Canadian doctors divided over euthanasia

Xavier Symons
13 Feb 2013
Reproduced with Permission

In many Western nations most people support the legalization of euthanasia and physician-assisted suicide, according to opinion polls. But doctors - who must be involved - may feel differently.

A recent on-line survey of 2000 doctors conducted by the Canadian Medical Association (CMA) has been quite revealing. The poll found that only 20% of them would be willing to participate, while twice as many (42%) would refuse. Almost a quarter (23%) were not sure, and 15% did not answer.

The CMA defines euthanasia as "knowingly and intentionally performing an act that is explicitly intended to end another person's life" in cases of incurable illness "and the act is undertaken with empathy and compassion."

The results are similar for physician-assisted suicide: 16% of respondents would assist, while 44% would refuse. More than a quarter of respondents (26%) are not sure, and 15% did not answer.

Dr Jeff Blackmer, the CMA's director of ethics, said the review was needed because of evolving societal values, new technology and changing laws. There is fresh urgency about euthanasia in Canada after a judge in British Columbia ruled that assisted suicide was constitutional, a committee of the Quebec parliament recommended legalisation, and a report from the Royal Society of Canada also urged legalisation.