Zurich (pts006/29.11.2012/07:45) - Swiss Medical Lawyers Association publishes representative poll results by isopublic Gallup
The citizens of the European Union are demanding - with large majorities in most cases - that their countries make assisted suicide possible in the same way as it is in the Benelux countries and Switzerland, for example. In Spain and Germany, 78% and 77% respectively of those surveyed said they could see themselves making use of assisted suicide at some point, while the lowest number in favour was in Greece, which all the same showed a majority of 56%. The threat of punishment by law for professional assisted suicide was clearly rejected by 82% of both Spaniards and Portuguese as well as by 76% of Germans. The position of the German Medical Association, which wants to completely prohibit doctors from performing assisted suicides, was rejected by 79% of Germans.
These findings and more resulted from a multinational on-line survey conducted by the Swiss opinion research institute Isopublic, which belongs to the worldwide research network of Gallup Inc., and was initiated by the Swiss Medical Lawyers Association (SMLA). It was the first survey of its kind to be conducted simultaneously in 12 European countries.
A minimum of 1,000 people each in Denmark, Germany, Finland, France, Greece, Great Britain, Ireland, Italy, Austria, Portugal, Sweden and Spain were surveyed from 24th September to 9th October 2012. This meant that the results are representative according to the principles of opinion research.
Clear support for self-determination
The first question asked if it would be right for each person to be able to choose for him- or herself when and how they want to die, or whether this should not be left up to the individual. A majority responded in favour of self-determination in all of the countries: Greece with 52% and the remaining countries with majorities from 71% (Denmark) to 87% (Germany). Interestingly enough, the responses varied very little across age groups.
The opinion of these majorities also corresponds to the ruling of the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg. On 20th January 2011, that court ruled that the right to decide for oneself when and how one wants to die is an integral part of the right to self-determination and is thus to be protected as a human right. On the other hand, criminal law in most European countries does not correspond to this opinion, as assisted suicide is subject to prosecution in most countries.
Making use of assisted suicide oneself?
The second question explored whether those surveyed could see themselves making use of assisted suicide at some point should they be suffering from an incurable, serious disease, severe disability or unendurable pain, or whether they would not consider such an option.
This question also received positive majorities in all of the countries: 56% of Greeks, 68% of Irish, up to 77% of Germans and 78% of Spaniards could see themselves making use of assisted suicide at some point if their health had deteriorated to such a degree. A significant difference among the responses to this question in the various age groups was only seen in France (75%). The under 34- and over 55-year-olds responded positively with 71%, while 82% of 35- to 54-year-olds answered in the affirmative.
Professional assisted suicide is desired
The objective of the third question was to determine whether assisted suicide should only be carried out with "professional help - that is, by a doctor or a trained suicide assistant" - or if assisted suicide should also be possible without professional help. The positive majorities in favour of professional help varied between 76% (Greece) and 89% (Sweden). The two countries with the most positive responses (Spain and Germany, the latter with 80%) also had the largest differences between the age groups. The younger the respondents, the greater were the desire for professional assisted suicide: under 34-year-olds 86% and 88%, 35- to 54-year-olds 74%-78%, over 54-year-olds 78% and 76%.
Threats of prosecution for professional assisted suicide strongly rejected
In all of the countries surveyed - with the exception of Germany - there are laws that threaten prosecution for assisted suicide. A motion from the German government that wants to declare "professional assistance for facilitating suicide" punishable by law is currently before the German Bundestag. The fourth question asked for opinions regarding such threats of prosecution. The answers here also revealed clear majorities against this type of state intervention, ranging from 58% (Sweden) to 82% (Spain and Portugal). The Germans rejected the planned law, which would introduce such prosecution, with a majority of 76%.
Doctors should be free to help if they choose to
The survey included a fifth point to determine whether doctors should be prohibited from being involved in any way with assisted suicide. Such an interference in a doctor's freedom to make decisions was rejected in all countries with a significant to large majority. People surveyed in Greece responded in support of doctors' freedom with 58%, while 84% of those in Great Britain were in favour of it. In Germany, where the German Medical Association is promoting a prohibition provision for the law of the medical profession, 79% of those surveyed rejected it.
Fear of possible pressure on the elderly and infirm?
The sixth question addressed the argument often raised by opponents of assisted suicide from church organizations, namely, if assisted suicide is allowed, it could cause the elderly and infirm to make use of assisted suicide in order not to be a burden on the system and their families. The question was asked "whether someone such as yourself could be put under pressure to choose suicide as quickly as possible". Respondents were able to choose one of four degrees of likelihood describing if they thought such pressure could be exercised: "often", "now and again", "seldom" and "practically never".
With the exception of Greece and Spain, the majority of respondents in all the countries described the probability of such pressure as unlikely.
Why do political parties not support assisted suicide?
Those surveyed in Germany were asked an additional question in light of the lack of serious political discussion of the issue of assisted suicide in their country for years, although the media addresses the topic. The question was to determine what could be the possible reason for why German political parties do not support making assisted suicide an option, as it is in four European countries. Respondents could formulate their answers freely and this resulted in the following percentages:
13% Fear of lost votes
13% Explosive, sensitive, difficult topic
12% Fear of positioning themselves / Fear of political responsibility
10% Fear of pressure from the church
9% Cowardliness of the parties
8% Fear of Germany's past history, "euthanasia" in the Third Reich
7% Fear of potential abuse
6% Moral & ethical problem / Reasons of conscience / Human life is inviolable
6% Contrary to the German Constitution, legal grey area
6% Taboo topic
5% Political opinion is not required in this area
Assisted suicide as an election campaign topic?
Finally, a seventh question was asked in Germany whether the attitude of a political party toward this issue could be decisive in determining if the surveyed person voted for that party or not in the next election. For 6% of the respondents, it would be "decisive", 25% described the attitude of a party as having "a large influence" on their voting, 45% said the party's attitude would have "a rather slight influence" and 19% considered such an influence to be "non-existent".