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Public attitudes on the issue of legalized physician-assisted suicide.

Surveys show a majority of Americans now favor legalizing physician-assisted suicide, a shift in attitude begun long before the controversies surrounding Dr. Jack Kervorkian and legalization in Oregon. Yet survey results reveal that the public is still wrestling with the implications of the right to die, with sharp divisions between demographic groups.

According to Gallup polls, the percentage of Americans who say physician-assisted suicide should be legal rose from 37 percent in 1947 to 61 percent in 1999. Yet the 1999 survey found fewer people who would choose that course for themselves. Forty percent told Gallup they would consider suicide if they were dying and in great pain, and the same number said they would help a terminally ill family member kill themselves, according to a November 1999 FOX News poll. Questions that use the word “suicide� get less support than questions that ask about “the wishes of a dying patient.�

Older Americans are less likely to favor legalization than younger ones (51 percent of those older than 65, compared with 62 percent between ages 18 and 29). Those who are more educated are more likely to be in favor of legalizing physician-assisted suicide (62 percent of college graduates, compared with 52 percent of high school graduates according to a January 1997 Newsweek poll). Minorities are dramatically more opposed, with 77 percent of blacks against it, according to a September 2000 Washington Post poll, compared with 41 percent of whites. Strong religious ties and social conservatism among minority groups might be possible reasons, or broader skepticism over the treatment of minorities by the health care system could be a factor.

Founded by the social scientist Daniel Yankelovich and former U.S. Secretary of State Cyrus R. Vance, Public Agenda is a national nonpartisan, nonprofit, public opinion and policy research organization based in New York. Visit its Web site at

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