New poll gives critics ammunition to question government claim that Canadians support expansion of euthanasia

The federal government finalized the committee stage of the debate on changes to euthanasia legislation with the last of four committee hearings to be held on Nov. 12.

By Brian Dryden, Canadian Catholic News

[Ottawa – CCN] – Opponents of the federal government’s legislation that would expand who qualifies for medically-assisted suicide/euthanasia say that the federal government tried to silence its critics when it fast-tracked special committee hearings into the government’s proposed bill. Those hearings on Bill C-7 will end on Nov. 12.

That alleged silencing of critics comes as a new public opinion poll indicates that Canadians are not as supportive of major changes to the federal MAiD (medical assistance in dying) system as the federal government claims.

Public opinion polls have generally shown Canadians support having the option of having access to legal medically-assisted suicide / euthanasia in cases where a person is suffering and they are going to die soon, but when Canadians are asked more detailed questions about how the existing euthanasia system should work, a majority of Canadians start to balk at expanding the system beyond the already-restrictive guidelines, according to a new poll from the Angus Reid Institute.

According to a press release from the religious think tank Cardus, “Canadians have deep and genuine concerns about the expansion of medical assistance in dying (MAiD).”

“As federal politicians consider Bill C-7, which would expand access to MAiD to include people with disabilities and chronic illnesses while also undoing most safeguards, mainstream Canadians say decision-makers should consider several potential problems,” according to Cardus, which commissioned the Angus Reid survey that was released on Nov. 10.

“The same poll found enthusiastic MAiD supporters, who push for eliminating safeguards and the broadest possible eligibility, represent just 33 per cent of Canadians. Outside Quebec, that proportion drops to slightly more than a quarter of Canadians,” Cardus said in its press release. “About half of all Canadians are cautiously supportive of MAiD – the vast majority expressing worries about its expansion – while one in five oppose it.”

According to the Angus Reid survey, the majority of Canadians are uncomfortable with expanding the MAiD system too much.
“Those pushing for a massive expansion of MAiD are loud, but they’re a minority,” said the institute’s Dr. Angus Reid.

“Most Canadians are in the mainstream, where general support for MAiD comes with significant concerns and caveats that leaders must heed,” he said.

Cardus executive vice-president Ray Pennings said the survey shows Canadians are worried that the euthanasia system is being expanded too broadly.

“Polling numbers suggest Canadians know that expanding MAiD has implications for aging and vulnerable Canadians as well as the health care system,” Pennings said. “MAiD affects more than just the patient-doctor relationship. It’s time the politicians accepted that reality too,” he said.

The poll results indicate that 69 per cent are concerned expanding MAiD will lead to people with mental health issues such as depression will choose death rather than dealing with the underlying causes of their condition, 65 per cent fear expanding MAiD will lead to people with disabilities or those who are elderly feeling more pressure to choose death in order to avoid being a burden on others, and 62 per cent worry the health care system will start to ignore long-term care and chronic disease in the elderly as euthanasia becomes more available.

The Angus Reid survey comes as the federal government finalized the committee stage of the debate on changes to euthanasia legislation with the last of four committee hearings being held on Nov. 12.

The federal Liberal government claims the changes to legislation are a straightforward reaction to a 2019 Quebec court decision that ruled that the requirement that a person’s death be “reasonably foreseeable” was too restrictive and thus unconstitutional.

However, rather than just change that aspect of the existing law, what the federal government proposes in its legislation goes beyond that and eliminates some other safeguards such as the number of witnesses needed when a person consents to medically-provided euthanasia, eliminates a 10-day waiting period to perform an assisted suicide after consent is given, and opens the door to advanced directives that could see a person put to death even if they are mentally incapable of consenting by the time they use the euthanasia system.

Parliament’s standing committee on justice and human rights set only four sessions to discuss the proposed euthanasia eligibility changes with the last session on Nov. 12.

One of the most vocal organizations against euthanasia in Canada and the expansion of the existing system, the Euthanasia Prevention Coalition, charges that the Liberal government’s decision to fast-track the committee hearings, with the support of the NDP and the Bloc Quebecois, means that outspoken critics such as the EPC were blocked from speaking during the hearings.

“While the Supreme Court of Canada ruled that the coalition had a meaningful contribution to make to the court on the questions before it, including the prospect of how such regimes have been implemented in other jurisdiction, the parliamentary committee on justice and human rights has refused to hear from the coalition on parliament’s recent efforts to expand euthanasia and assisted suicide through Bill 7,” said a Nov. 10 Euthanasia Prevention Coalition statement.

“During the first hearing, the committee chose to fast-track the hearings and proposed changes to the law without hearing from leading opposing voices or from experts who may hold a different view,” said Alex Schadenberg, executive director of the Euthanasia Prevention Coalition.

“The previous legislation was passed without defining key terms in the legislation which caused confusion, unprecedented expansion of the law and litigation,” he said of when the MAiD system was first adopted in Canada.

“The same will occur if Bill C-7 is passed in its current form,” Schadenberg said. “But it appears that the committee is not interested in hearing our voice.”

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