Poll Finds Strong Opposition to Proposed Conn. Law to Allow Fatal Prescriptions by Doctors

Majorities say issue is low priority, see serious risks in proposal

A legislative proposal to allow doctors to prescribe fatal prescriptions to people with a terminal illness is not seen as a good option by a strong majority of Connecticut residents. Seven in ten residents (70 percent) see the issue as a low priority or not an issue to be addressed by the governor and state legislature, and majorities also harbor deep concerns about the bill’s deficiencies, dangers and consequences, according to a new Knights of Columbus-Marist Poll.

The proposal — HB 5326 — would allow doctors to prescribe a fatal dose of drugs to patients who request it and are believed to have a terminal illness. The Joint Committee on Public Health has scheduled a hearing for the bill on St. Patrick’s Day, March 17.

The proposal runs counter to the majority of Connecticut residents’ views about a doctor’s proper role in end-of-life situations. Fifty-five percent believe a doctor should not prescribe or provide life-ending drugs, but instead should manage the illness (27 percent) or be allowed to remove a respirator or other medical interventions so nature can take its course (28 percent).

Fewer than 4 in 10 (38 percent) believe a doctor should actively assist in taking a person’s life by prescribing (21 percent) or administering (17 percent) fatal doses of drugs. Also notable, by a 14-point margin (46 percent to 32 percent), Connecticut residents are less likely to trust doctors who see their role as assisting the terminally ill by prescribing a fatal dose of drugs.

“The majority of people in Connecticut rightly understand that a doctor’s role is to help people and to ‘do no harm,’ and thus have no interest in seeing this bill approved,” said Knights of Columbus Supreme Knight Carl Anderson. “This bill would sow distrust in the doctor-patient relationship. The mentally ill and depressed, as well as those who are misdiagnosed, would be particularly at risk.”

Anderson added: “If implemented, this bill would undermine the precious gift of life that each of us has been given, and it would be an affront to the great work that doctors and other health care workers provide through Connecticut’s strong and proud tradition of top-quality hospice and other end-of-life care.”

Fewer than 1 in 10 Connecticut residents (9 percent) say they would definitely ask a doctor to help end their lives with lethal drugs if they were terminally ill. By contrast, 62 percent would definitely not or probably not ask their doctor to do so.

In addition to the majority who say doctors should choose end-of-life options other than prescribing or administering fatal doses of drugs to the terminally ill, few residents of Connecticut (16 percent) have heard much about the proposed bill and only about 2 in 10 (23 percent) say it should be an immediate priority for the governor and state legislature. By contrast, residents do see a number of other issues as urgent priorities, such as improving the economy (76 percent), making health care more affordable (51 percent), and reducing state taxes and fees (51 percent). By 6 percentage points (45 percent to 39 percent), Connecticut residents say the state is going in the wrong direction overall.

Additionally, nearly two-thirds of residents in the state worry that if the law passes, those without better health insurance could have fewer end-of-life options (65 percent). A similar number (64 percent) worry that the state of mind of a patient may be misjudged since the bill allows doctors who are not mental health professionals to determine the patient’s state of mind. Sixty-three percent worry that the doctor’s prediction of the course of the disease could be inaccurate, and the same number (63 percent) worry that the elderly could be at risk in nursing homes or health care facilities. Nearly 6 in 10 (58 percent) are concerned that patients who suffer from depression will be more likely to want to take their own lives.

Residents divide over whether patients may be pressured by their families or friends to end their lives (47 percent concerned) or whether it may become a cost-saving measure for health decisions (45 percent concerned). People in Connecticut also deeply divide as to whether the benefits of such a law outweigh the risks or the risks outweigh the benefits (46 percent to 45 percent, respectively).

This survey of 1,000 adults was conducted March 6, 2014, through March 9, 2014, by The Marist Poll and sponsored by The Knights of Columbus. Adults 18 years of age and older residing in the state of Connecticut were interviewed by telephone using live interviewers on either their landline or cell phone.

The Marist Poll was founded in 1978 and has a long and distinguished track record of public opinion surveys including as the 2012 battleground states election campaign pollster for NBC and The Wall Street Journal.


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