On November 7, 2000 in the State of Maine, promoters of assisted suicide waited with excitement concerning the results of a referendum on the Maine Death with Dignity Act. Polls throughout the Campaign assured the initiative sponsors that 70% of the voters in Maine supported assisted suicide and Maine would become the second State in the USA, after Oregon, to legalize assisted suicide.
The question voters in Maine were asked was: “Should a terminally ill adult who is of sound mind be allowed to ask for and receive a doctors help to die?” On election day 51% of the voters in Maine rejected the Death with Dignity Act.
On June 10, 2007; the Ipsos Reid polling company released a poll that was done between June 5 – 7, that included two questions related to assisted suicide. The result of the poll was that 71% of Canadians supported doctor-assisted suicide and 76% supported the concept of the “Right to Die”. The second question concerning the “Right to Die” is a bogus question due to the mixture of meaning related to the terminology.
In March 2005 the Euthanasia Prevention Coalition participated in an Angus Reid survey of 1122 participants from across Canada. Our polling found that the responses of Canadians differed based on the context of the assisted suicide question.
Our poll included a series of 10 questions whereby the first question we asked resulted in a similar support for assisted suicide as the current Ipsos Reid poll. When analyzing the first question we found that very few people strongly supported assisted suicide with nearly all of the support for assisted suicide falling into the somewhat support category. This was the same experience we had with our poll in 2001.
We then asked eight further questions related to disability rights, palliative care, promotion of suicide techniques, the need to protect vulnerable Canadians, etc., with the 10th question being a near restatement of the first question. The response to the 10th question was that: 45% of Canadians supported the legalization of assisted suicide, 39% of Canadians opposed the legalization of assisted suicide while 16% were undecided. In other words, when people have a chance to think about assisted suicide with respect to its related issues and societal impact the support drops.
Therefore the real support for euthanasia or assisted suicide can only be determined once it has been placed within a social context.
Similar to the Maine referendum in 2000, where all the polls indicated that Maine would become the second State in the USA to legalize assisted suicide, once people had the opportunity to analyze the issue in the context of its effect on society, that support for assisted suicide plummeted and 51% of the voters in Maine voted to maintain legal prohibitions to assisted suicide.
– Alex Schadenberg, Euthanasia Prevention Coalition