NEW YORK--A recent Gallup opinion poll shows that Americans are split
on the issue of legalizing physician-assisted suicide, but strongly
favor hospice care. In the survey of 1,007 respondents, age 18 and
over, 70% said they would seek hospice care for themselves if they
were terminally ill. Half of the respondents said they favored
legalizing physician-assisted suicide, but only 35% said they would
choose it for themselves if they became terminally ill.
The survey, commissioned by the National Hospice Organization (NHO),
a hospice advocacy group, found that the biggest fear associated with
death was being a burden to friends and family, followed by fear of pain.
Women were more likely than men to say they would seek hospice care
and were also more knowledgeable about hospice care. Awareness of
hospice care was also higher among the more affluent and educated.
Two thirds of the respondents said they had hospice care in their
community. Those who lived in the Midwest were most likely to say
hospice care was available, and those who lived in the East or South
were least likely to say so.
The National Hospice Organization, founded in 1978 as a nonprofit,
At a press conference sponsored by the NHO, Michael Levy, MD, PhD,
director, Supportive Oncology Program and Pain Management Center, Fox
Chase Cancer Center, commented on the fact that 50% of the
respondents believed physician-assisted suicide should be legal, but
far fewer were willing to choose it for themselves if they were
"There's a real difference between wanting something to be legal
so that you can choose it versus actually wanting it. What we see
here is that the American public wants the freedom to choose,"
Dr. Levy said.
Experiencing hospice care can make terminally ill people change their
minds about committing suicide, said Marcia Lattanzi-Licht, RN, LPC,
co-founder of the Boulder County Hospice, Colorado.
"In my experience," she said, "people often say they
want physician-assisted suicide as an option, but when they are being
cared for by a hospice with adequate symptom relief--with all the
services that hospice provides plus the attention to the family--that
wish drops away. It is not brought up again because their concerns
are being adequately addressed."
Public support for physician-assisted suicide is nurtured by press
accounts of Dr. Jack Kevorkian's activities, Ms. Lattanzi-Licht said
in an interview with Oncology News International.
"The images of Kevorkian's patients are always of people in
extreme pain. The public is misled into thinking that terminally ill
people are always in pain. Yet pain is so treatable. Nobody gets to
read stories about people who die at home, without pain and with
their loved ones around them, thanks to hospice support."
Last year nearly 390,000 patients across the country received hospice
care, said Jay Mahoney, NHO president. "It remains the
overwhelming choice for comprehensive compassionate end-of-life
care," he said.