THE BOTTOM LINE

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  • While the majority of Americans apparently support assisted suicide and euthanasia, the fact that the wording of survey questions seems to greatly influence their opinion implies that many people's views on the subject are not clearly formed or firm. As with abortion, opinion seems to fall into gray areas, where certain situations hold sway (e.g., the extent of legal safeguards, the role of family members, the extent of a patient's pain or life expectancy, etc.), rather than into black and white areas.
  • Americans are most likely to base their opinion about these issues on their religious belief and on personal experience. A 2001 poll by the Pew Research Center shows 27 percent identifying religious belief as the biggest influence on their opinion, 24 percent saying personal experience, 13 percent saying the media, 11 percent their education and 8 percent friends' and family's views.
  • Both practices are gaining acceptance, internationally and stateside. In 2001, the Netherlands became the first country to legalize voluntary euthanasia. A January 2002 Gallup poll found that 79 percent of Canadians said yes when asked, “When a person has an incurable disease that is immediately life-threatening and causes that person to experience great suffering, do you or do you not think that competent doctors should be allowed by law to end the patient's life through mercy killing, if the patient has made a formal request in writing?â€? (Note, however, that the very high rate of acceptance can be attributed to the very specific phrasing of the question as well as to the use of the term “mercy killingâ€? in place of “euthanasiaâ€? or “suicide,â€? which might likely have set off alarms and led to lower acceptance.)
  • Americans don't think Oregon's Death with Dignity Act should be overturned. In a December 2001 Harris Interactive poll, nearly 6 in 10 say it's wrong for U.S. Attorney General John Ashcroft to challenge that law.
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