Alex Schadenberg

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Gallup: Support for assisted suicide fluctuates based on the wording of the question

Alex Schadenberg

May 31, 2013 (Alex Schadenberg) - A Gallup survey conducted (May 2 - 7, 2013) found that support for assisted suicide fluctuates by almost 20% based on the wording of the question.

The survey found that: 

51% of Americans support assisted suicide when the process is described as doctors helping a patient "commit suicide" while 70% of Americans supported assisted suicide when it was described as allowing doctors to "end the patient's life by some painless means."
The report from Gallup stated:
Gallup has asked both questions of U.S. adults aged 18 and older annually since 2001, as part of its Values and Beliefs survey. This year's update was based on interviews with 1,535 adults, and each question was asked of a separate half-sample.

Gallup reported that support for assisted suicide is down in recent years. The recent Gallup poll indicated that 45% of Americans were opposed to assisted suicide, which is the highest level since the poll question began in 1996. Gallup reported that:

... current support -- with 51% of Americans in favor and 45% opposed -- is similar to that of the previous three years, and is nearly identical to attitudes in 1996. In the interim, support steadily rose to 68% by 2001 and remained above 60% through 2004, after which it started to falter.

We learned from the recent defeat of the assisted suicide referendum in Massachusetts that once people learn more about assisted suicide, they become less likely to support it. 

Polling originally indicated that people in Massachusetts supported assisted suicide. After a good campaign informing Massachusetts voters of what assisted suicide is, it was defeated.

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Several years ago I attended the World Federation of Right to Die Societies Conference. The euthanasia lobby knew from polling and focus groups that changing the language of the debate and message discipline would lead to more support for assisted suicide and euthanasia. 

The Gallup survey report concluded that:

A wording that refers to the patient's intention to end his or her life as "suicide," doesn't say family members are involved in the decision, and doesn't specify that the procedure will involve "painless means" produces lower support than the alternative wording. However, the resulting difference offers important insights into the complex nature of Americans' views on this question, as well as the negative connotation suicide has, generally. Underscoring this, the same poll finds just 16% of Americans saying suicide is morally acceptable. At the same time, the public is evenly split over whether "doctor-assisted suicide" is morally acceptable: 45% say it is, and 49% say it is not.

The Euthanasia Prevention Coalition has also learned that certain language is more effective. We agree with the Gallup poll that the use of the term assisted suicide or assisting a suicide is more effective than terms like: prescribed death, aid in dying or assisted dying.

Links to previous polling information.
Do Americans want to legalize assisted suicide?
Canadians want good end-of-life care not euthanasia or assisted suicide.
More Americans believe that assisted suicide is morally wrong.
Why the assisted suicide referendum was defeated in Massachusetts.

This column originally appeared on from Alex Schadenberg's blog and is reprinted with permission.

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