Suicide views depend on how question phrased, Gallup finds

By Burke J. Balch, J.D., director of NRLC’s Powell Center for Medical Ethics

Editor’s note. While my family and I are on vacation, we are running some of our favorite NRL News Today stories from the last four months, entries from our “Roe at 40″ series, and an occasional update.

GalluppollAmericans’ views on legalization of assisting suicide depend on how the question is phrased, a May Gallup survey shows. Released on May 29, the results of a poll of 1,535 adults conducted May 2-7 showed 51% support for a law allowing doctors “to assist the patient to commit suicide if the patient requests it” but 70% support for a law allowing doctors “to end the patient’s life by some painless means.”

Euphemisms to hide a deadly reality are often an effective propaganda tool of pro-death forces, and it is doubtless awareness of polls like this one that has lead them to insist that what they promote is not “assisting suicide” but rather “death with dignity” and similar sweet-sounding sobriquets.

It is notable that even the summary of the poll question using the term “suicide” was quite biased in its favor. The full question read, “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?” In fact, with the tools available to modern medicine, there is no excuse for health care providers failing to relieve pain, so that no one need be “living in severe pain.” See www.nrlc.org/euthanasia/asisuid2.html .

This year, death advocates succeeded in legalizing assisting suicide by legislative action in Vermont. Oregon and Washington State have legalized it by initiative measures, and the Montana Supreme Court has held that consent is a defense to charges that might be brought against those assisting suicide. In California, Maine, Massachusetts, and Michigan, while initiatives to legalize assisting suicide have initially demonstrated broad public support as measured by opinion polls, education of voters concerning their risks and probable abuses has ultimately led to their defeat.

When the term “suicide” was used, the Gallup survey showed 45% opposition with 4% expressing no opinion (4% margin of error with 95% confidence). When the euphemism “end the patient’s life by some painless means” is used, there was 27% opposition, with 3% expressing no opinion (5% margin of error with 95% confidence).

That same Gallup poll found 49% saying “doctor assisted suicide” was morally wrong to 45% saying it was morally acceptable.

A report on the poll is available at gallup.com

General information on the dangers of legalizing assisting suicide may be found at www.nrlc.org/MedEthics/ProtectingagainstDirectKilling.html .

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