Three in Four Americans Support Euthanasia

by David W. Moore

Significantly less support for doctor-assisted suicide

GALLUP NEWS SERVICE

PRINCETON, NJ -- Gallup's latest annual survey on values and beliefs suggests that 75% of Americans support euthanasia -- allowing a doctor to take the life of a patient who is suffering from an incurable disease and wants to die. But the survey also finds that a much smaller proportion of Americans, 58%, support doctor-assisted suicide for patients in the same condition.

The apparent conflict in values appears to be a consequence of mentioning, or not mentioning, the word "suicide." When asked if doctors should be allowed to end the life of a patient who is suffering from an incurable disease and wants to die, 75% of Americans say "yes." But when asked if doctors should be allowed to help a patient commit suicide under the same circumstances, only 58% of Americans say "yes."

The exact wording for each of the questions is as follows:

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?

BASED ON 516 NATIONAL ADULTS IN FORM A

 

Yes

No

No opinion

       

2005 May 2-5

75%

24

1

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?

BASED ON 489 NATIONAL ADULTS IN FORM B

 

 

Should

Should not

No opinion

       

2005 May 2-5

58%

39

3

The poll shows that support for euthanasia has increased significantly over the past half-century, going from 37% support in 1947 to 75% now. The trend also shows that usually there is a significant gap in views between euthanasia and doctor-assisted suicide. In 1996, when Gallup first asked about doctor-assisted suicide, support was about 20 points lower than for euthanasia. In 2002, 2003, and this year, there have also been major differences. In 2001 and 2004, however, differences between the two actions were minor.

Comparison by Subgroups

An examination of the responses by various demographic characteristics shows that the people who are most likely to be affected by the difference in question wording are evangelical Christians, and to a lesser extent young males and rural residents.

  • Among evangelical Christians, 61% support euthanasia, while only 32% approve of doctor-assisted suicide -- a net difference of 29 points. Among all Americans, the difference is 17 points.
  • Eighty-seven percent of men under the age of 50 support euthanasia, but only 63% support doctor-assisted suicide -- a difference of 24 points.
  • Seventy-one percent of rural residents support euthanasia, while only 47% support doctor-assisted suicide -- a net difference also of 24 points.

 

May 2-5, 2005

Support Euthanasia

Support Doctor-Assisted Suicide

Lower Support for
Doctor-Assisted Suicide vs. Euthanasia

 

%

%

Difference in
Pct. Pts.

All

75

58

-17

Gender

     

Male

84

64

-20

Female

66

53

-13

Age by Gender

     

Under 50/Male

87

63

-24

50+/Male

82

65

-17

Under 50/Female

63

50

-13

50+/Female

69

56

-13

Religion

     

Protestants

70

52

-18

Catholics

75

60

-15

Evangelical Christians

61

32

-29

Frequency of Attending Church

     

Weekly

51

30

-21

Almost weekly

87

66

-21

Seldom/never

85

76

-9

Region

     

East

82

61

-21

Midwest

73

53

-20

South

71

52

-19

West

76

69

-7

Type of Community

     

Urban

78

59

-19

Suburban

75

62

-13

Rural

71

47

-24

Ideology

     

Conservative

63

44

-19

Moderate

83

66

-17

Liberal

82

71

-11

Party

     

Republicans

65

52

-13

Independents

79

68

-11

Democrats

79

57

-22

Other major findings include the following:

  • There is a major gender gap in support for euthanasia, with 84% of men indicating support, compared with 66% of women. On doctor-assisted suicide, the gap narrows -- 64% of men support it, compared with 53% of women.
  • Weekly churchgoers are far less likely to support either method of ending a patient's life than are people who attend church less frequently or never attend.
  • Conservatives are 19 percentage points less likely than liberals to support euthanasia, and 27 percentage points less likely than liberals to support doctor-assisted suicide.
  • Republicans are somewhat less likely (65%) to support euthanasia than are Democrats (79%). But Democrats are more likely to be affected by question wording, so that there is little difference in support between Democrats (57%) and Republicans (52%) for doctor-assisted suicide.

Although Americans support doctor-assisted suicide by a 58% to 39% margin, they are less likely to say that the action is moral -- 49% say it is morally acceptable, and 46% say it is morally wrong.

Personal Behavior

The poll shows that 38% of Americans believe they would not consider "ending [their] life by some painless means," even if they were suffering from an incurable disease and were living in "severe pain." Fifty-nine percent say they would consider such an option.

  • Women are more likely than men to say they would not consider ending their lives -- 44% vs. 29%, respectively.
  • Half of all conservatives (51%) say they would not consider that option, compared with only 26% of moderates and 33% of liberals.
  • Weekly churchgoers show the most opposition, 69%, while people who attend church almost weekly or less often are far less opposed -- 25% and 22%, respectively.
  • Evangelical Christians also have a high level of opposition (62%) to ending their lives in that situation.

When it comes to being "in a persistent vegetative state with no hope of for significant recovery," 85% of Americans say they would want to have their life support removed. That is the state that Terri Schiavo's doctors described for Schiavo before her feeding tube was removed and she died. Much of the controversy was over her exact state and whether she had any hope of significant recovery.

There are some differences in views on this matter when compared by various subgroups, but the differences are relatively small. Very large majorities of all subgroups would not want to persist indefinitely in a vegetative state. The following groups of people, who are most opposed to euthanasia or doctor-assisted suicide, nevertheless would want their life support removed:

  • Rural residents -- 84%
  • Conservatives -- 83%
  • Women -- 83%
  • Republicans -- 82%
  • Southerners -- 81%
  • Weekly churchgoers -- 75%
  • Evangelical Christians -- 70%

Percentages are higher for other subgroups.

Survey Methods

Results in the current survey are based on telephone interviews with 1,005 national adults, aged 18 and older, conducted May 2-5, 2005. For results based on the total sample of national adults, one can say with 95% confidence that the maximum margin of sampling error is ±3 percentage points.

For results based on the 516 national adults in the Form A half-sample and 489 national adults in the Form B half-sample, the maximum margins of sampling error are ±5 percentage points.

In addition to sampling error, question wording and practical difficulties in conducting surveys can introduce error or bias into the findings of public opinion polls.

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