Fewer than half of people support assisted death exclusively for mental illness: poll

Medical equipment is photographed during simulation training at St. Michael's Hospital in Toronto on Tuesday, Aug. 13, 2019.

Fewer than half of Canadians feel medical assistance in dying should be available to people whose sole underlying condition is mental illness, the results of a new survey showed Wednesday.

As it stands, Canadians who have a serious and incurable physical illness, disease or disability, as well as those who experience enduring and intolerable suffering, can apply to end their life with the assistance of a medical professional.

People who suffer from chronic and incurable mental illness were expected to be able to apply for medical assistance in dying starting in March, but Health Minister Mark Holland tabled legislation earlier this month that would put off their eligibility for another three years.

While 77 per cent of Canadians surveyed by the Leger polling firm support Canada’s current medical assistance in dying policy, only 42 per cent could get behind expanding the eligibility to people who suffer exclusively from intractable mental-health conditions.

The rest of respondents were split between those who oppose the move, at 28 per cent, and those who say they don’t know at 30 per cent.

All provinces and territories asked the health minister to delay opening the policy to mentally ill patients last month because they were either not ready or unwilling to move forward.

The pause would give provinces more time to prepare, and for Canadians to have a “deeper conversation” about the program, Holland said.

When asked about the delay, 47 per cent of people who responded to Leger’s survey say the government should take the time it needs to make sure things are done right.

Only 17 per cent say they oppose the proposed changes outright, and therefore the longer the delay, the better.

The remaining 37 per cent said the government shouldn’t delay at all, since Canadians with an irremediable mental illness have the same right to a medically assisted death as those Canadians who are already eligible.

The legislation to delay the expansion of medically assisted dying is still before the House of Commons.

Leger surveyed 1,579 adult Canadians about their views on the controversial policy last week.

The survey cannot be assigned a margin of error because online polls are not considered truly random samples.

Support for expanding the policy appears strongest in Quebec, where 49 per cent of people surveyed said mentally ill patients have the same rights to assisted death as people with serious physical ailments.

People in Alberta appeared more staunchly opposed, as 26 per cent said they oppose the expansion altogether.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Feb. 14, 2024.

The Canadian Press

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