Trends in Public Opinion: A Compendium of Survey Data

By Richard G. Niemi; John Mueller et al. | Go to book overview
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10
Death and Dying

Ethical, medical, legal, and even economic studies of health care (e.g., Abrams and Buckner, 1983; VanDeVeer and Regan, 1987) have become de rigueur in programs of medicine, nursing, public policy, and philosophy. Attitudinal aspects--in the sense of informed consent of patients and relatives--play an important role in these discussions. Yet considered more broadly, public opinion has been measured and explored very little--at least in regard to death and dying. (Attitudes about abortion have been studied more extensively; see chapter 9.)

Fortunately, of the items now available, two were first asked forty years ago. To be sure, the direction of change simply verifies what what we might already suspect--that currently there is more sympathy for euthanasia when a patient has an incurable disease. What is far less obvious is how prevalent such views were years ago. As far back as 1947, nearly 40 percent of the population felt that doctors should be allowed to end a patient's life in the circumstances described in Table 10.1 and nearly 50 percent in the circumstances described in Table 10.2. (See also the response to a question about "mercy deaths" asked by Gallup in the 1930s; Ostheimer, 1980.)

As limited as the time series on euthanasia is, it shows two distinct changes and one unchanging result.1 First, the percentage who would allow euthanasia has increased dramatically, with similar degrees of change over the first twenty- five years and the last fifteen. Second, there is a declining difference between the percentage who would allow euthansia

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1
The apparent crystallization of opinion--the decline in the proportion of DK responses in Table 10.1--may be a simple "house effect." NORC surveys tend to record fewer "don't know" responses.

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