Large Majorities Support Doctor Assisted Suicide for Terminally Ill Patients In Great Pain

    New York, N.Y. – January 25, 2011 – A new Harris/BBC World News America poll finds that large majorities of Americans now favor physician assisted suicide and euthanasia for terminally ill patients in great pain who wish to end their lives. It also finds that a majority of people over 65 now have written directives regarding the type of care they would like to receive, or not to receive, at the end stages of their lives.

    These are some of the results of BBC World News America/Harris Poll of 2,340 adults surveyed online between August 19 and 23, 2010 by Harris Interactive.

    Key findings in this new poll include:

    • Most people (56% of all adults) know someone, living or dead, who has created written directives or documented instructions, often called living wills, that express their wishes for the type of care they would like to receive at the end stages of their lives;
    • While only about a quarter (28%) of adults have written directives themselves, this increases with age. Almost two-thirds (63%) of adults over 65 have executed written directives;
    • More than two-thirds (70%) of all adults agree that people who are terminally ill, in great pain and who have no chance of recovery should have the right to choose to end their lives. This includes a majority, but a smaller percentage (62%), of people over 65. Only 17% of the public disagree;
    • Two-thirds of all adults (67%) think that doctors should be allowed to advise terminally ill patients who request the information on alternatives to medical treatment and/or ways to end their lives. However only 27% think doctors should be able to do this in all cases, while 40% think this should happen only in certain cases, that were not defined in this survey; and
    • A 58% to 20% majority, with 22% not sure, think that the law should allow doctors to comply with the wishes of a dying patient in severe distress who asks to have his or her life ended. In other words, a majority of adults say they support physician-assisted suicide for such patients.

    So what?

    This new poll confirms that substantial majorities of the public now favor physician-assisted suicide, and the right of some terminally ill patients to commit suicide. However, in reviewing these measurements of public opinion it is worth noting that that the real world is often more nuanced and complicated than these blanket hypothetical scenarios. How certain is one that the patient really is terminally ill? How much distress or pain is required to justify suicide or assisted suicide?

    And then there are numerous religious and ethical issues not addressed in this survey.

     

    TABLE 1

    END OF LIFE DIRECTIVES

    Some people have directives, or documented instructions and/or wishes and preferences regarding the type of care they would like to receive (or not receive) at the end stages of their life; these are sometimes called living wills.

    Do you know people, living or deceased, who have created such directives?

    And, have you created any such directives for yourself?

    Base: All Adults

     

    Know of people who have created directives

    Have created directives for yourself

    Yes

    No

    Not at all sure

    Yes

    No

    Not at all sure

    All adults

    %

    56

    31

    13

    28

    66

    5

    Age

    18-34

    %

    36

    42

    22

    11

    80

    9

    35-44

    %

    52

    35

    13

    19

    76

    5

    45-54

    %

    63

    27

    10

    25

    71

    4

    55-64

    %

    67

    24

    9

    42

    56

    2

    65+

    %

    77

    18

    5

    63

    35

    2

    Education

    H.S. or less

    %

    45

    38

    17

    24

    69

    7

    Some college

    %

    60

    29

    11

    27

    69

    4

    College grad +

    %

    69

    22

    9

    37

    60

    2

    Income

    Less than $35K

    %

    48

    39

    14

    22

    72

    6

    $35K-$49.9K

    %

    47

    40

    12

    23

    72

    5

    $50K-$74.9K

    %

    55

    30

    15

    23

    73

    4

    $75K+

    %

    66

    25

    9

    37

    59

    4

    Note: Percentages may not add up exactly to 100% due to rounding.

     

    TABLE 2

    RIGHT TO END YOUR OWN LIFE

    How much do you agree with the following statement? Individuals who are terminally ill, in great pain and who have no chance for recovery, have the right to choose to end their own life.

