OpinionTue Jan 8, 2013 - 5:05 pm EST
Do Americans want to legalize assisted suicide? What the polls won’t tell you
January 8, 2013 (AlexSchadenberg) - A recent poll indicates that 55% of Americans support assisted suicide. The poll that was conducted by NPR, from October 1 - 11, 2012, asked 3000 respondents two questions:
1. Should Physician-Assisted Suicide be allowed for terminally ill people with less than six months to live? (Americans responded with 55% support and 45% opposition to this question.)
2. Should Physician-Assisted Suicide be allowed for patients who aren’t terminally ill but are suffering from severe pain or severe disability? (Americans responded with 29% support and 71% opposition to this question.)
Polls on assisted suicide are generally inaccurate and their results will change based on the question and the context of the question. Many people support the concept of assisted suicide, but after further reflection will recognize that it is bad public policy and it is not safe.
November 6, 2012: the people of Massachusetts voted on Question 2, the assisted suicide question on the Massachusetts ballot. Based on polling research, the Death with Dignity National Center chose Massachusetts to have a referendum on assisted suicide. Massachusetts appeared to be a “sure thing,” with polling as late as September showing 68% support for assisted suicide and only 19% opposition.
But on November 6, 51.1% of Massachusetts voters rejected physician assisted suicide (Question 2).
Why was the assisted suicide referendum defeated in Massachusetts?
The Euthanasia Prevention Coalition (EPC) has been polling on the issues of euthanasia and assisted suicide for more than 10 years. Our polling indicates that a large number of people somewhat support assisted suicide while a much smaller number of people strongly support assisted suicide.
EPC has found that people fear dying in pain and they fear dying an undignified death. We understand this human reality and we also understand that dying in pain or in an undignified manner is not necessary.
Our polling has identified that most of the people who somewhat support assisted suicide recognize that legalizing assisted suicide will have negative consequences. Therefore most people are only willing to support assisted suicide if it is tightly controlled and if it is limited to only a few circumstances.
This is why the NPR poll found in its question 2 that 71% opposed assisted suicide for people who aren’t terminally ill but are suffering from severe pain or severe disability.
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The voters in Massachusetts rejected physician-assisted suicide because many people found that the “safeguards” in Question 2 (assisted suicide) were either not tight enough or unable to be adequately controlled.
The campaign against assisted suicide in Massachusetts:
- Worked with a diverse group of people.
- Focused on the actual statute and not assisted suicide itself.
- Worked with diverse groups both independently and in coalition.
- Developed a set of effective messages and maintained message discipline.
- Used the term assisted suicide and not doctor prescribed suicide or doctor prescribed death or some other euphemism.
- The Massachusetts campaign focused on the actual statute and how it would work in Massachusetts. The people of Massachusetts recognized that supporting Question 2 (assisted suicide) would have negative consequences on the lives of vulnerable people.
The diverse coalition of groups in Massachusetts included people from all parts of the political spectrum. Possibly the most effective group in the coalition was the disability rights group, Second Thoughts, that was led by John Kelly.
A poll showing that approximately 55% of Americans support assisted suicide, does not mean that 55% of Americans would vote to legalize assisted suicide.
The next set of polling questions that NPR needs to ask is:
* Are you concerned that if assisted suicide is legalized that some vulnerable people will be pressured into asking for assisted suicide?
* Are you concerned that elderly people, who are already experiencing elder abuse, will be pressured into asking for assisted suicide?
* Are you concerned that people who live with depression would not be adequately protected from assisted suicide, if legalized?
* If palliative care was available for every person who needed it, do you believe that their would be less demand for assisted suicide?
* Do you think that society should be improving the availability and quality of palliative care and the care of people with disabilities or chronic conditions or should we be legalizing assisted suicide?
When considering these questions, and more, people become aware that legalizing assisted suicide creates many new problems including a great potential for abuse.
It is important to note that there have more than 100 attempts to legalize assisted suicide through a state legislature in the United States and none of those attempts have been successful.
When people understand the issues surrounding assisted suicide, the majority reject it.