Poll Finds Strong Support for Physician-Assisted Suicide
A majority of U.S. adults support the right to euthanasia and physician-assisted suicide and believe that Attorney General John Ashcroft was wrong to block the Oregon proposition allowing the latter practice, according to a new Harris poll. In the survey of 1,011 adults conducted last month, 65% of respondents agreed that the "law should allow doctors to comply with the wishes of a dying patient in severe distress who asks to have his or her life ended." In addition, 63% disapproved of the 1997 Supreme Court ruling that Americans do not have a constitutional right to physician-assisted suicide. And 61% said they would be in favor of a law similar to Oregon's Death with Dignity Act if it was proposed in their state, while 34% would not (Harris release, 1/9). The act, approved by voters in 1994 and 1997, allows doctors to prescribe, but not administer, lethal drugs to a terminally ill patient after two physicians agree that the patient has less than six months to live, has chosen to die voluntarily and is capable of making health care decisions. In November, Ashcroft ruled that the Drug Enforcement Agency has the legal authority to revoke the prescription licenses of doctors who participate in an assisted suicide using federally controlled substances. The move effectively overturned the Oregon law, the first of its kind in the country (California Healthline, 11/7/01). When read a detailed description of Ashcroft's decision, 58% of respondents said he was wrong. Harris concludes: "No matter which questions are asked, there is a strong, approximately two-to-one majority in favor of an individual's right to euthanasia and physician-assisted suicide" (Harris release, 1/9).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.