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2022-12-17 at 17:30 #386210Nat QuinnKeymaster
New polling data suggests nearly two-thirds of Canadians are unaware of the federal government’s plan to extend medical assistance in dying to people suffering only from mental illness.
On Thursday, the government said it now plans to delay the start of the expanded criteria, previously scheduled to begin in March; the results of a Postmedia-Léger survey suggest that might be a worthwhile move.
The timeline to allow those with mental illness to access help from the medical community in ending their own life has been looming amid debate within political, medical, and patient communities, but the issue seemed not to penetrate a wider population.
In a nationwide survey of Canadian residents, taken before the delay was announced, 64 per cent of respondents said they were unaware the important change to medical assistance in dying (MAID) was on the horizon.
Those who said they were aware accounted for 36 per cent of respondents.
“If there is a key data point that we found in our survey is that a big majority of Canadians don’t know what’s happening here,” said Andrew Enns, an executive vice-president at Léger.
“It is a topic that involves a lot of moving parts in terms of implications.”
More older respondents than younger were aware of the coming change, and slightly more men than women said they were.
Geographically, Quebec stands out as being the province whose respondents were most supportive of the change, but also the least aware that it was coming.
Respondents in Alberta were most aware of the planned change, but only half of them, followed by Ontario at 40 per cent, Manitoba and Saskatchewan, combined, at 38, B.C. and Atlantic provinces all at 36 per cent, and then Quebec, with only 23 per cent.
The overall issue itself remains a divisive one.
Canadians remain split almost in the middle on whether some serious mental illnesses might be considered a life-ending illnesses, according to the survey.
Asked if some mental conditions, such as depression, bi-polar disorder or schizophrenia are terminal, 43 per cent of respondents said yes, while 42 per cent said no, with the remainder not expressing an opinion.
More women than men said yes (45 per cent to 39 per cent), and significantly more in the youngest cohort said yes than among the oldest.
Of those 18 to 34 years old, 51 per cent agreed mental illness could be considered terminal and 38 per cent disagreed, while of those aged 55 and over, 37 per cent agreed and 44 per cent disagreed.
More people in Quebec agreed (48 per cent) than elsewhere in Canada.
There was agreement from 46 per cent in Alberta, 44 per cent in Manitoba and Saskatchewan, taken together, 42 per cent in Atlantic Canada, 40 per cent in Ontario and 31 per cent in B.C.
“There are really two minds in Canada on this. There is no clear majority. And there is an important percentage of Canadians who don’t know enough on the policy to provide an opinion,” said Enns.
The survey also asked respondents about the idea of delaying the mental health as a criteria change and found opinion on that was equally split.
When asked if the changes — at the time scheduled to take effect in March — were moving too quickly and should be delayed for further consideration, it reflected a similar pattern as overall opinion on the change: almost half and half of those expressing an opinion.
Slightly more, 40 per cent, said it should proceed as planned than the 39 per cent who said to slow it down.
Recent events in the news about MAID caused some concern about the future of assisted dying laws and further changes that might come.
Respondents were asked about an RCMP investigation into complaints by military veterans with post-traumatic stress that they are being counselled to consider MAID as a medical option, and the Quebec College of Physicians saying it was legitimate to use MAID for infants up to the age of one who have severe health complications.
Concern was expressed by 44 per cent of respondents while 37 per cent said they were unconcerned and 19 per cent said they didn’t know.
Justice Minister David Lametti did not specify the length of delay he anticipated the government seeking.
“This is a top priority for our government. And we want to reassure Canadians that we are committed to ensuring that our laws protect everyone while supporting the autonomy and freedom of choice that are central to Canada’s MAID regime,” Lametti said.
Members of Parliament with the Conservative Party, the Bloc Québécois and the NDP expressed concerns that safeguards to protect people suffering from mental disorders would not be in place in time.
The public opinion survey studied responses from adult Canadian residents by 1,526 online surveys, randomly recruited through Léger’s online panel between Dec. 9 and Dec. 11. Results were weighted according to age, gender, and region to ensure a representative sample of the population.
As an online survey, traditional margins of error do not apply, according to Leger. If the data had been collected through the same-size probability sample, the margin of error would be reported as plus or minus 2.5 per cent, 19 times out of 20.
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