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STRONG SUPPORT FOR “AID IN DYING” BILL
ASSISTED SUICIDE “MORALLY ACCEPTABLE,” RUTGERS-EAGLETON POLL FINDS
NEW BRUNSWICK, N.J. – As the “Aid in Dying for the Terminally Ill Act” awaits a vote in the state Senate, almost two-thirds (63 percent) of New Jerseyans support the measure, according to a new Rutgers-Eagleton Poll. The bill, which allows terminally ill patients to obtain prescription drugs to end their lives and was passed by the state Assembly in November, is opposed by 29 percent of residents. Eight percent have no opinion.
Furthermore, regardless of their personal feelings on the legality of assisted suicide, 63 percent believe that ending one’s own life is morally acceptable for the terminally ill. Thirty-two percent consider such a measure morally unacceptable.
While Gov. Chris Christie has expressed “grave concerns” over the bill, 58 percent of Republicans, as well as 64 percent of both Democrats and independents, favor the proposed legislation.
“This is not really a partisan issue in New Jersey,” said Ashley Koning, manager of the Rutgers-Eagleton Poll. “Though a difficult subject for many, the issue has widespread support and acceptance here. Public opinion is mainly on the bill’s side.”
Sixty-three percent also say that if they had a life-threatening illness, they would rather relieve pain and discomfort, even if it meant not living as long, while 29 percent would choose the alternative – living a longer life even if it meant more pain. When the poll last explored the subject in 2000, 70 percent of residents sided with the former and 20 percent with the latter.
Results are from a statewide poll of 813 residents contacted by live callers on both landlines and cell phones from Feb. 3-10, 2015, with a margin of error of +/-4.1 percentage points. Interviews were done in both English and, when requested, Spanish.
Differences by religious devotion, not denomination, spur opposition
While New Jerseyans generally support the “Aid in Dying” bill and express both moral acceptance of and personal agreement with the idea of self-determination, religion is a significant factor among dissenters. It is not so much one’s particular denomination – more than six in 10 Catholics, Protestants and other denominations support the bill and find the issue morally acceptable – but rather the frequency with which residents practice their religion.
The most devout are the strongest opponents: half of residents who attend religious services at least weekly oppose the bill, while 40 percent support it. Views reverse among those who attend religious services less frequently: among those who attend services once to a few times a month, 59 percent are in favor of the bill, while 73 percent of those who seldom or never attend religious services support it. “Born again” or evangelical Christians are also less likely to support the bill than others; 52 percent favor the proposed legislation and 41 percent oppose it.
Patterns are similar for moral acceptance. Fifty-seven percent of the most devout say ending one’s own life due to terminal illness is morally wrong, but 57 percent who attend religious services less frequently and 76 percent who seldom or never attend say the act is morally acceptable. Half of born again Christians believe the act to be morally wrong. Forty-one percent feel the opposite.
If personally faced with a terminal illness, a majority of New Jerseyans of all denominations and levels of religiosity would prefer to relieve pain and discomfort, even if that meant shortening their life – though to varying degrees. Catholics (64 percent) and other non-Protestant residents (59 percent) are slightly less likely than Protestants (73 percent) to prefer less pain if diagnosed with a life-threatening illness if the tradeoff meant a shorter life. Those who seldom or never attend religious services are eight points more likely than those who attend to prefer reduced pain and discomfort despite possible life-shortening consequences.
Bill support, moral acceptance, and personal choice intertwined
Views on the legality, acceptance and personal preference of ending life if terminally ill are related. Those who believe taking such action is morally wrong are overwhelmingly against the bill – 76 percent oppose, 20 percent support. New Jerseyans who find the act morally acceptable feel just the opposite, with even greater intensity: 89 percent are in favor, versus just 6 percent who oppose. Residents who would endure pain and discomfort to prolong life if faced with a similar situation are much less likely than those who would ease pain to support the bill (52 percent versus 69 percent).
Likewise, 88 percent of bill supporters find the act of taking one’s own life due to terminal illness morally acceptable, and 69 percent of this group would relieve pain and discomfort even if it meant a shorter life. Among bill opponents, 84 percent say the act is morally wrong. However, they still opt to relieve pain instead of extend life by a 53 percent to 41 percent margin. Those who find the act morally wrong are more split on the subject – 45 percent would extend life and 51 percent would relieve pain – while 69 percent of those who say it is morally acceptable would do the latter.
“The evidence is clear that while most New Jerseyans support the ‘Aid in Dying’ bill in New Jersey, personal religious and moral grounds drive those who oppose it,” noted Koning. “The more deep-seated one’s moral views and practices, the more they are against the idea.”
Other key demographics contribute to differences
While religion is a driving factor, other group differences do exist, many of which may be related to differences in religiosity across groups. Nonwhite residents are less likely to support the bill; a plurality of 49 percent do so, compared to 72 percent of white residents. Forty-nine percent of nonwhite residents say ending life if terminally ill is morally acceptable, while 44 percent say it is wrong. Seventy-two percent of whites, on the other hand, say it is morally acceptable, while 24 percent say the opposite. Nonwhite residents are 10 points less likely than white residents to say they would prefer to relieve pain even if it meant not living as long, 57 percent versus 67 percent.
Support for the bill, moral acceptance, and personal preference on the issue increase with income and education.
Just over half of conservatives oppose the bill and think ending life is morally wrong – though six in 10 would still relieve pain at the risk of shortening life if faced with a similar situation.
While there is little difference by age on the bill or on moral acceptance, desire to relieve pain, even if it would shorten life, is preferred more as residents grow older. Three-quarters of senior citizens would choose this option, compared to just over half of those under 30.