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Americans Side with Oregon Against Congress

August 1998

A national survey conducted by an independent research organization reveals that Americans overwhelmingly oppose the proposed legislation in Congress to prohibit doctors in Oregon and elsewhere from prescribing medication a terminally ill person can use to end life. 72% oppose this legislation and only 26% are in favor of it.

In a slightly different question, 75% oppose having Congress overturn Oregon's Death with Dignity Act, with just 19% supporting such an action. Even among those who oppose the Death with Dignity Act, 52% do not think Congress should overturn it. In a remarkable finding for the leaders in Congress, Republicans are even more opposed to Congressional intervention than are Democrats: 74% of Republicans think Congress should not overturn Oregon state law, compared to 72% of Democrats. Eighty-five percent of independents oppose Congress overturning the new law.

Asked if they agree or disagree with the statement, "Since Oregon voters overwhelmingly approved the state law allowing terminally ill patients in Oregon to get a prescription for medication to end life, Congress should respect the will of these voters and not try to overturn Oregon's law," fully 80% agreed. Republican men are especially likely to agree with this statement: 84% of Republican men agree, with just 14% who disagree.

Should Congress Practice Medicine?

Americans strongly believe that the decision about what is or is not appropriate medical practice should be left up to local doctors or the states, rather than the federal government. When asked to select which, from among four choices, is best qualified to make decisions about what medical options should be available only 7% answered "Congress," and only 3% named the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration. Twenty percent said state and local medical boards are the best qualified and 60% thought that individual doctors are the best qualified to make such decisions.

Fully 76% agree with the statement "It is not appropriate for Congress to get involved in regulating legal drugs prescribed by doctors to their patients." This includes 80% of Republicans, 79% of Democrats and Independents. Only 21% disagree.

Don't Interfere in Pain Management

If, as Hospice organizations and other experts predict, the Hyde/Nickels bill will deter doctors from providing all the pain medication that is appropriate, opposition to it becomes almost unanimous.

Ninety percent agree that "It should be up to local doctors and medical boards to decide what is appropriate treatment for the terminally ill, not the federal government." Only 8% disagree.

Americans are compassionate people. Ninety-three percent agree that "Physicians should be allowed to prescribe whatever medication they feel is necessary to alleviate the pain of terminally ill patients in their final days." A trivial 6% disagree with that statement.

Two to One Support for Assisted Dying

Americans express strong support for legalizing aid-in-dying. By more than a 2-1 margin -- 69% to 28% -- Americans support the right of terminally ill patients to receive help legally from physicians to end life. This finding is consistent with national survey data from numerous polling organizations over the years.

One new finding is that 66% of Americans would favor a law similar to Oregon's in their own state. A strong majority of people in all age groups, across genders and political parties hold this opinion. The figures cross all geographical boundaries as well, with surprisingly strong support for legalized assistance in dying in the Rocky Mountain, South and MidWest regions of the country.

Sixty-nine percent of Americans agree that "When a person is dying of a terminal disease, he should be allowed by law to request and receive help from his physician to end his life." Seventy percent of those who call themselves Independent, 68% of Democrats and 59% of Republicans agree with the statement. As might be expected, 73% along the Eastern seaboard and 71% on the Pacific Coast agree with the statement, but so do 66% in the Midwest, 68% in the South, and 63% in the Mountain states.

Finally, Americans are far more concerned about excessive government intervention in the decisions terminally ill people make on whether or not to end their life than they are about too little government involvement to protect the terminally ill. Seventy percent answered they were more concerned about too much government intervention. Just 22% were more concerned about government not being sufficiently involved to protect people from being killed against their will.

Spreading the Word

Compassion in Dying Federation joined two other organizations, Oregon Death with Dignity and the Death with Dignity National Center, in commissioning the poll and spearheading its distribution. Detailed results were provided to journalists and so far the Washington Post, the Portland Oregonian, the Christian Science Monitor and the Oregon Statesman Journal have given it prominent coverage. A summary of results appears on the Compassion in Dying Web site,

We believe it is important for every member of Congress to be well aware of the opinions of their constituents and to know how strongly HR 4006 and SB 2151 run counter to what Americans desire from their elected representatives.

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This article was provided by Compassion in Dying. It is a part of the publication Compassion in Dying.