A new Gallup report is entitled “Seven in 10 Americans Back Euthanasia,” but that’s a misleading opening.
First, the question was: “When a person has a disease that cannot be cured, do you think doctors should be allowed by law to end the patient’s life by some painless means if the patient and his or her family request it?” According to the poll, 69% say “yes,” down from 75% in 2005.
Support drops to 58% when the Gallup question is: “When a person has a disease that cannot be cured and is living in severe pain, do you think doctors should or should not be allowed by law to assist the patient to commit suicide if the patient requests it?”
So, as Gallup headlines it, “Diminished Majority Favors ‘Doctor-Assisted Suicide.’”
The word “suicide” is no doubt important, but there are some other issues raised by the wording of the questions. Why does the non-suicide question mention the family’s request, while the suicide question leaves family out? How many respondents are confused about the difference between the right to refuse unwanted life-sustaining medical treatment and assisted suicide? How many say “yes” because they want their advance directives honored and their health care proxy’s directions followed?
And why does the suicide question add the condition that the person “is living in severe pain”? Did Gallup ever ask this question without adding the pain factor and get a response lower than 58%?
Considering the sloppiness factor in the Gallup efforts on this issue, I’m inclined to turn to the Pew study for more accurate insights. The Pew study, “Views on End-of-Life Medical Treatments“, covered a wider range of health care decisions issues, which allowed respondents to sort out the differences between refusal of treatment and assisted suicide, avoiding the confusion inherent in the Gallup style of questioning.
The Pew result: only 47% support assisted suicide laws. Not a diminished majority, not a majority at all.