Euthanasia Prevention Coalition: context is key for polling

Alex Schadenberg, President of the Euthanasia Prevention Coalition, highlights all sorts of problems with recent polls in Quebec suggesting that a majority of Canadians support legalizing euthanasia.

The problem is that the issue is often presented in polls as a simple “right to die,” ignoring the difference between euthanasia and a right to refuse medical treatment (which already exists), and glazing over potential concerns about abuse and pressure that come all too naturally with such a system.

In March 2005 EPC participated in an Angus Reid survey of 1122 participants from across Canada. Our polling found that the responses of Canadians changed based on the context of the question.

Our poll included a series of ten questions. The first question we asked resulted in a similar support for assisted suicide as the recent poll. We then asked eight further questions with the tenth question being a near restatement of the first question. The response to the tenth question was: 45% of Canadians supported the legalization of assisted suicide, 39% of Canadians opposed the legalization of assisted suicide while 16% were undecided. In other words, when people have a chance to think about assisted suicide with respect to its related issues within societal context then the support for assisted suicide drops.

The response to the some of the other questions were very interesting.

  • 77% believed that vulnerable Canadians might be euthanised without consent, even with safeguards in place.
  • 75% believed that recent assisted suicide cases are not reason enough to change the current law.
  • 69% believed that the law should discourage suicide by restricting the promotion of devices and methods.
  • 67% believed that legalizing assisted suicide would increase the suicide rate.
  • 54% believed that guaranteeing pain control and good hospice care was a higher priority than legalizing euthanasia or assisted suicide.
  • 69% are more concerned about protecting vulnerable Canadians than legalizing assisted suicide while 16% were undecided.

It is important to note that our poll showed that the majority of Canadians were more concerned about protecting vulnerable Canadians and guaranteeing pain control and good hospice care rather than legalizing assisted suicide.

Therefore the real support for euthanasia or assisted suicide can only be determined once it has been placed within a social context.

Whether or not you’re left believing any of the numbers, the important take-away seems to be that context is key to any polling on these issues, especially when there are some many complicated factors involved that aren’t well known by the majority of Canadians. Be skeptical of any polling without adequate context, and be aware of the context that’s being provided.

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