74% Support Giving Terminally Ill Patients Greater End-Of-Life Control

By CJ Arlotta, Forbes. December 8th 2014

New report findings indicate a surge of public support for giving terminally ill patients greater control of their end-of-life care.

According to the results of a recent online survey conducted by HealthDay and Harris Poll, 74 percent of American adults believe terminally ill patients who are suffering from severe pain should have the right to choose to end their own lives. Poll results revealed that only 14 percent of participants oppose this view.

“There is no question that Americans support the idea of death with dignity, and have done so for decades,” said Peg Sandeen, executive director of Death With Dignity National Center. “I think it is time to ask legislators and policy makers who have blocked death with dignity reform why, with 15 years of data demonstrating death with dignity works effectively and three-fourths of Americans supporting the issue, do they still believe the time is not right in their states.”

The survey additionally asked respondents questions about a doctor’s role in end-of-life care. According to the results, 72 percent of participants believe doctors should be able to advise terminally ill patients who request information on alternatives to medical treatments or ways to end life, or both. Only 15 percent were opposed.

On the topic of end-of-life care laws, 66 percent of respondents said it should be legal for doctors to comply with the wishes of a terminally ill patient who is in “severe distress” and wants to end life. Only 15 percent were opposed.

“Death with dignity is a right and a freedom for all of us,” Sandeen said in an email.

Survey respondents included 2,276 American adults (aged 18 and over). Participants were selected from a pool of individuals who had agreed to participate in Harris Poll surveys. The survey was conducted between November 12 and 26 — just a couple of weeks after Brittany Maynard, the terminally ill 29-year-old woman who was made famous by the overwhelming support of right-to-die advocates — followed through with her decision to end her life on November 1 under Oregon’s Death with Dignity Act.

The survey, however, did not use the word “suicide” in its questioning on end-of-life care. If “suicide” had been used, the survey might have yielded slightly different results.

A Gallup poll conducted earlier in the year revealed that nearly 70 percent of Americans believe physicians should be able to “legally end a patient’s life by some painless means.”

Support dropped to 58 percent after the research firm replaced “legally end a patient’s life by some painless means” with “assist the patient to commit suicide.” The only time “commit suicide” has shown greater support than “painless means” in Gallup’s findings was in 2001.