Poll: Most Californians Favor 'Right to Die' for Terminally Ill

A majority of Californians favor a bill that would allow terminally ill patients to end their own lives with a lethal prescription, according to a new Field Poll.

The survey, the results of which were reported by the Sacramento Bee, found that 57 percent of California adults support Assembly Bill 651, which would allow doctors to prescribe lethal medication to patients who have been declared mentally competent and terminally ill by two physicians. The poll also found that 70 percent of adults supported the general idea of allowing people to terminate their own lives.

According to Field Poll director Mark DiCamillo, Californians have consistently expressed strong support for assisted suicide in polls since at least 1979.

"It's a personal kind of decision," he told the Bee. "People generally have come to their views, and we haven't seen much attitude shift in all the years we've measured it."

DiCamillo said Californians were more likely to favor the general concept than a specific bill because they might have concerns about whether the legislation had enough safeguards to prevent terminally ill people from ending their lives because of depression or outside pressure.

"I think there might be some caution about the potential for abuse, that people would have too much latitude in ending their own lives," he added.

The Field Poll, taken in February, also showed that the percentage of people who said they would want a doctor to help them die if they were terminally ill themselves dropped to 62 percent, from 68 percent last year.

The authors of Assembly Bill 651 – Assembly members Patty Berg (D-Eureka) and Lloyd Levine (D-Van Nuys) – meanwhile are hoping it will garner enough support to pass in the wake of a recent U.S. Supreme Court decision that cleared the way for states to legalize assisted suicide. The measure failed to gain enough support to pass last year, in part because the Supreme Court decision was pending.

The recent poll also comes ahead of the one-year anniversary of the death of Terri Schiavo, whose right-to-life case galvanized the nation, and as a panel reviewing the case of a 12-year-old brain-damaged girl who was also at the center of a right-to-life fight found a series of errors in her care.