What do we know about the willingness of Canadian physicians to participate in euthanasia? Here are two authoritative polls.

An article published earlier this year by Postmedia News reported on a survey by the Canadian Medical Association (CMA) that found very few Canadian doctors are willing to kill a patient by euthanasia, if requested.

The survey was done in response to the Carter case in BC that seeks to legalize euthanasia and assisted suicide in Canada, and Quebec Bill 52 that would legalize euthanasia in Quebec.

The CMA defines euthanasia as: “knowingly and intentionally performing an act that is explicitly intended to end another person’s life” in cases of incurable illness “and the act is undertaken with empathy and compassion.”

Canada’s criminal code prohibits euthanasia and assisted suicide, making it an offence to counsel or assist someone to commit suicide, or agree to be put to death. The CMA opposes euthanasia and medically assisted suicide in a 2007 policy.

The July 2011 CMA online survey that was completed by 2,125 Canadian doctors is considered accurate within plus or minus 2.1% 19 times out of 20. The CMA survey found that:

  • 44% would refuse a request to assist a death,
  • 26% were unsure how they would respond to a request,
  • 16% would assist a death,
  • 15% refused to answer the question while
  • 16% stated that they were asked to assist a death within the past 5 years.

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A similar survey by the Canadian Society of Palliative Care Physicians (CSPCP) published in November 2010 found that of the CSPCP members who responded to the survey, the overwhelming majority – 88% – were opposed to the legalization of euthanasia while 80% were opposed to the legalization of assisted suicide.

The CSPCP survey also found that 90% of responding members would not be willing to participate in the act of euthanasia while 83% of responding members would not be willing to assist a suicide.

The Postmedia article reported that Dr. Sandy Buchman, past president of the College of Family Physicians of Canada, said that while the debate is important, it’s more urgent to improve end-of-life care in a country where only one-third of Canadians get access to palliative care, “which is sort of national shame, in my opinion.

“I get requests from patients to end their life and to hasten their death,” he said. “And I kind of feel like, right now, I’m off the hook. I can work very hard at trying to relieve their symptoms, without having to face that ethical dilemma of, ‘Can I end a person’s life?’”

He said the issues behind a patient’s request for a hastened death need to be addressed.

“Maybe their symptoms have been poorly managed up to that point. Maybe they’re suffering too much pain, or they’re feeling isolated. Maybe they’re feeling a burden on their families. Maybe there’s huge anxiety or depression, or spiritual or existential distress.”

The Euthanasia Prevention Coalition (EPC) intervened in the Carter case which was appealed by the federal government and then heard by the BC Court of Appeal.

EPC is also urging the Quebec government to reject Bill 52, which is a very dangerous piece of legislation.

This first appeared at and is reprinted with permission.