Assisted Suicide Support Drops to Lowest Level in 8 Years

Bioethics   |   Steven Ertelt   |   May 31, 2011   |   10:53AM   |   Washington, DC

Gallup released the results of its latest poll today evaluating the views of Americans on various controversial issues or decisions and whether Americans believe they are morally wrong or morally acceptable.

It found the percentage of people who say “doctor-assisted suicide” is morally acceptable has dropped to its lowest level in 8 years. Currently, 48 percent of Americans say “doctor-assisted suicide” is morally wrong while just 45 percent say it is morally okay. The views of Americans on the subject has bounced around slightly over the years with a majority of 51 percent in 2008 saying the practice is morally acceptable. The last time just 45 percent of Americans said it was all right was 2003.

Gallup found 51 percent of Democrats, 50 percent of independents and just 32 percent of Republicans who say they find assisted suicide morally acceptable. When looking at an age breakdown, the views of Americans are largely consistent with just 46 percent of those 18-34, 45 percent of those 35-54 and 43 percent of those 55 and older saying assisted suicide is morally okay.

Had Gallup used the term “assisted suicide” without including the word, “doctor,” support likely would have decreased further.

When examining the issue of abortion, Gallup found more firm opposition as 51 percent of Americans say abortion is morally unacceptable versus 39 percent who do not have moral qualms with the practice of destroying human life before birth. As is the case with assisted suicide, views on abortion have changed only slightly over the years, with no more than 43 percent of Americans saying abortion is morally okay (2006) and a low-water mark of 36 percent saying so in 2009.

As was the case with assisted suicide, Republicans offer the most opposition — with just 18 percent saying abortion is orally all right. That’s compared with 55 percent of Democrats and 45 percent of independents who say the same thing.

On the age breakdown, 44 percent of those 18-34, 42 percent of those 35-54 and 34 percent of those 55 and older say abortion is morally acceptable.

The Gallup poll also found strong opposition to human cloning, but support for embryonic stem cell research. Some 84 percent of Americans say human cloning is not morally justified but 62 percent of Americans say it is morally acceptable to engage in “medical research using stem cells obtained from human embryos.” Another 62 percent were morally opposed to cloning animals — making it so the objections Americans have to cloning on any level is quite clear.

Gallup said doctor assisted suicide emerged as the most controversial cultural issue in Gallup’s 2011 Values and Beliefs poll with the smallest percentage point difference when subtracting those who are morally supportive from those who are morally opposed — with just three percent separating the two.

“The three most controversial issues — doctor-assisted suicide, abortion, and out-of-wedlock births — are the ones on which fewer than 15 points separate the percentage considering the issue morally acceptable from the percentage considering it morally wrong. Attitudes on each have been fairly stable in recent years,” Gallup said. “Partisans disagree widely on these issues, with majorities of Democrats accepting of all three issues, compared with, at most, barely a third of Republicans. Abortion is the most divisive of the three, with a 37-point Republican-Democratic gap.”

The results come on the heels of a Gallup poll showing 61 percent of Americans want all or most abortions illegal.