The majority of Americans believe death with dignity is ‘morally acceptable,’ according to a new Gallup poll released last week about the moral acceptability of 19 different social issues.
Despite Gallup’s inaccurate question wording — which characterized the medical practice of ‘aid in dying’ as ‘doctor-assisted suicide,’ a term that has been shown to lower public approval — 52 percent of survey respondents still said the latter description of this choice was morally acceptable.
Increasingly, medical groups have adopted the more neutral term of aid in dying to describe death with dignity.
The nation’s largest public health organization, the American Public Health Association, supports “aid in dying,” recognizing that: “the term ‘suicide’ or ‘assisted suicide’ is inappropriate when discussing the choice of a mentally competent, terminally ill patient to seek medications that he or she could consume to bring about a peaceful and dignified death.”
The American College of Legal Medicine, American Medical Student Association and American Medical Women’s Association have all adopted similar policies, and The American Academy of Hospice and Palliative Medicine has adopted a policy of ‘studied neutrality’ (you can read their full position here).
Previous surveys demonstrate the importance of correct wording to describe death with dignity and aid in dying. In May 2013, Gallup found a 19-point difference in support for the issue, depending upon the question wording.
“In the same month that Vermont became the fourth state to legalize physician-assisted suicide, a May 2-7 Gallup survey finds 70% of Americans in favor of allowing doctors to hasten a terminally ill patient’s death when the matter is described as allowing doctors to ’end the patient’s life by some painless means.’ At the same time, far fewer — 51% — support it when the process is described as doctors helping a patient ’commit suicide’ …
“Americans generally favor allowing doctors to assist terminally ill patients in ending their lives, but the degree of support ranges from 51% to 70%, depending on how the process is described. A wording that refers to the patient’s intention to end his or her life as ‘suicide,’ doesn’t say family members are involved in the decision, and doesn’t specify that the procedure will involve ’painless means‘ produces lower support than the alternative wording.”