Majority of Canadians Have Concerns About Expanding Medically Assisted Dying: Poll

November 10, 2020 Updated: November 12, 2020

The majority of Canadians have concerns about the federal government’s expansion of medical assistance in dying (MAiD), a new poll suggests. 

Last month, the Liberals introduced new assisted dying legislation, Bill C-7, which removes the requirement for a person’s natural death to be “reasonably foreseeable” in order to be eligible for MAiD. 

The bill introduces a two-track system for eligibility, with different rules for those whose death is foreseeable and those whose death is not, while expanding access to include people with disabilities and chronic illnesses. The new bill also removes several safeguards in the original assisted dying legislation introduced in 2016.

In an Angus Reid poll commissioned by think tank Cardus, 69 percent of Canadians said they were concerned that the expanded MAiD may lead people with mental health issues like depression to choose death rather than deal with the underlying causes of their condition.

“Those pushing for a massive expansion of MAiD are loud, but they’re a minority,” said pollster Angus Reid in a Nov. 10 press release. “Most Canadians are in the mainstream, where general support for MAiD comes with significant concerns and caveats that leaders must heed.”

While 77 percent of respondents indicated that they believed access to MAiD is a basic human right, a closer look shows that most Canadians have many caveats and conditions for their support.

The poll found that “enthusiastic” MAiD supporters, who push for eliminating safeguards and allowing the broadest-possible eligibility, represent just 33 percent of Canadians nationally. In this group, the poll found a stark contrast between respondents in Quebec and those living in other parts of Canada. Fifty percent of Quebecers said they were “enthusiastic” supporters, compared with just 27 percent of those residing in the rest of Canada. 

The majority of respondents, 68 percent, said leaders should pay attention to concerns raised in a U.N. report released last year that was critical of Canada’s poor MAiD safeguards for people with disabilities and their lack of access to viable MAiD alternatives. The report also noted concern about persons with disabilities in institutions potentially “being pressured to seek medical assistance in dying,” and practitioners not formally reporting cases involving persons with disabilities.

The Angus Reid poll also found that 65 percent of respondents fear an expanded MAiD will lead the elderly or people with disabilities to feel more pressure to choose death in order to avoid being a burden on others.

“Polling numbers suggest Canadians know that expanding MAiD has implications for aging and vulnerable Canadians as well as the health-care system,” says Ray Pennings, executive vice-president of Cardus. “MAiD affects more than just the patient-doctor relationship. It’s time the politicians accepted that reality too.”

Canadians also expressed concern that an expanded MAiD program would alter the standard of care and shift focus away from palliative care—62 percent said they worry the health-care system will start to ignore long-term care and chronic disease in the elderly as MAiD becomes more available and routine.

Seventy percent of Canadians say that policy-makers should give “quite a lot” or “a great deal” of consideration to whether more investment and wider access to MAiD will mean less investment by the government in traditional palliative care for the dying.

In addition, more than one-quarter (26 percent) of Canadians said that if their own family doctor recommended MAiD to a very sick loved one, it could erode their trust in their doctor’s commitment to other care alternatives.

The House of Commons justice committee is continuing debate on Bill C-7 this week to further  study it and to consider possible amendments, after MPs passed it in principle in a vote last month. The government has until Dec. 18 to amend the original medically assisted dying legislation to comply with a Quebec Superior Court ruling last fall, which found that it was unconstitutional to allow only those whose natural death is “reasonably foreseeable” to have access to MAiD.