More Than Two-Thirds of State Residents Support Physician-Assisted Suicide, Poll Finds
About 70% of California residents support the idea that "incurably ill patients have the right to ask for and get life-ending medication," according to a Field Poll released Wednesday, the AP/Fresno Bee reports (AP/Fresno Bee, 3/2). The survey included responses from 503 state residents between Feb. 8 and 17.
The survey found that 22% of respondents do not support physician-assisted suicide and 8% said they are undecided. In addition, the survey showed that about 68% of respondents said they would want the option of physician-assisted suicide if they learned they would die within six months, while 28% said they would not want that option and 4% said they were undecided (Hubbell, San Francisco Chronicle, 3/2).
According to the survey:
- 77% of Democrats and 64% of Republicans support physician-assisted suicide;
- 63% of Protestants are in favor of the practice;
- 65% of Catholics support it;
- 83% of respondents who were of "other" religions support assisted suicide (AP/Fresno Bee, 3/2).
Assembly members Lloyd Levine (D-Van Nuys) and Patty Berg (D-Santa Rosa) last month introduced legislation (AB 654) that would legalize physician-assisted suicide in California. The measure is based on a 1997 Oregon law that currently is being challenged in the U.S. Supreme Court.
Under the Levine/Berg bill, some terminally ill patients would be able to receive lethal prescriptions after a series of patient-doctor consultations that generally last a minimum of two weeks (San Francisco Chronicle, 3/2).
Although support for assisted suicide has not dropped below 64% among California voters since 1979 and has been at least 70% in four Field Polls taken since 1995, Californians rejected a ballot measure in 1992 that would have legalized the practice (Sacramento Bee, 3/2). In addition, a 1999 bill to legalize the practice stalled in the Legislature despite public support (San Francisco Chronicle, 3/2).
Field Poll Director Mark DiCamillo said, "There was very low awareness of the  ballot measure -- and that's one of the reasons why it was defeated. A grassroots campaign dug its heels in at the very end and was able to tip people's initial support to the opposition."
Wayne Johnson, a Republican consultant working with those who oppose the bill, said he expects a similar outcome this year (Sacramento Bee, 3/2).
Tim Rosales, a spokesperson for Californians Against Assisted Suicide, said that "this is not the time to be dealing with this type of legislation, especially when you have a number of things on the table in California at a crisis level in our health care system and in our state budget" (San Francisco Chronicle, 3/2).
DiCamillo said, "There is majority support, regardless of party affiliation and with all other major subgroups. There's slightly more support among certain religious denominations, but even there, the majority are supportive" (Sacramento Bee, 3/2).
The poll is available online. Note: You must have Adobe Acrobat Reader to view the results.
Standards for physician-assisted suicide "need to be high, reasonable and difficult to meet" because it "involves a process that most of mankind has historically rejected," according to an Oakland Tribune editorial. The editorial continues, "Aided suicide is one of those monumental issues that should be debated publicly." The Legislature should decide whether to put an assisted suicide measure on the ballot because "doctor-assisted suicide is an issue the people of California should decide," the editorial concludes (Oakland Tribune, 2/27).This is part of the California Healthline Daily Edition, a summary of health policy coverage from major news organizations. Sign up for an email subscription.