Dementia, euthanasia public opinion

A new study which has examined levels of support for euthanasia for people with dementia (otherwise referred to as Advance Request Euthanasia and Assisted Suicide (“AR-EAS”)) yet again confirms just how inadequate public polling on euthanasia really is.

In this latest study, initial support expressed by participants for AR-EAS dropped significantly after participants were exposed to different ethical and practical complexities associated with administering lethal injections to people suffering from dementia.

Originally, 54.4% of participants – or a slight majority – supported AR-EAS. After participants were exposed to some complex scenarios that accompany care for people with advanced dementia, majority support disappeared.

The scenarios that were presented to participants included the following:

  • Ambiguities in applying the ‘triggers’ for EAS stated in Advance Euthanasia Directives
  • Interpreting patient’s wishes and utterances after they become incompetent
  • Assessing unbearable suffering in patients unable to communicate
  • Various practical issues in the implementation of the EAS procedure itself.

The researchers concluded that:

“AR-EAS  … is a complicated practice with a myriad of distinct challenges. Such complexity may make eliciting well-considered public opinions on the topic difficult. Our study confirms this worry, suggesting that simply asking whether AR-EAS should be legal following a description of life with dementia may fail to capture the public’s considered views.  Future surveys on AR-EAS in dementia and other multifaceted topics should consider and address these complexities in their design.” [emphasis my own]

This is consistent with findings of other polls that go beyond asking simple questions that do little more than ask participants whether they support “motherhood” statements.

We know that when people are exposed to the arguments for and against euthanasia and assisted suicide, their support for the practice drops. 

In addition, we also know that the use of the misleading term ‘assisted dying’ by pro-euthanasia activists creates confusion and deliberately muddies the debate.  Many people mistakenly think that ‘assisted dying’ includes such things as turning off life support, do not resuscitate requests (no CPR requests) and the stopping of medical tests, treatments and surgeries. These things of course are already legally available and do not involve the deliberate taking of life.

These studies all reveal the shortcomings of public polling when it comes to complex issues surrounding euthanasia and assisted suicide.

The long-standing prohibition on doctors killing their patients exists for very good reason and we overturn it at our peril.