01/05/2006 - A comprehensive opinion survey, conducted by the Pew Research Center for the People & the Press, about end-of-life issues finds that an overwhelming number of Americans (84 percent) support laws giving patients the right to decide whether they want to be kept alive through medical treatment. And by a 70 percent to 22 percent margin, the public says there are circumstances when patients should be allowed to die rather than doing everything medically possible to save a patient. Also:
- Fully 61 percent feel that the ‘mercy killing’ of a spouse is at least sometimes justified, if the spouse “was suffering terrible pain from a terminal disease.”
- Six-in-ten of those surveyed feel that people have a moral right to end their own lives if they suffer from great pain and have no chance for improvement. But this view changes under less extreme circumstances. For example, just 29 percent say a person has a moral right to end their life if he or she has become burdensome to family.
- The public is deeply divided over legalizing physician-assisted suicide; 46 percent approve of laws permitting doctors to help patients to end their lives, while about as many are opposed (45 percent).
Public attitudes on these issues are mostly unchanged from 1990, despite advances in lifesaving technology, the aging of the population, and the controversy associated with the Terri Schiavo case. Most Americans believe it should be up to individuals – not the government or medical professionals – to ultimately determine their end-of-life medical decisions. The nationwide poll by the center, conducted Nov. 9-27, 2005 among 1,500 adults, finds that people are increasingly thinking about – and planning – end-of-life treatment for themselves and loved ones:
- Public awareness of living wills, already widespread in 1990, is now virtually universal, and the number saying they have a living will has more than doubled – from just 12 percent in 1990 to 29 percent today.
- Nearly seven-in-ten (69 percent) of those who are married say they have had a conversation with their husband or wife about their spouse’s wishes for end-of-life medical care; up from 51 percent in 1990.