OTTAWA - A new poll suggests overwhelming support among Canadians for expanding access to medical assistance in dying.
The results of the Ipsos survey, conducted for Dying With Dignity Canada, come just as the federal government is preparing to amend the law to scrap its stipulation that only those who are already near death are entitled to receive medical help to end their lives.
A Quebec court struck down that restriction as unconstitutional and gave the government, which declined to appeal, until March 11 to amend the law.
The government conducted public consultations about the impending changes late last month with an online survey that, among other things, asked if new hurdles should be imposed to prevent abuse and protect vulnerable people from being pressured into ending their lives.
But the government's survey also asked whether the law should be expanded to include allowing people who fear losing mental competence to make advance requests for an assisted death.
The online survey of 3,500 Canadians was conducted by Ipsos fro Jan. 21 to 27, a period that overlapped with the government's own consultations.
Internet-based polls cannot be given a margin of error because they are not considered random samples.
Dying with Dignity Canada is a national non-profit advocacy group that champions end-of-life rights.
Just over 70 per cent of respondents supported removing the requirement that a person's natural death must be "reasonably foreseeable" in order to qualify for an assisted death — as the court has ordered and the government has committed to do.
Fully 82 per cent of respondents said people diagnosed with grievous and irremediable medical conditions, including dementia, should be allowed to make advance requests.
Seventy-five per cent supported allowing a person without a diagnosis of an irremediable medical condition to make an advance requests to be honoured when certain pre-stated conditions are met.
And 85 per cent said a person's request for an assisted death should be respected in cases where the individual receives approval for the procedure but loses the mental capacity to give consent immediately prior to the procedure being carried out.
The survey suggests strong support across all regions, age groups, and political leanings for expanding access to medical assistance in dying.
Among respondents with chronic physical or mental conditions or disability, 84 per cent favoured allowing advance requests.
Among those who identified themselves as health professionals, 82 per cent supported advance requests for individuals diagnosed with capacity-eroding conditions, like dementia.
"Canadians do not want to endure unnecessary suffering," James Cowan, chair of Dying With Dignity Canada's board of directors, said in a statement.
"Across regions, among health care practitioners and among those who self-identified as having a chronic physical or mental condition or disability, there is support for change to the existing law on medical assistance in dying. In addition, there is a block of aging people in Canada, as well as their families, who are highly supportive of increased access to advance requests and the accompanying peace of mind.
"There is dignity in choice that Canadians want available to their parent, loved one, and themselves."