Vermont Polls Show Conflicting Results on Assisted Suicide Bill

Bioethics   |   Steven Ertelt   |   Oct 15, 2003   |   9:00AM   |   WASHINGTON, DC

Vermont Polls Show Conflicting Results on Assisted Suicide Bill

by Paul Nowak Editor
October 15, 2003

Washington, DC ( — Two polls, conducted by groups on opposing sides of the physician assisted suicide debate in Vermont, have revealed conflicting results.

End of Life Choices, formerly the Hemlock society, announced that their poll of Vermont doctors showed that 75% of the respondents were in favor of legalizing assisted suicide. Vermont’s "Death with Dignity" act, slated for consideration next year, could make it the second state to legalize the deadly practice. The legislation is modeled after Oregon’s current assisted suicide law, passed in 1992.

The Vermont Alliance for Ethical Healthcare, however, said that 70% of the respondents to their poll opposed the pending legislation.

"Both of these surveys were accompanied by material from the group sending it out," Dr. Robert Orr of the Vermont Alliance for Ethical Healthcare told "I think the wide disparity of results merely reflects that those who agree with the polling group are more likely to respond to their survey."

"I think what we have measured is the two ends of the spectrum and what we haven’t measured is the large center," Orr said.

The two polls are not the only ones that have been conducted in response to the upcoming legislation.

A local survey of 54 doctors at Brattleboro Memorial Hospital had a response of 40% supportive of the assisted suicide bill and 58% opposed, and a similar survey at Rutland Regional Medical Center found 26% of doctors supportive and 74% opposed.

Additionally, a group of medical students at the University of Vermont College of Medicine received a grant from the Chittenden County Medical Society to do a mailed survey over this past summer, and their results will be released at the Vermont Medical Society’s annual meeting next week.

The Vermont Medical Society will hold its annual meeting October 17-18, and its 1,400 members are expected to decide whether to continue to oppose assisted suicide legislation, including the upcoming "Death With Dignity" act, or to oppose or even take a neutral position. The group’s former president, Dr. Lloyd Thompson, was recently reprimanded for ending the life of an 85-year-old patient without her consent or that of her family.

Governor Jim Douglas has made it clear he does not support the legislation, and the chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee stated he does not want to take up such a controversial issue if it’s not likely to become law.