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In U.S., Support Up for Doctor-Assisted Suicide

Nearly seven in 10 people approve, Gallup survey shows

Nearly seven in 10 Americans (68%) say doctors should be legally allowed to assist terminally ill patients in committing suicide –– up 10 percentage points from last year, according to a new Gallup poll. Support for euthanasia has risen nearly 20% in the last 2 years and stands at the highest level in more than a decade, the report states.

These results come from Gallup’s Values and Beliefs survey, conducted from May 6 to May 10. Typically, most Americans have supported physician-assisted suicide for certain types of medical patients, although the magnitude of the support ebbs and flows. In 2001, support for physician-assisted suicide mirrored the current peak –– 68% –– and remained slightly below that level for the ensuing decade.

Possibly in response to the accusations of “death panels” that arose during the acrimonious debate surrounding passage of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, support dropped to bare-majority levels throughout much of President Barack Obama’s first term, Gallup says. Public support for euthanasia fell to a low of 51% in 2013 before rebounding to 58% last year.

This year, Gallup found an uptick in support for euthanasia after last year’s high-profile story of 29-year-old Brittany Maynard. Dying from terminal brain cancer, Maynard left her home state of California, where physicians are barred from assisting suicide, and ended her life in Oregon, where the practice is legal. Partly in response to this well-publicized story, the California state legislature is considering a bill that would legalize doctor-assisted suicide.

The larger effect that Maynard’s story will have is uncertain, Gallup says, but some notable changes in support are evident compared with last year. The percentage of young adults (18 to 34 years of age) who support doctor-assisted suicide climbed 19 points this year, to 81%. Young adults are now significantly more likely than older U.S. adults to support doctor-assisted suicide.

Meanwhile, support for physician-assisted suicide increased among the major political affiliations, suggesting no partisan tilt to these changing views.

Gallup has also trended a different version of this question that does not mention the word “suicide” but instead asks about doctors being allowed by law to “end the patient’s life by some painless means.” Americans have historically responded more favorably to the latter wording than the former. This year, both question wordings registered nearly identical support.

Most Americans also said that “doctor-assisted suicide” is “morally acceptable”–– an increase of seven points since 2001. The morality of doctor-assisted suicide has historically been among the most contentious of several moral issues that Gallup has tracked since 2001.

The results for this Gallup poll were based on telephone interviews conducted on May 6–10, 2015, with a random sample of 1,024 adults (aged 18 years and older) living in all 50 U.S. states and the District of Columbia.

Source: Gallup; May 28, 2015.

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