What the latest polls say about controversial assisted suicide laws in Canada
50% of Canadians think adults in Canada should be allowed to access medically assisted death based on a disability
Recent polling data from Canada offered a glimpse into the nation’s opinions as the Canadian Parliament is considering further broadening the country’s already expansive assisted suicide laws — which New York Times columnist Ross Douthat has called “some of the world’s most permissive euthanasia laws.”
The data from the poll, released by Research Co., surveyed 1,000 Canadians online from April 22 to April 24. According to the press release, 50% of Canadians think adults in Canada should be allowed to access medically assisted death based on a disability.
Also, 28% of respondents said they’d agree to the guidelines expanding to include homelessness as a reason one could seek medically assisted death, while 27% responded in the same way about poverty.
Some in Canada have raised concerns about how poverty could be “driving a lot of Canadians with disabilities to consider ending their lives.” Global News reported that experts like palliative care physician Dr. Naheed Dosani have said Canada’s policies may have a negative impact, particularly because of the country’s poverty. Dosani said people who need to access social assistance are often “living in abject poverty,” which he said should cause people to question whether or not people are freely making the choice to die.
University of Toronto professor Trudo Lemmens said to Global News, “We’re basically sending the message that persons with disabilities who are not dying have an understandable reason to end their life. And this is discriminatory.”
As for whether or not the country should broaden laws to allow for assisted suicide with mental health conditions as the sole underlying cause, 43% support the government expanding guidelines, while 45% oppose it, per the 2023 polling data.
A couple of weeks before Canada was expected to expand access to medically assisted death in March 2023, the Special Joint Committee on Medical Assistance in Dying presented a report where it recommended Canada delay allowing mental health as the sole underlying condition for medically assisted death until March 2024. The committee said it would release a final recommendation in late 2023, five months before the guidelines are set to expand to include mental health as the sole condition.
Close to two-fifths of the people who access medically assisted death in Canada are people who need disability support services, according to the country’s own data. The previously released third annual report on medically assisted suicide revealed that 3.3% of the deaths in Canada in 2021, or 10,064 people, were because of medical assistance in dying in Canada. Of those who die in this way, 43% were people who needed disability support services. This means that more than 4,000 people with disabilities accessed medically assisted death.
In 2021, The National Post reported 45% of Canadian adults supported the government expanding access to assisted suicide with mental health as the sole underlying condition. A previous poll in 2016 from the Angus Reid Institute found 78% of Canadians did not support assisted suicide with mental health as the sole underlying condition. This may mean support for expanding access for mental health conditions occurred (and roughly doubled) since the legalization of assisted suicide in Canada.
The press release also said, “When asked about the appropriate punishment for a parent who is found guilty of assisting a terminally ill son or daughter to die, 1 in 4 Canadians (24%) select no penalty at all. Fewer than 1 in 10 Canadians (8%) believe this action warrants a mandatory sentence of life imprisonment, while 29% would consent to a prison sentence at the discretion of a judge, and 14% would deal with it through a fine, but no time in prison.”
Historically, issues related to that particular question have been the subject of public discourse in Canada. Tracy Latimer, a 12-year-old girl with cerebral palsy, was killed by her father in 1993. Her father was convicted of second degree murder, and according to University of Alberta researcher Heidi L. Janz, he claimed he killed her to end her suffering from her disability and from a surgery she was scheduled to undergo.
Janz said more than 2,000 news stories appeared between 1993 and June 2007 on the incident. In 1998, National Angus Reid/CTV/Globe and Mail surveyed 1,501 Canadian adults via telephone about Latimer’s killing. According to Ipsos, 73% of adults said the father’s sentencing was too severe and he killed his daughter out of compassion, and 41% said mercy killing should be legal “under appropriate circumstances.”
As it related to support of assisted suicide in Canada, the majority of Canadians support it and have for a while. An Angus Reid Institute poll in 2023 found 61% of Canadian adults support assisted suicide. Global News reported support for it has increased since 2016 — the year it was legalized in Canada — when 56% said they supported it.
A different poll in 2020 from Angus Reid found Canadians generally supported fewer regulations around assisted suicide. Angus Reid said, “4 in 5 (80%) Canadians now say it should be easier to make their own end-of-life decisions, compared to nearly three-quarters (73%) in 2016. This, compared to 1 in 5 who say there should be greater restrictions to doctor-assisted dying procedures.”
What does U.S. polling data look like on assisted suicide?
A majority of Americans believe assisted suicide should be legal for patients with terminal illness. According to Gallup, 72% of U.S. adults support euthanasia — when a doctor ends the life of a patient. The number drops to 65% when Americans are asked, “When a person has a disease that cannot be cured and is living in severe pain, do you think doctors should or should not be allowed by law to assist the patient to commit suicide if the patient requests it?”
No states in the U.S. allow for assisted suicide outside of a terminal illness with prognosis, typically six months left to live. California, Colorado, District of Columbia, Hawaii, Maine, Montana, New Jersey, New Mexico, Vermont, Oregon and Washington are the states that currently allow for assisted suicide, per the Deseret News.