Majority of Canadians Support Legalizing Euthanasia

Majority of Canadians Support Legalizing Euthanasia

A majority of Canadians support the legalization of euthanasia in the country, but only a third would consent to a parent ending the life of a child who suffers from a severe form of a condition, a new Angus Reid Public Opinion poll has found.

The online survey of a representative national sample of 1,005 Canadian adults also finds that three-in-four respondents support the decision to grant full parole to Robert Latimer.

Euthanasia and Assisted Suicide

Three-in-five Canadians (63%) generally support legalizing euthanasia in Canada, while one-in-four (24%) are opposed. The highest level of support for legalizing euthanasia is in Quebec (78%) and the lowest in Alberta (48%). Men (67%) and respondents over the age of 55 (71%) are more likely to endorse the legalization of euthanasia than women (58%) and respondents aged 18 to 34 (53%).

Large majorities of Canadians believe legalizing euthanasia would give people who are suffering an opportunity to ease their pain (81%) and establish clearer guidelines for doctors to deal with end-of-life decisions (72%). Considerably fewer respondents side with the notion that legalizing euthanasia would leave vulnerable people without sufficient legal protection (42%) and send the message that the lives of the sick or disabled are less valuable (33%).

Two-in-five Canadians (41%) believe there should be no punishment for a parent found guilty of assisting a terminally ill son or daughter to die. Albertans are more likely to call for a prison sentence at the discretion of a judge (28%) in these cases.

One-in-four respondents (26%) believe people who help a person to commit suicide should be prosecuted, while 42 per cent disagree. Once again, Quebec and Alberta are on opposite sides, with a majority of Quebecers (56%) thinking people who help a person to commit suicide should not be prosecuted, and more than a third of Albertans (37%) saying they should be.

Specific Scenarios

Most Canadians agree with a doctor being allowed to end a patient’s life under two circumstances: when a patient is in a coma with little or no hope of waking and the patient had previously specified they wished to have their life terminated if they were ever to find themselves in this condition (81%); and when a patient is terminally ill and will die in less than six months, and the patient is expected to suffer a great deal of physical and mental anguish during that time.

The public rejects doctor-assisted suicide in cases where a patient has a lifelong, but non-life threatening condition such as being quadriplegic and wishes to end his or her life (55%) and when a patient wishes to die at the same time as their spouse or other loved one (79%).

The Robert Latimer Case

More than a third of Canadians (36%) agree with allowing a parent to euthanize their child who suffers from a severe form of a condition, such as cerebral palsy, while almost half (46%) disagree. While men are evenly divided on this issue (Agree 42%, Disagree 41%), half of women (50%) disagree with this notion.

Robert Latimer was convicted in 1994 of second-degree murder for killing his severely disabled daughter with carbon monoxide poisoning. Latimer’s daughter suffered from severe cerebral palsy and he argued he killed her on compassionate grounds. After having served 10 years in prison, Latimer was granted partial parole two years ago. Last month, Latimer was granted full parole. Three-in-four Canadians (74%) support the decision to grant full parole to Latimer, while only 14 per cent disagree.

Analysis

While most Canadians are open to the concept of legal euthanasia, there are some clear regional differences. Quebecers are way ahead of the national average on most of the questions related to euthanasia, while Albertans are definitely more likely to reject assisted dying in all of its forms.

On the Latimer case, Canadians appear to feel that he has done his time and represents no danger to society. However, almost half of respondents across the country disagree with parents acting in the same fashion Latimer did in the early 1990s. The glaring exception is Quebec, where a majority of respondents agree with allowing a parent to euthanize their child who suffers from a severe form of a condition, and where two-thirds believe similar cases should not result in any type of penalty.

Our February 2010 survey on euthanasia can be found here.

Full Report, Detailed Tables and Methodology (PDF)

Methodology: From December 1 to December 2, 2010, Angus Reid Public Opinion conducted an online survey among 1,005 randomly selected Canadian adults who are Angus Reid Forum panelists. The margin of error—which measures sampling variability—is +/- 3.1%, 19 times out of 20. The results have been statistically weighted according to the most current education, age, gender and region Census data to ensure a sample representative of the entire adult population of Canada. Discrepancies in or between totals are due to rounding.


Tags assigned to this article:
Assisted SuicideEuthanasiaHealthcare

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