Gallup Poll: Americans Back Euthanasia, Assisted Suicide, Others Disagree

Bioethics   |   Steven Ertelt   |   Jun 19, 2006   |   9:00AM   |   WASHINGTON, DC

Gallup Poll: Americans Back Euthanasia, Assisted Suicide, Others Disagree Email this article
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by Steven Ertelt Editor
June 19, 2006

Washington, DC ( — A new poll conducted by the Gallup Organization finds that Americans back both euthanasia and assisted suicide. However, the Gallup questions were favorably disposed to the grisly practices and other polls show opposite results.

Conducted in May, the Gallup poll asked two different questions.

Half of the respondents in the survey were asked this long-term Gallup trend question on euthanasia: "When a person has a disease that cannot be cured, do you think doctors should be allowed by law to end the patient’s life by some painless means if the patient and his family request it?"

The latest poll shows Americans back euthanasia by a 69-27 percent margin, which is down six points from the last poll and shows a drop in euthanasia support following Terri Schiavo’s euthanasia death last year.

However, the polling question assumes a patient has an incurable disease, that the death will be painless and that the patient and the patient’s family agree that death is preferred.

Gallup also did not ask whether respondents favor euthanasia in general or in any other cases apart from its hypothetical.

The other half of the survey respondents were asked the following question on assisted suicide: "When a person has a disease that cannot be cured and is living in severe pain, do you think doctors should or should not be allowed by law to assist the patient to commit suicide if the patient requests it?"

Some 64 percent of those polled said they agreed with assisted suicide while 31 percent opposed it.

As with the euthanasia question, Gallup makes several assumptions. It assumes the patient has an incurable disease and that the patient has severe pain that doctors have been unable to control with pain medications.

Gallup also did not ask about assisted suicide in general or any other specific cases.

American who frequently attend religious services, those with lower levels of education, blacks, conservatives, and Republicans are most likely to object to euthanasia and assisted suicide, Gallup found.

Other polls show vastly different results from Gallup’s new survey.

An August 2005 Pew Research survey found only 44 percent of people "Favor making it legal for doctors to Assist in suicide." In that poll Americans opposed assisted suicide by a 48-44 percent margin.

A May 2005 Gallup Poll found a close 49-42 percent split in favor of assisted suicide, an October 2005 Fox News poll finds just 48 percent of Americans back assisted suicide and a November 2004 CBS News survey determined that Americans were split 46-45 percent on the issue.

After conducing its poll less than two years ago, CBS News said "Public support for physician-assisted suicide is now at the lowest point since the CBS News/New York Times Poll began asking the question in 1990. Prior to this poll, more than half of the public had said physician-assisted suicide should be allowed."

An April 2005 Zogby International poll that found if a person becomes incapacitated and has not expressed their preference for medical treatment, as in Terri Schiavo’s case, 43 percent say "the law presume that the person wants to live, even if the person is receiving food and water through a tube" while just 30 percent disagree.

But what may matter most is what Americans decide at the polls when asked to determine if assisted suicide should be legalized.

While voters in Oregon twice approved allowing assisted suicide there, other states have shown that assisted suicide is not popular.

In Michigan in 1998, voters overwhelmingly rejected a measure to legalize assisted suicide by a wide 71 to 29 percent margin. In 2000, Maine voters defeated an assisted suicide proposal by 51-49 percent.

California voters rejected an assisted suicide proposal by a 54 to 46 percent margin in 1992.

Meanwhile, bills to legalize assisted suicide have been defeated in Hawaii, Vermont, and California.

That latest Gallup poll involved 1,002 national adults, aged 18 and older who were interviewed from May 8-11, 2006. The poll has a margin of error of 3 percent.