Americans Divided on Right to Die

More than two-thirds of Americans believe there are circumstances in which a patient should be allowed to die, but they are closely divided on whether it should be legal for a doctor to help terminally ill patients end their own lives by prescribing fatal drugs, a new AP-Ipsos poll finds.

The results were released Tuesday, just days before euthanasia advocate Dr. Jack Kevorkian is freed from a Michigan prison after serving more than eight years for second-degree murder in the poisoning of a man with Lou Gehrig’s disease.

Kevorkian’s defiant assisted suicide campaign, which he waged for years before his conviction, fueled nationwide debate in the U.S. about patients’ right to die and the role that physicians should play.

Though demonized by his critics as a callous killer, Kevorkian – who is to be released Friday – maintains relatively strong public support. The AP-Ipsos poll found that 53 percent of those surveyed thought he should not have been jailed; 40 percent supported his imprisonment. The results were similar to an ABC News poll in 1999 that found 55 percent disagreeing with his conviction.

The new AP-Ipsos poll asked whether it should be legal for doctors to prescribe lethal drugs to help terminally ill patients end their own lives – a practice currently allowed in Oregon but in no other U.S. states. Forty-eight percent said it should be legal; 44 percent said it should be illegal.

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Posted in * Culture-Watch, Life Ethics

5 comments on “Americans Divided on Right to Die

  1. Jill C. says:

    I was so sorry to read of that man being released. And even more sorry that so many people claim to share his pro-death beliefs. Organizations like Anglicans United certainly have our work cut out for us!

  2. Philip Snyder says:

    I am leary of the “right to die” involving “active measures” – drugs to end life for a couple of reasons.
    First, the “right to die” often devolves into the “duty to die” where elderly or terminally ill people are urged to end their life to avoid family emotional/financial hardship.
    But the main reason is because the end of life belongs in God’s hands, not ours. This is just one of the results of what I call “functional individualism” where people are defined by their function and utility to society rather than by their being. Since a baby in a womb has no function to society, it is expendable and can be killed at the mother’s whim. Since the elderly or terminally ill have no function to society they can be killed. Since criminals have no function to society, they can be housed in prisons and no attempt made to reform them.

    Functional Individualism is a poisen that permeats our society and we all participate in it. Think of the last person you met at a social function. I’ll bet one of the first questions you asked them (or one of the first things they told you) is “what do you do?”

    Phil Snyder

  3. robroy says:

    Stories abound from the Netherlands of the right to die becoming the duty to die. Patients with terminal diseases taking up precious hospital beds get ramrodded into accepting a “peaceful death.” It is helpful to remember we all have a terminal disease, called life. For a insightful essay, see here. John Patrick is a retired pediatrician/biochemist from Canada who frequently speaks at Christian Medical Association meetings. In the essay, Dr. Patrick quotes the following:

    “It becomes every man who purposes to give himself to the care of others, seriously to consider the four following things:-First, that he must one day give an account to the Supreme Judge of all the lives entrusted to his care. Secondly, that all his skill, and knowledge, and energy as they have been given him by God, so they should be exercised for His glory, and the good of mankind, and not for mere gain or ambition. Thirdly, and not more beautifully than truly, let him reflect that he has undertaken the care of no mean creature, for, in order that he may estimate the value, the greatness of the human race, the only begotten Son of God became himself a man, and thus ennobled it with His divine dignity, and far more than this, died to redeem it. And fourthly, that the doctor being himself a mortal man, should be diligent and tender in relieving his suffering patients, inasmuch as he himself must one day be a like sufferer.”
    Thomas Sydenham (1642-1689)

    which I try to follow daily in my practice.

  4. drjoan says:

    On the other hand, the duty to die is often superceded by the “duty to ‘keep alive’ at all costs.” As a health care provider I have seen all to often the situations where either a patient or a family member or–more likely–an enthusiastic and driven doctor–wants to keep a patient alive and being treated far beyond what is reasonable or compassionate: doing extensive surgery on a frail elderly dying woman; putting a patient on a respirator for the sole purpose of maintaining organ life; extraordinary measures on a hopelessly dying infant. All of these substituted for compassionate care with the goal of keeping the patient comfortable.
    None of us have the right to hurry death; likewise none of us have the duty to unnecessarily prolong life. Surely God is unhappy with that, too.

  5. Bill Matz says:

    Popular support for assisted suicide is largely based on a myth, that death is the only available relief from intractable pain in terminal patients. In fact, leading pain management specialists (e.g. Chief of Pain Management at Sloan-Kettering) point out that such pain is normally manageable. and despite predictions of such pain being the major motivation for utilization of Oregon’s law, actual use statistics from Oregon show that pain is the primary motivation in a small % of the cases; most involve issues of “dignity”