Should a doctor be allowed to end a patient's life by painless means if the patient requests it? In the 1940s and 1950s, most Americans thought the practice should be illegal, but now 69 percent say it should be legal, according to a new study.
As many as 69 percent in the U.S. say physicians should be allowed to end patients' lives by painless means, and 51 percent say they would consider ending their own lives if they personally had a disease that could not be cured and they were living in severe pain, a new Values and Beliefs poll by Gallup found.
"When a person has a disease that cannot be cured, do you think doctors should be allowed by law to end the patient's life by some painless means if the patient and his or her family request it?" Gallup asked this question on telephone interviews conducted May 4-8, with a random sample of 1,025 adults, aged 18 and older, living in all 50 U.S. states and the District of Columbia.
Gallup also asked if doctor-assisted suicide is morally acceptable or morally wrong. A slight majority, or 53 percent, said the practice is morally acceptable.
In 2005, 59 percent said euthanasia is morally acceptable, perhaps due to the Terri Schiavo controversy at the time.
Schiavo was in an irreversible persistent vegetative state after suffering a cardiac arrest in 1990. In 1998, her husband argued in court that Schiavo would not have wanted to prolong her life with any artificial support without hope of recovery, and elected to remove her feeding tube. Her parents, on the other hand, argued in favor of continuing artificial nutrition and hydration and challenged Schiavo's medical diagnosis. Schiavo's feeding tube was removed five years later.
A majority of Americans have been in favor of doctors being legally permitted to end a patient's life if requested since 1973, and that percentage grew to 65 percent in 1990. "In the last 25 years, Americans have solidly been in favor of doctors having the ability to end patients' lives," with between 64 percent and 75 percent favoring the practice, the poll said.
The latest study comes after California joined Oregon, Washington, Vermont, Montana and New Mexico as the states to allow physician-assisted suicide, as a result of the case of Brittany Maynard, who was diagnosed with terminal brain cancer in California, where physicians previously were barred from prescribing medication to allow terminally ill people to end their lives. Maynard ended her life in Oregon, where the practice was legal.
"California, often a bellwether for change throughout the U.S., may persuade other states to consider passing legislation permitting physicians to allow terminally ill people to end their lives," Gallup said. "While Americans appear to be solidly comfortable with the practice, the nation is more divided on the moral acceptability of doctor-assisted suicide."
Christian leaders have spoken out against euthanasia.
As the Death-With-Dignity movement picks up political steam, the church cannot afford to sit idly by with so much at stake, said Russell D. Moore, president of the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission of the Southern Baptist Convention; C. Ben Mitchell, a biomedical ethicist who holds the Graves chair of moral philosophy at Union University; Joni Eareckson Tada, a longtime advocate for the disabled since becoming a quadriplegic 47 years ago; and Kara Tippetts, a 38-year-old mother of four suffering from terminal breast cancer, after Maynard's death.
They added that Christians must stand as passionately on behalf of the terminally ill as they have for the unborn, according to an article on the website of Billy Graham Evangelistic Association. Otherwise, human life will be further devalued, and European-style approaches to end-of-life issues could become commonplace in the U.S., including the practice of non-consensual euthanasia.