The public’s viewpoint on the right to hastened death in Alberta, Canada:ﬁndings from a population survey study
Donna M. Wilson
RN PhD Professor
, Stephen Birch
, Rod MacLeod
PhD FAChPM Professor
RN BScN Research Assistant
, Jane Osei-Waree
MN Student Research Assistant
and Joachim Cohen
Faculty of Nursing, University of Alberta, Edmonton, AB, Canada,
Department of Clinical Epidemiology andBiostatistics, Centre for Health Economics and Policy Analysis, McMaster University, Hamilton, ON, Canada,
Department of General Practice and Primary Health Care, School of Population Health, University of Auckland,Auckland, New Zealand and
End-of-Life Care Research Group, Ghent University & Vrije Universiteit, Brussels,Belgium
Accepted for publication 22 August 2012
Donna M. WilsonFaculty of Nursing, University ofAlberta, Edmonton, ABCanada T6G 1C9Tel.: (780) 492 5574Fax: (780) 492 2551E-mail: email@example.com
What is known about this topic
Few population surveys or opinionpolls have been conducted and pub-lished so as to provide readily avail-able and credible information onpublic views of assisted suicide andeuthanasia.
Legislation permitting euthanasiaand
or assisted suicide has come toexist in a growing number of countries.
Assisted suicide and euthanasiaremain highly controversial.
What this paper adds
This population-based surveyrevealed majority public support forthe right to hastened death in oneprovince of Canada.
A research study was conducted to determine public opinion in Alberta,a Canadian province, on the controversial topic of death hastening.Questions on the right to hastened death, end-of-life plans and end-of-life experiences were included in the Population Research Laboratory’sannual 2010 health-care telephone survey, with 1203 adults providingresults relatively representative of Albertans. Of all 1203, 72.6% said yesto the question: ‘Should dying adults be able to request and get helpfrom others to end their life early, in other words, this is a request forassisted suicide’? Among all who provided an answer, 36.8% indicated‘yes, every competent adult should have this right’ and 40.6% indicated‘yes, but it should be allowed only in certain cases or situations’. Over50% of respondents in all but one socio-demographic population sub-group (Religious-other) were supportive of the right to hastened death.However, multinomial regression analysis revealed that the experiencesof deciding to euthanise a pet
animal and developing or planning todevelop an advance directive predicted support, while self-reported reli-giosity predicted non-support. Finding majority public support for deathhastening suggests that legalisation could potentially occur in the future; but with this policy ﬁrst requiring a careful consideration of the modelof assisted suicide or euthanasia that best protects people who are highlyvulnerable to despair and suffering near the end of life.
assisted suicide, euthanasia, hastened death, population survey,public opinion poll
However, approximately one half of all those in favour of the right tohastened death indicated that itshould be allowed in only certainsituations.
Majority public support suggestslegalisation could occur in thefuture; a public policy ﬁrst requir-ing a careful consideration of themodel of assisted suicide and
oreuthanasia that best protects peoplewho are highly vulnerable to des-pair and suffering near the end of life.
Assisted suicide and euthanasia cannot be performed legally in Canada.However, ongoing discussion of decriminalising death hastening hasoccurred since Sue Rodriguez’ 1992–1993 request to the Supreme Court of Canada for help in ending her life with amyotrophic lateral sclerosis(ALS) at a time of her choosing. The narrow (5–4) ruling against her dem-onstrated much legal, if not also societal, support at that time for her posi-tion. It is ironic that although the Criminal Code was not amended then topermit death hastening, Sue Rodriguez was widely reported as having been euthanised and the person or persons who ended her life were neverprosecuted. Other cases of hastened death have since occurred in Canada, but few have been charged with what Mullock (2010) identiﬁed as a‘criminally compassionate’ offence. With the exception of Robert Latimerwho was recently released from prison after serving a 10-year sentence for
2012 Blackwell Publishing LtdHealth and Social Care in the Community (2013)
(2), 200–208 doi: 10.1111/hsc.12007