By Patrick B. Craine

November 3, 2009 ( – Despite recent Quebec-focused polls indicating large support for euthanasia, a new Environics poll commissioned by LifeCanada reveals that Canadians are conflicted, and that they would rather the government focus on care for the sick and dying.

“Outside of Quebec support drops dramatically and is tempered by fears about how vulnerable groups will be affected,” said Dr. Delores Doherty, President of LifeCanada, about the poll. “The idea that Canadians are clamouring for euthanasia is not accurate, despite the impression that may have been left from some polls.”

According to the poll, carried out October 6-13, 61% of respondents said they favored legalization of euthanasia if a patient consents. That included 75% of Quebecers. But the figure drops to 56% in Ontario, 52% in Atlantic Canada and 51% in Saskatchewan.

At the same time, a large majority of respondents (70%) said they were worried that if euthanasia were legalized, patients would be euthanized without their consent.

“Canadians are conflicted. They have mixed feelings,” says Dr. Doherty, a Newfoundland pediatrician. “While a majority favors legalization, most also have serious concerns about it.”

The Environics poll is based on responses from 1,014 Canadians and has a margin of error of 3.1% 19 times out of 20.

An August poll in Quebec showed that 3 out of 4 Quebeckers supported legalized euthanasia. Last month, the Quebec Federation of Medical Specialists (FMSQ) released the results of a poll of their members that indicated 75% favor legalized euthanasia ‘certainly or probably’ within a clearly defined framework.

The latter poll, however, also revealed the difficulty with all polls on this issue: frequently people do not understand what euthanasia actually is. Asked whether palliative sedation should be considered a form of euthanasia, 48% of FMSQ respondents answered “Yes” and 46% said “No.”

The Euthanasia Prevention Coalition’s Alex Schadenberg said about the results of that poll: “I am absolutely convinced that a large number of physicians in Quebec are unsure of what euthanasia is or is not.”

“The fact is that palliative sedation is not euthanasia,” he pointed out.

“Euthanasia is the direct and intentional cause of death, whereas palliative sedation is the sedation of a person in order to eliminate their suffering,” he continued. “The proper use of palliative sedation does not cause death, but rather it eliminates suffering.”

The recent LifeCanada poll found that 70% of Canadians worried that if the practice were legalized, sick, disabled, or elderly persons would be euthanized without their consent. In addition, 56% were concerned that elderly persons would be pressured to accept euthanasia due to rising health care costs.

“People are scared but they don’t want to get in anyone’s way,” Dr. Doherty told

The concerns were shared even by those who favor euthanasia. 72% of those “somewhat supportive” of legalization indicated concern about euthanasia taking place without patient consent. In Quebec, where support for legalization is high, 73% have the same concern about non-voluntary euthanasia, while 66% worry the elderly would be pressured to accept euthanasia.

“A lot of stated support for legal euthanasia is soft,” Doherty commented. “When Canadians consider the risks, they have second thoughts.”

These results come as Parliament deliberates over Bill C-384, to legalize euthanasia and assisted suicide. The private members bill, brought by Bloc Quebecois MP Francine Lalonde, received its first hour of debate on October 2nd, and is scheduled to get its second hour on November 19th, followed by a November 25th vote. While Parliament would seem to disfavor the bill, pro-life advocates have called on Canadians to keep the pressure on their MPs.

Should euthanasia and assisted suicide be legalized, the medical profession would be undermined, explained Dr. Doherty to LSN. “How can you be a doctor when you’re expected to either write the prescription or give the needle?” she asked.

“If [euthanasia] is made legal, we’ll see an erosion of patient trust as doctors move from healing to taking lives,” she explained. “People are worried that elderly and disabled folks would be at risk. They’re right. The Dutch experience with euthanasia sadly bears that out. Safeguards tend not to work.”

She views the results of the poll as positive for the cause of life, telling LSN that she sees “legislators being able to use the results since they can see the public would rather have improved end of life care over euthanasia.”

While a small majority supported legalized euthanasia, a large majority felt the government should instead focus on support for the sick and dying. When asked what the government’s priority should be in this area, 69% said improved palliative care compared to just 18% who said legalizing euthanasia should be the priority.

“When people are dying, good palliative care can relieve suffering, Every Canadian needs access to that,” says Doherty. “It also maintains the principle of ‘first do no harm’ that is essential to the doctor-patient relationship.”

See related coverage:

Anti-Euthanasia Group Questions Survey Suggesting Quebec MDs are Favorable to Euthanasia

Canadian Parliament Debates Euthanasia Bill