TO LIVE OR DIE

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Americans' approval of “medical� life-and-death topics — such as stem cell research and assisted suicide — hover around the 50 percent mark. Opinions on whether killing is always a crime (through homicide or suicide) are more polarized.

Despite their complexity, assisted suicide and euthanasia are both gaining acceptance. According to Gallup polls conducted over the past 55 years, Americans increasingly support euthanasia, though in the past five years support dipped and then rose again. In 1947, when asked, “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 family request it?� some 37 percent responded yes. This number increased to 53 percent by 1973 and to 75 percent in 1996. Support then fell to 65 percent in 2001 but rose to 72 percent in May 2002.

Of course, the issue of legality is quite different from the issue of moral acceptance. More Americans think that assisted suicide and euthanasia should be legal than believe they are morally acceptable, whether for personal, philosophical or religious reasons. In the same Gallup poll, only 50 percent of Americans in 2002 said that doctor-assisted suicide is morally acceptable. Doctor-assisted suicide is generally more accepted than euthanasia, which remains associated in many Americans' minds with the legacy of Nazism and other abuses of social Darwinism.

MATTERS OF LIFE AND DEATH

More Americans approve of the death penalty than condone doctor-assisted suicide.

Regardless of whether or not you think it should be legal, for each one, please tell me whether you personally believe that, in general, it is morally acceptable or morally wrong:

ACCEPTABLE WRONG DEPENDS ON SITUATION
Doctor-assisted suicide 50% 44% 4%
Abortion 38% 53% 8%
Death penalty 65% 28% 5%
Suicide 12% 83% 3%
Medical research using stem cells from human embryos 52% 39% 2%
Note: May not sum to 100% because not all answers are shown.
Source: Gallup, May 6-9, 2002
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