Survey Claims People Won’t Distrust Doctors Who Engage in Euthanasia

Bioethics   |   Steven Ertelt   |   Dec 5, 2005   |   9:00AM   |   WASHINGTON, DC

Survey Claims People Won’t Distrust Doctors Who Engage in Euthanasia Email this article
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by Steven Ertelt Editor
December 5, 2005

Winston-Salem, NC ( — A new survey conducted by Wake Forest University Baptist Medical Center claims people would be less likely to lose confidence and trust in a doctor who engaged in euthanasia or assisted suicides than some may think.

"Overall, three times as many people disagree as agree that legalizing physician-assisted death would cause them to trust their personal doctors less," Mark Hall, professor of public health sciences at Wake Forest Baptist.

Hall and his Wake Forest colleagues surveyed 1,117 adults across the United States and they reported their results in the current issue of the Journal of Medical Ethics.

Those surveyed were asked to use a five point scale to rate whether they agreed or disagreed with the following statement: "Assume for the purpose of this question that euthanasia were legal. If doctors were allowed to help patients die, you would trust your doctor less."

Some 58 percent of those surveyed disagreed with the statement while 20 percent said engaging in euthanasia would cause the person to trust their doctor less.

Older adults above the age of 65 (27 percent) and black Americans (32 percent) were more likely to distrust their doctor, but a majority of both groups said they would still trust their physician.

"Despite the widespread concern that legalizing physician-assisted death would seriously threaten or undermine trust in physicians, the weight of the evidence in the United Sates is to the contrary, although views vary significantly," said Hall, according to a WFMY news report.

Pro-life groups have long said that allowing assisted suicide or euthanasia would erode the trust Americans have with doctors, who practice medicine designed to heal, not harm, patients.

Hall admitted that even if only 20 percent of Americans distrusted their doctors, that was a significant problem.

"We should not be cavalier about potential threats to trust because, once it is lost, it is far harder to rebuild than to sustain," the researchers wrote in their article.

Despite the results, other surveys show Americans do not strongly support assisted suicide.

A November 2004 CBS-New York Times survey also looked at the issues of euthanasia and assisted suicide and found, in a question pro-life groups say was skewed, 46 percent of those polled backed assisted suicide and 45 percent said no.

However, the numbers indicate the level of support for the grisly practice is dropping.

In 1993, 58 percent said yes to the question and 52 percent backed assisted suicide when asked the question in a similar 1998 poll. The level of opposition to assisted suicide has risen with only 36 percent saying no in 1993 and 37 percent opposing it in 1998.

Hall said prior research about losing trust had not been conducted nationally and that studies specifically in Massachusetts and Iowa showed the same results, according to the WFMY report.

The question did not distinguish between assisted suicide, where a physician helps a patient kill himself, and euthanasia, where the doctor kills the patient directly.