08/20/2009 - The national debate over health care reform has focused new attention on the decisions people make about medical care at the end stages of life.
Public opinion polls show that Americans overwhelmingly support an individual's right to decide whether he or she wants to be kept alive through medical treatment. In a 2005 Pew Research Center survey, 84% said they approved of laws which say medical treatment that is keeping a terminally ill patient alive can be stopped if that is what the patient desires. In addition, 70% said there are some circumstances when a patient should be allowed to die, while 22% said doctors and nurses should always do everything possible to save the life of a patient.
While a heavy majority of Americans support individual rights in this area, when it comes to personal preferences about medical intervention for oneself at the end of life, the public is more evenly divided. In the same Pew Research survey a narrow majority (53%) said if they were faced with a terminal illness and were suffering a great deal of physical pain they would choose to stop medical treatment, 34% said they would ask their doctor to do everything possible to save their life.
Read the complete findings Coping With End-of-Life Decisions on the Pew Research Center's Web site.