life of someone who is sick, depressed, elderly or disabled." This is a very broad definition that would cover everything from:
    • A terminally ill person in intractible pain who is not depressed and who repeatedly pleads for help in dying, -- the actual meaning of physician assisted suicide, to
    • A roving squad of government thugs visiting every nursing home, selecting those residents who are not contributing to society, lining them up agansit a wall, and machine gunning them, to
    • A court sentencing an amputee to be executed because he has difficulty walking, to
    • A teenager who is depressed because his first failed love relationship and who wants help in committing suicide.

    It is very surprising that they ended up with support levels that they did for their version of "euthanasia."

  • The Angus Reid polls of 2009 and 2010 are almost completely useless because the polling group asked the question "Generally speaking, do you support or oppose legalizing euthanasia in Canada?" However, they did not define the meaning of the word "euthanasia". To some subjects it might have meant involuntary euthanasia such as the program of extermination of physically healthy but mentally challenged individuals by the German government under the Nazis. To others it might have meant allowing terminally ill patients who are in intractible pain and not depressed to ask for and obtain help from their physician to speed the dying process.

    LifeCanada board member Peter Ryan, chairperson of the committee that oversaw the Environics survey said that:
    " Many people are unclear about what euthanasia is. For instance, they may mistakenly think it’s every time you shut off life support. Such people may have told Angus Reid they support legalization. That throws results off." 6
     

Canadians deserve better designed polls so that a true measure of support and opposition to PAS can be determined. A meaningful survey would probably have to ask a series of questions in order to gage support for PAS under different situations. Until an unbiased, objective survey is conducted, we feel that it is best that all surveys by or involving groups that take an ideological stand for or against PAS should be carefully investigated. We suggest:

  • If the pollsters reveal the question that they asked, it should be analyzed for ideological and bias content.

  • If the pollsters do not list the question asked, the entire poll should be ignored.

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This topic continues with a discussion of government activity

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References used:

The following information sources were used to prepare and update the above essay. The hyperlinks are not necessarily still active today.

  1. The Right-To-Die Society of Canada has a web page at: http://www.righttodie.ca/
  2. Marlisa Tiedemann & Dominique Valiquet, "Euthanasia and Assisted Suicide in Canada," Library of Parliament, at: http://www.parl.gc.ca/
  3. Anne-Marie Tobin, "Terminal patients favour ending life," The Toronto Star, 2007-JUN-08, Page L7.
  4. Steven Ertelt, "Canadian Poll Shows Concerns of Hurting Disabled by Legalizing Assisted Suicide," Life Site News, 2009-NOV-03, at: http://www.lifenews.com/
  5. "Most Canadians Generally Agree with Euthanasia," Angus Reid, 2010-FEB-16, at: http://www.angus-reid.com/
  6. "Canadian Euthanasia Poll Questioned," Life Site News, 2010-MAR-04, at: http://www.lifesitenews.com/

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Copyright © 1999 to 2010, by Ontario Consultants on Religious Tolerance
Latest update: 2010-SEP-04
Author: B.A. Robinson

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