Shifting Attitudes toward Assisted Suicide

January 25, 2011

An online survey by Harris/BBC World News reveals a majority of Americans are in favor of the controversial choice.

A majority of American adults (70%) are supportive of the idea that terminally ill patients should have the right to choose to end their lives, and two-thirds of all adults think that doctors should be allowed to advise terminally ill patients on alternatives to medical treatment and/or ways to end their lives, according to a poll by Harris/BBC World News.

The survey also finds that a majority of people age 65 and older now have written directives regarding the type of care they would like to receive, or not to receive, at the end stages of their lives. Harris/BBC World News surveyed 2,340 adults online between August 19 and 23, 2010.

Below are some of the survey results:

- Most people (56% of all adults) know someone, living or dead, who has created written directives or documented instructions for the end stages of their lives

- Almost two-thirds (63%) of adults over age 65 have executed written directives

- More than two-thirds (70%) of all adults agree that people who are terminally ill, in great pain, and who have no chance of recovery should have the right to choose to end their lives. This includes a majority, but a smaller percentage (62%), of people over 65. Only 17% of the public disagree

- Two-thirds of all adults (67%) think that doctors should be allowed to advise terminally ill patients who request the information on alternatives to medical treatment and/or ways to end their lives. However only 27% think doctors should be able to do this in all cases, while 40% think this should happen only in "certain cases," that were not defined in this survey.

- A majority of adults say they support physician-assisted suicide for such patients.

The poll confirms that substantial majorities of the public now favor physician-assisted suicide, and the right of some terminally ill patients to commit suicide.

A recent poll of 10,000 physicians by Medscape in August-September 2010, revealed that 45.8% believe there are situations where physician-assisted suicide should be allowed, 40.7% do not, and 13.5% answered “It depends.” In 2005, 677 physicians were polled on physician-assisted suicide with the following results: 59% supported it, while 41% opposed it.

In creating the survey, figures for age, sex, race/ethnicity, education, region and household income were weighted where necessary to bring them into line with their actual proportions in the population. Propensity score weighting was also used to adjust for respondents' propensity to be online.

Respondents for the survey were selected from among those who have agreed to participate in Harris Interactive surveys. The data have been weighted to reflect the composition of the adult population. Because the sample is based on those who agreed to participate in the Harris Interactive panel, no estimates of theoretical sampling error can be calculated.

Source: Harris Interactive--

How do Physicians Match Up?

A recent poll of 10,000 physicians by Medscape in August-September 2010, revealed that 45.8% believe there are situations where physician-assisted suicide should be allowed, 40.7% do not, and 13.5% answered “It depends.” In 2005, 677 physicians were polled on physician-assisted suicide with the following results: 59% supported it, while 41% opposed it.

We want to know what you think!What role should doctors play when it comes to patients’ right to die and/or assisted suicide? Does your opinion on this matter change in cases involving terminally-ill patients?What are the key concerns and consequences of allowing physicians to discuss assisted suicide or other options with their terminally ill patients?Have you noticed an increase in the number of patients with written directives or documented instructions for end-of-life care?