MORGANTOWN, W.Va. — Nearly seven in every ten Americans support physician-assisted suicides for terminally ill patients, according to the most recent Gallup Values and Beliefs survey.
That percentage, 68 percent, is up by ten points compared with 2014 polling results.
“I think it’s a sad statement on the quality of care that patients and families have been receiving from physicians,” said Dr. Alvin Moss, director of West Virginia University’s Center for Health Ethics and Law, of the survey’s results on Monday’s MetroNews “Talkline.”
The question asked was this: “When a person has a disease that cannot be cured and is living in severe pain, do you think doctors should or should not be allowed by law to assist the patient to commit suicide if the patient requests it?”
Moss claimed the question applied to a minority of patients.
“I think it did tend to lead people toward thinking, ‘Well, if they’re in severe pain, they’re dying, then the only thing left would be to put them out of their pain,'” he said.
“But I’d like to think that Americans aren’t going to only be left with that option.”
“Consistent with changing attitudes related to a number of once-controversial social issues, the number of U.S. adults supporting physician-assisted suicide now ties the highest level seen in more than a decade and represents a rebound in support after it receded early this decade,” the Gallup survey said.
It concluded, “Even the use of the word ‘suicide’ in the description of medical euthanasia appears not to have tempered national support, a break from past years when its inclusion seemed to make some difference in national perceptions.”
The support of physician-assisted suicide has not been consistent in recent years. In 2013, for example, 51 percent of those questioned said they supported such an option for people who are dying.
Moss has long been an advocate for better palliative care, including improved end-of-life pain management. “I would like to encourage physicians to become better and better at addressing the whole person and all of their needs, rather than having people think that the only option that they have is to end their life,” he said.
Such assistance with death is illegal in West Virginia.
Physician-assisted suicide is legal in Vermont, Oregon and Washington. Time Magazine reported the laws in those states include protocols.
A court ruling allowing for physician-assisted suicide in New Mexico is currently under appeal.
In Montana, a court ruling established protections for doctors who write lethal medication prescriptions at requests of terminally ill patients.
The Gallup Values and Beliefs survey was conducted in early May and included 1,024 randomly sampled adults from all 50 states.