Study: Most people don’t know what ‘assisted suicide’ actually means

euthanasia, assisted suicide

As legislatures around the world grapple with the question of assisted suicide, proponents often claim majority support for legalizing it. But a study from New Zealand reveals that many people do not actually know what legalized assisted suicide entails.

The study from Curia Market Research surveyed 894 New Zealanders and found that many people confuse assisted suicide with medical practices that are already legal and widely available. For example, news outlet Scoop notes, “66% of respondents thought assisted dying includes the removal of life support,” and “only 68% thought that ‘assisted dying’ includes receiving deadly drugs by injection.”

Removal of life support, when requested by the rightful medical decisionmaker, represents a lawful refusal of medical treatment. Assisted suicide requires the active participation of a physician or other medical professional in administering or prescribing a lethal injection or pill that causes a patient’s death.

The survey also showed a majority of respondents thought it included “the stopping of medical tests, treatment and surgeries,” “making a ‘Do Not Resuscitate’ request,” and “receiving as much medication as needed to treat pain and other symptoms.” Again, the former two items represent the refusal of medical treatment, which is already legal, and the latter is appropriate palliative care, which is, of course, legal.

Further analysis of the survey shows that if a respondent strongly favored legalized assisted suicide, he or she was more likely to be confused about the meaning of it. Of respondents who strongly supported it, 85% thought assisted dying included turning off life support.

The survey told respondents that the bill proposed in New Zealand would legalize assisted dying by lethal drugs only, and support for assisted suicide dropped from 62% to 55%, those opposed to it increased from 22% to 26%, and respondents who were unsure or refused to answer nearly doubled, from 6% to 11%.

Commenting on the poll, Renée Joubert, executive officer of Euthanasia-FreeNZ, said, “This groundbreaking poll challenges the validity of most other polls on the issue. It shows that support for euphemisms such as ‘assisted dying’, ‘aid in dying’ or ‘assistance to end their life’ should not be taken as support for a law change.”

In Canada, the Euthanasia Prevention Coalition found similar poll results before assisted suicide became legal. EPC executive director, Alex Schadenberg, wrote that their polling focused on the effects of legal assisted suicide on vulnerable populations and unintended consequences of the law. These questions resulted in a similar drop in support for it over the course of the survey. Schadenberg wrote, “In other words, when people have a chance to think about assisted suicide with respect to its related issues within societal context then the support for assisted suicide drops.”

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