A majority of Arizonans want the ability to get a prescription allowing them to end their own lives if they are terminally ill, according to a new poll.
And the older the person, the greater the desire.
The survey of 700 adult heads of households found 63 percent of those 55 and older support a proposal that would allow a doctor to prescribe a lethal drug to those who physicians conclude are terminally ill and mentally competent. Younger respondents favored the plan by smaller margins.
Pollster Earl de Berge of the Behavior Research Center said this is not physician-assisted suicide.
It is modeled after a similar law in Oregon that the U.S. Supreme Court upheld nearly a decade ago. That requires the person be physically able to administer the medication, either orally or by injection.
But Ron Johnson, who lobbies on behalf of the state’s three Catholic bishops, said that does not make the proposal any more acceptable.
He acknowledged that this proposal is for cases where, presumably, there is nothing left to do and death is inevitable.
“But even in those stages there’s much that can be done in modern medicine in terms of palliative care and making someone comfortable presumably, hopefully, in their last days,” Johnson said.
“I don’t think that word gets out because the drumbeat that goes around with regard to assisted suicide often dwarfs that,” he said. “And that’s kind of sad because there’s more legitimate ways to deal with pain and suffering than just death.”
There were several efforts last decade to approve such a proposal. But the last time the issue got a hearing was in 2003.
In fact, Arizonans for Death with Dignity faded into obscurity and its chief lobbyist, Tucsonan Earl Wettstein, died two years ago.
The national Death with Dignity organization reports five states do have right-to-die laws: Oregon, Washington, California and Vermont with legislation and Montana by right of a court decision.
None of that makes it right, according to Cathi Herrod of the Center for Arizona Policy. She echoed Johnson’s views that the focus should be on making people comfortable.
And Herrod said she’s not swayed by a requirement that two physicians certify a person is terminally ill within a specified period.
“We all know someone who was given a supposedly terminally ill diagnosis who lived beyond the time, with a quality of life, beyond the diagnosis indicated,” she said.
“Man knows not his time,” Herrod continued, quoting from Ecclesiastes.
And what of financial costs?
Johnson said that’s a different issue than assisted suicide. Instead it involves what might be classified as medical heroics.
“When you’re talking about palliative care, making someone comfortable, it doesn’t mean that someone has to go to every single extreme to keep themselves alive, beyond the basics, especially in their last days,” he said. “But it certainly doesn’t mean we should be effectively killing them.”
Pollster de Berge said that, state law or not, the practice probably already is going on as terminally ill patients purposely take an overdose of medications they have on hand.
“It makes legal what people already are doing in effect,” he said.
The difference, de Berge said, may be the role the doctor plays.
“If you ever ask your doctor, ‘What pills would I take to commit suicide?’ they probably would say,
‘Gee, I’d rather not provide that information,’ he said. What change this would make, de Berge said, is that a patient might get information on how to end his or her life both in an effective way and without additional pain.
Age breakdown aside, de Berge found the strongest support for such a law among Democrats, by a margin of better than four to one. Republicans were statistically evenly divided.
Gender apparently made no real difference in support.
Q: Do you favor or oppose a proposed law that would allow terminally ill persons to end their own lives provided that two doctors certify that the person is terminally ill and is mentally competent. The new law would also require that the ill person administer the lethal drug themselves orally or via injection. In this way the patient would be in total control of their end of life decision
Group / Favor / Oppose / Not sure
Statewide / 56% / 31% / 13%
Maricopa / 58% / 30% / 12%
Pima / 56% / 29% / 15%
Balance of state / 53% / 32% / 15%
Under 35 / 50% / 32% / 18%
35 to 54 / 56% / 34% / 10%
55 or older / 63% / 25% / 12%
Democrats / 72% / 20% / 8%
Independents / 65% / 27% / 8%
Republicans / 43% / 45% / 12%
Based on 700 interviews with heads of households by Behavior Research Center, including 577 registered voters, conducted between Oct. 24 and Nov. 5. Margin of error is 3.8 percent.