New York - More than two-thirds of Americans believe there are circumstances in which a patient should be allowed to die, but they are closely divided on whether it should be legal for a doctor to help terminally ill patients end their own lives by prescribing fatal drugs, a new AP-Ipsos poll finds.
The results were released Tuesday, just days before euthanasia advocate Dr. Jack Kevorkian is freed from a Michigan prison after serving more than eight years for second-degree murder in the poisoning of a man with Lou Gehrig's disease.
And now California is considering a bill which permit, as in Oregon, physicians to assist in the suicide of their patients.
California's Legislature is advancing a proposal modeled after Oregon's law permitting patients diagnosed with six months or less to live to take lethal pills prescribed by their doctor.
The issue has stirred emotion from the Capitol to the pulpits, with supporters casting it as a matter of personal choice and opponents saying it is an immoral compromise of the sanctity of life and a doctors' oath to do no harm.
The two sides agree on this much: If California legalizes physician-assisted suicide, it will prompt many other states to follow suit and perhaps even prepare the way for a national law.
At the root of the efforts are misguided attempts to help the terminally ill. Under treated pain, depression, the feeling of abandonment, loss of dignity and the loss of a joyful existence lead many to consider suicide. Clearly all of these conditions are manageable and a truly compassionate response from family, friends and caregivers would be aimed at alleviating physical and psychological suffering. Physicians have a responsibility to resist attempts at legalizing suicide and work to educate the public about truly charitable care of the terminally ill.