Public Opinion About Life and Death - Physician-assisted Suicide
gallup law act oregon
Many advocates of physician-assisted suicide believe that people who are suffering from uncontrollable pain should be allowed to end their lives with a lethal dose of medication prescribed by their physician. Dr. Marcia Angell, for example, former executive editor of The New England Journal of Medicine, claims that "those with cancer, AIDS, and other neurologic disorders may die by inches and in great anguish, despite every effort of their doctors and nurses." She believes that if all possible palliative efforts have failed to provide pain relief, then physician-assisted suicide should be permitted.
In the United States public opinion changed only slightly with regard to physician-assisted suicide between 2001 and 2004, hovering between 62% and 68% of respondents to Gallup Values and Beliefs polls (see Figure 11.7) supporting physician-assisted suicide. In 2005 the percentage dropped to 58%. Results of the same polls show that, in general, a greater percentage of Americans support euthanasia—allowing a doctor to end the life of a patient who is suffering from an incurable disease and wants to die, without requiring the patient to administer the drugs to him- or herself. Figure 11.7 shows that support for euthanasia has increased considerably since the 1940s.
When the results of the May 2005 Gallup Values and Beliefs poll are analyzed by gender, more men than women support euthanasia (84% vs. 66%, respectively) and doctor-assisted suicide (64% vs. 53%, respectively). In addition, Protestants and Catholics are more supportive of both procedures than are Evangelical Christians, and Democrats are more supportive of them than are Republicans.
Oregon Physician-Assisted Suicide Law
In 1994 Oregon became the first jurisdiction in the world to legalize physician-assisted suicide when that state passed its Death with Dignity Act. Under the act, Oregon law permits physician-assisted suicide for patients with less than six months to live. Patients must request physician assistance three times, receive a second opinion from another doctor, and wait fifteen days to allow time to reconsider.
Before the Death with Dignity Act could take effect, opponents of the law succeeded in obtaining an injunction against it. Three years later, in November 1997, Oregon's legislature let the voters decide whether to repeal or retain the law. Voters reaffirmed the Death with Dignity Act. In August 1997, Oregon's legislature let the voters decide whether to repeal or retain the law. Voters reaffirmed the Death with Dignity Act. In August 1997, prior to voters' reaffirmation of the law, about seven in ten people (69%) surveyed by the Harris Poll indicated they would approve of a similar law allowing physician-assisted suicide in their state. Asked again in 2001 whether they would favor or oppose such a law in their own state, 61% of respondents indicated they favored such legislation.
Using Federally Controlled Drugs for Assisted Suicide
After the Death with Dignity Act took effect in November 1997, Thomas Constantine of the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) announced that "delivering, dispensing, or prescribing a controlled substance with the intent of assisting a suicide" would be a violation of the federal Controlled Substances Act (PL 91-513). Then Attorney General Janet Reno overruled Constantine.
In November 2001 U.S. Attorney General John Ashcroft overturned Reno's ruling in an attempt to again allow the DEA to act against physicians who prescribe lethal doses of controlled substances under Oregon's physician-assisted suicide law. In December 2001 the Harris Poll asked adults nationwide whether they considered Attorney General Ashcroft's effort to overrule the proposition right or wrong. More than half of respondents (58%) believed his action was wrong. On April 17, 2002, U.S. District Judge Robert E. Jones agreed, noting that "to allow an attorney general—an appointed executive …—to determine the legitimacy of a particular medical practice … would be unprecedented and extraordinary." Jones's ruling reaffirmed the Death with Dignity Act. The Justice Department appealed the ruling to the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals. On May 26, 2004, the court upheld Jones's ruling against Ashcroft.
In February 2005 the U.S. Supreme Court agreed to hear the Bush administration's challenge to Oregon's physician-assisted suicide law. The debate of this issue began in October 2005 in the High Court.