Approximately 84 per cent of Canadians support assisted dying, a new survey commissioned by Dying With Dignity Canada shows.

The poll, conducted by Ipsos Reid, asked respondents if a physician should be able to help a terminally ill person end their life if they are a competent adult who is suffering and repeatedly asks for help to end their life.

The results, published by advocacy group Dying With Dignity Canada on Wednesday, showed that support for assisted dying was highest in Nova Scotia (89 per cent) and lowest in Saskatchewan and Manitoba (79 per cent).

Support by region:

  • British Columbia: 87 per cent
  • Alberta: 82 per cent
  • Ontario: 85 per cent
  • Quebec: 84 per cent

The results send a “clear signal” that it’s time to recognize the rights of the terminally ill to end their lives, says Wanda Morris, CEO of Dying With Dignity Canada.

“No matter how you slice and dice the data across every conceivable demographic, a majority of Canadians are in support of assisted dying,” Morris told CTV News Channel on Wednesday.

The poll, which surveyed 2,515 Canadians, also found that most Canadians generally agree with the concept of assisted dying. It also found that 91 per cent of Canadians feel that palliative care doesn’t do enough for the terminally ill.

Support among some religious communities was also substantial, with 80 per cent of Christians and 83 per cent of Catholics responding that they agreed with legalizing assisted dying.

“Clearly, we have a disconnect between what a few leaders in those congregations are saying, and what the vast majority of the faithful say,” Morris said.

Assisted suicide and euthanasia are illegal under Canada’s Criminal Code. The Conservative government has insisted it has no intention of changing the law.

In June, Quebec became the first Canadian province to pass right-to-die legislation, but Ottawa has said it could challenge the legislation.

A report by the Canadian Medical Association released earlier this year suggested that Canadians are divided on legal reforms regarding assisted suicide.

University of Toronto bioethicist Kerry Bowman says that while support for assisted dying has risen “substantially” over the past 20 years, there remains “some misunderstanding” among the population about the concept of assisted suicide.

Bowman said some mistakenly equate assisted suicide with ending life-sustaining treatment, such as removing a patient from a life-support machine.

“That’s something very different, that’s not taking an action to end the life of a person, that’s taking away a treatment that’s not working,” Bowman told News Channel.

Survey ‘flawed’: advocacy group

One advocacy group for the disabled called the survey flawed and said it ignores the role of palliative care and independent living services to improve the quality of life of those with disabilities.

“This report should not be seen as an endorsement of assisted suicide, but as demonstrative of the effect of discrimination on people with disabilities,” said Amy Hasbrouck, director of Toujours Vivant-Not Dead Yet, in a statement.

The organization, which is an project of the Council of Canadians with Disabilities, said the survey questions are based on “false assumptions,” and that they "perpetuate the confusion between medical killing and palliative care, as well as terminal illness versus disability as eligibility criteria.”

Assisted dying before Supreme Court

In what could be a precedent-setting ruling, the Supreme Court of Canada next week is set to examine the issue of physician-assisted suicide in Canada. The case before Canada’s top court was brought forward by the B.C. Civil Liberties Association.

Morris said the court should look at other jurisdictions around the world where assisted dying is legal.

“We know that the safeguards in other countries work, so now it’s time to give Canadians what they clearly want,” Morris said.

Bowman said the top court will have to examine whether assisted dying aligns with Canadian values.

“I just do not think that we can go back to another 20 years of silence,” Bowman said. “Things have really changed … we really have to be looking at, can we do this and still respect people with disabilities, elderly people.

“Can we live by the values we want to live by and still be able to do this?”