    Base: All Adults

    Total

    Gender

    Education

    Age

    Male

    Female

    H.S. or less

    Some college

    College grad +

    18-33

    35-44

    45-54

    55-64

    65+

    %

    %

    %

    %

    %

    %

    %

    %

    %

    %

    %

    Agree (NET)

    70

    73

    68

    66

    73

    74

    72

    74

    75

    65

    62

    Very much agree

    49

    53

    46

    41

    57

    54

    50

    51

    55

    44

    43

    Somewhat agree

    21

    20

    22

    25

    17

    20

    23

    22

    20

    21

    19

    Disagree (NET)

    17

    16

    19

    17

    18

    16

    13

    13

    15

    23

    26

    Somewhat disagree

    4

    3

    5

    3

    5

    5

    4

    4

    3

    4

    4

    Very much disagree

    13

    12

    14

    15

    13

    11

    9

    8

    12

    19

    22

    Not at all sure

    8

    7

    10

    11

    5

    8

    8

    9

    8

    9

    8

    Decline to answer

    4

    4

    4

    5

    4

    2

    6

    4

    2

    2

    3

    Note: Percentages may not add up exactly to 100% due to rounding.

     

    TABLE 3

    DOCTORS’ ROLE WITH TERMINALLY ILL PATIENTS

    Do you think doctors should be allowed to advise terminally ill patients who request the information on alternatives to medical treatment, and/or ways to end their own lives?

    Base: All Adults

    Total

    Gender

    Education

    Male

    Female

    H.S. or less

    Some college

    College grad +

    %

    %

    %

    %

    %

    %

    Yes (NET)

    67

    70

    64

    60

    70

    74

    Yes, in all cases

    27

    31

    24

    21

    32

    32

    Yes, in certain cases

    40

    39

    40

    39

    38

    42

    No, never

    19

    17

    20

    22

    18

    14

    Not at all sure

    15

    12

    17

    18

    12

    11

    Note: Percentages may not add up exactly to 100% due to rounding.

     

    TABLE 4

    END OF LIFE LAWS – DETAIL

    Do you think that the law should allow doctors to comply with the wishes of a dying patient in severe distress who asks to have his life ended, or not?

    Base: All Adults

    Total 2010

    Gender

    Education

    Male

    Female

    H.S. or less

    Some college

    College grad +

    %

    %

    %

    %

    %

    %

    Yes, should allow

    58

    61

    55

    50

    66

    61

    No, should not allow

    20

    21

    19

    22

    18

    19

    Not sure

    22

    18

    26

    28

    16

    19

    Note: Percentages may not add up exactly to 100% due to rounding

     

    Methodology

    This BBC World News America/Harris Poll was conducted online within the United States between August 19 and 23, 2010 among 2,340 adults (aged 18 and over). Figures for age, sex, race/ethnicity, education, region and household income were weighted where necessary to bring them into line with their actual proportions in the population. Propensity score weighting was also used to adjust for respondents’ propensity to be online.

    All sample surveys and polls, whether or not they use probability sampling, are subject to multiple sources of error which are most often not possible to quantify or estimate, including sampling error, coverage error, error associated with nonresponse, error associated with question wording and response options, and post-survey weighting and adjustments. Therefore, Harris Interactive avoids the words margin of error as they are misleading. All that can be calculated are different possible sampling errors with different probabilities for pure, unweighted, random samples with 100% response rates. These are only theoretical because no published polls come close to this ideal.

    Respondents for this survey were selected from among those who have agreed to participate in Harris Interactive surveys. The data have been weighted to reflect the composition of the adult population. Because the sample is based on those who agreed to participate in the Harris Interactive panel, no estimates of theoretical sampling error can be calculated.

    The results of this Harris Poll may not be used in advertising, marketing or promotion without the prior written permission of Harris Interactive.

    These statements conform to the principles of disclosure of the National Council on Public Polls.

     

    The Harris Poll ® #9, January 25, 2011

    By Humphrey Taylor, Chairman, The Harris Poll, Harris Interactive

     

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