Since World War II, attitudes have changed dramatically
The latest Gallup poll shows that a broad majority of Americans, 72%, continue to believe that a doctor should be legally allowed, at a patient's and a family's request, to end a terminally ill patient's life using painless means.
The level of support depends on the wording of the question. The Gallup poll describes euthanasia, but does not use the word.
Men, young adults, Democrats and liberals are especially likely to approve of legally and painlessly ending a terminally ill patient's life. Support drops below a majority only among weekly churchgoers.
Opinions have changed dramatically since Gallup first gauged the public's attitudes about euthanasia in 1947 and 1950. At that point, 37% supported legally and painlessly ending a terminally ill patient's life. But by 1973, when the question was next asked, a 53% majority were in favour.
Since 1990, support, at least for Gallup’s wording of the question, has not dipped below 64% and has been as high as 75%.
Gallup asks a separate question about doctor-assisted suicide. And although this has legal backing in some states, it receives less public support in Gallup's polling than euthanasia, possibly because the question contains the phrase “commit suicide.” The euthanasia question uses the language “end the patient's life by some painless means,” which is less confronting and more ambiguous.
Gallup has measured Americans' views of doctor-assisted suicide since 1996, and in most years, support for it has been slightly lower than for euthanasia, though it has never fallen below 51%. Currently, 65% of Americans think doctors should be legally allowed to assist a patient in dying by suicide.
Support for doctor-assisted suicide varies less by subgroup than support for euthanasia. The most notable subgroup differences for physician-assisted suicide are by ideology and frequency of church attendance.
A slim majority of self-identified conservatives (51%) think assisted suicide should be legal, compared with 79% of liberals. As is the case with euthanasia, less than half of weekly churchgoers (41%) support assisted suicide.
Again, liberals (71%) and infrequent churchgoers (69%) are much more likely than their conservative (39%) and weekly churchgoing (26%) counterparts to say doctor-assisted suicide is morally acceptable. Catholics and Protestants are evenly divided.
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