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Ending Human Pain and Suffering

Published December 10, 2007        by Nicole

dying 1 In I968, Gallup pollsters first asked Canadians the following question:

When a person has an incurable disease that causes great suffering, do you think that competent doctors should be allowed by law to end the patient's life, if the patient has made a formal request in writing?

Back then, less than half of those Canadians polled answered yes. But it was never to be so low again. Over the last twenty-five years the percentage in favor has climbed up and up - so much so that by 1992, when Sue Rodriguez came on the scene, a full 78 per cent of Canadians felt she should legally be able to have a doctor help her die. The Canadian population is hardly unique. The U.S.A., Britain, New Zealand and Australia all show the same upward trend in public opinion over the same period of time. The exact numbers vary only slightly. Australia, where the world's first right-to-die legislation was passed into law in the spring Of 1995, leads with 79 per cent of its population favoring the choice; Britain mirrors Canada while the U.S. is slightly behind at 73 per cent. The result is that roughly three out of every four people in almost all English-speaking countries now believe that, under certain circumstances such as hopeless terminal illness with untreatable suffering, an individual should be able to ask for and receive euthanasia or assisted suicide, as a sort of sympathy gift.

A similar trend has occurred in Japan, Israel and the European nations. A comprehensive survey of European beliefs and morals, called the European Values Survey, was conducted in fourteen nations in 1981 and repeated in 1990, polling more than 50,000 Europeans on a wide range of issues, including euthanasia. The same increasing trend of acceptance was found in almost all of Europe's industrialized nations: France, Sweden, Norway, Denmark, Belgium, Iceland, Switzerland, Germany and the Netherlands, and even strongly Catholic nations, like Italy and Spain, showed that a majority of the population could envisage situations where euthanasia would be morally justified. Ireland was the only country where the philosophical acceptance of euthanasia was still in the minority, but even there, the position had gained some percentage points in the nine years between the polls.

Why is the acceptance of euthanasia gaining ground? What is giving such tremendous momentum to the right to die? The answer comes from the convergence of a number of distinct circumstances at the end of the twentieth century: a rapidly aging population, widespread disillusionment with medical technology, the decline of medical paternalism, the decline of religious beliefs and the rise of individual rights.

Each one of these are a powerful force on its own, but when combined, they create an unrelenting pressure to give individuals the power to choose the time and manner of their deaths.