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Do Americans want to legalize assisted suicide?

by | Jan 3, 2013

By Alex Schadenberg, executive director,
Euthanasia Prevention Coalition

Editor’s note. This first appeared in a slightly different form here.

Alex Schadenberg, executive director, Euthanasia Prevention Coalition

Alex Schadenberg, executive director, Euthanasia Prevention Coalition

A recent poll indicates that 55% of Americans support assisted suicide. The poll, conducted by National Public Radio (NPR) from October 1-11, 2012 asked 3,000 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.

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 there 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. Take the recent  Question 2, the assisted suicide question, that was 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.

On November 6, 51.1% of Massachusetts voters rejected physician assisted suicide–Question 2. 

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Categories: Assisted Suicide