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Canadian View on Physician-Assisted Death

Vivian L.
In early 2015, the Supreme Court of Canada in Carter v. Canada ruled that Canadians have the right to die with dignity via assistance from a physician. The law will be changed accordingly by June 6, 2016.

Previously, as per the Criminal Code, physician-assisted suicide was considered illegal. A poll taken by Dying with Dignity Canada one year after the Supreme Court of Canada’s decision sampled 2,530 Canadians online and revealed that within the sample, eight out of ten Canadians agreed with the new ruling. Apparently, 80% of Canadians (out of over 2,530) agreed that grievously ill persons should have the right to control the timing of their own death even if it means getting help from physicians to do it. Questions that follow include why has public support seemingly increased on this issue and what impact can it have on our healthcare policies? physician assisted death

Why has public support increased on this issue?

Today's Canadians want control over all aspects of their own lives, including the choice of whether to live or die. Canadians consider the right to die a compassionate option for people experiencing insufferable pain and significantly reduced mental functioning. Apparently, there may be a pervasive belief in Canada in the importance of one’s right to die by one’s own choice and simultaneously, to die painlessly and with their “dignity” intact.

A study by Dying with Dignity at the Seattle Cancer Care Alliance showed that of the people who were interested in dying with the help of a physician wanted to die because of the loss of self-sufficiency (97%), the loss of ability to participate in enjoyable activities (89%), and the feeling of a loss of dignity (75%). In addition, some people believe that the results of regulated suicide are more humane. With regulated suicide, patients can use the expert knowledge and means of healthcare providers to end their own lives.

What is the Healthcare Providers’ Perspective?

The healthcare providers’ opinion is a mixed-bag. Some physicians believe that the right to end one’s own life is a great option for people experiencing a low quality of life due to the medical profession’s inability to effectively treat certain illnesses. On the other hand, from a policy-perspective, some physicians are concerned with undue pressure vulnerable persons may experience to end their own lives. However, another study showed that the majority of people requesting physician-assisted death do so not because of any insufferable pain but because of their disability.

syringe Some policy-makers believe that to assist such persons in their death would demean disabled people as the message being sent would be that life is not worth living for disabled persons. Some practical concerns mentioned by physicians include the fear of getting sued by family members, the possibilities for harm or complications developing in failed attempts, violating prescription drug laws and the potential for harming their own careers, among other reasons.


Physician-assisted suicide will soon be legalized in Canada and apparently, the majority of Canadians support this. However, clearly, from the perspective of the healthcare provider, there needs to be careful consideration of the safeguards that need to be in place (not only for the persons requesting a physician-assisted death), but also for the physician called to help them in their quest to die.
Vivian L. April 10, 2016
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