[Marxism] Most Americans understand when life has effectively ended

Marvin Gandall marvgandall at rogers.com
Tue Mar 29 18:13:41 MST 2005

Gallup.com - March 29, 2005

Americans Choose Death Over Vegetative State
Most would have feeding tube removed for their child, spouse, or themselves

by Lydia Saad, Senior Gallup Poll Editor

The court of public opinion has been no more favorable to Terri Schiavo's 
parents, Robert and Mary Schindler, than have been the state and federal 
courts that rebuffed their various requests to reinsert the feeding tube 
that keeps their daughter alive. Yes, Americans feel sympathetic toward the 
Schindlers, but on the legal question that is their real concern, every 
national media poll conducted to date about the Schiavo situation has found 
a majority of Americans agreeing with the court rulings that prevented 
reinserting the tube that was removed on March 18.

* A CNN/USA Today/Gallup poll conducted March 18-20* found 56% of Americans 
in agreement with the original removal of the feeding tube, with a question 
that was preceded by a description of Schiavo as "a Florida woman who has 
been in a persistent vegetative state since 1990."

* A CBS News poll on March 21-22 described Schiavo as being in a persistent 
vegetative state, and found 61% agreeing with the decision to remove her 
feeding tube.

* A Fox News/Opinion Dynamics poll conducted March 1-2 found 59% in favor of 
removing Schiavo's feeding tube, when told that she has been in "a so-called 
persistent vegetative state since 1990."

* An ABC News poll on March 20 found 63% of Americans in agreement with the 
removal, with a question that characterized Schiavo as suffering from 
irreversible brain damage, having no consciousness, and being on life 

The Schindlers have argued that polling -- and media coverage of the case 
more generally -- has erred in telling the public that Schiavo is in a 
persistent vegetative state (PSV). They assert that their daughter is 
responsive, and at least two neurologists who observed Schiavo or reviewed 
her medical records say that she may have been misdiagnosed with PSV, and 
is, rather, in a "minimally conscious state."

Being in a vegetative state clearly has strong connotations for Americans. 
Whether Americans perceive much of a difference between being "a vegetable" 
and in a "minimally conscious state" is an open question.

A Gallup Poll from 1997 on death and dying found that being in a vegetative 
state was the most troubling end-of-life possibility to Americans among 24 
different medical, emotional, practical, and spiritual problems that can 
confront people at death.

More than half of Americans said that "the possibility of being 
vegetable-like for some period of time" worries them "a great deal" when 
they think about their deaths. This exceeded concern for how family or loved 
ones will be cared for (44%), not having the chance to say good-bye to 
someone (39%) and even the possibility of great physical pain (32%).


Mercy, Not Malice

A combined 73% of Americans say they worry "a great deal" or "somewhat" 
about the possibility of being vegetable-like. Given this, it is not 
surprising that if Americans believe someone is in a vegetative state, they 
may consider removal of the feeding tube to be an act of mercy.

This earlier finding is reinforced by recent polling showing that most 
Americans would choose to remove the feeding tube for themselves, their 
spouse, or even a child if one of these were in the same condition as 

* According to a recent ABC News poll, only 16% of Americans would want to 
be kept alive, themselves, while 78% would not.

* According to a 2003 Fox News poll, 74% would want their guardian to remove 
the feeding tube.

* According to a recent CNN/USA Today/Gallup survey, 56% and 61% would 
remove the feeding tube on behalf of a child or spouse, respectively.

Majority Support Doctor-Assisted Suicide

But it is not just for cases as extreme as PSV patients that Americans 
believe doctors should be allowed to hasten death. A clear majority of 
Americans believe doctor-assisted suicide should be legal for terminally ill 
patients. This is true regardless of whether the question specifies the 
illness is causing the patient severe pain. In May 2004, Gallup found 
approximately two-thirds of Americans in support of doctor-assisted suicide 
for people with incurable diseases:

* 69% said that in cases "when a person has a disease that cannot be cured" 
doctors should be allowed to "end the patient's life by some painless means 
if the patient and his family request it."
* 65% said that in cases "when a person has a disease that cannot be cured 
and is living in severe pain" doctors should be allowed to "assist the 
patient to commit suicide if the patient requests it."

Of course in these hypotheticals, the doctor has the patient's consent. 
Terri Schiavo had no living will (neither do most Americans according to a 
recent ABC News poll) so there is no way to know for certain if she would 
have wanted to continue living in her condition. But, perhaps because they 
would have their own feeding tubes removed under Schiavo's conditions, 
Americans are inclined to believe Michael Schiavo's claim that this would 
have been his wife's wish.

In a March 22 CNN/USA Today/Gallup poll, 64% of Americans said they thought 
Michael Schiavo was definitely or probably telling the truth when he said 
that Terri told him she would not want to be kept alive by artificial means.

Bottom Line

U.S. District Judge James Whittemore expressed the apparent sentiment of 
most Americans, when, in his latest ruling in the case, he wrote: "The court 
would be remiss if it did not once again convey its appreciation for the 
difficulties and heartbreak the parties have endured throughout this lengthy 
process." More than four in five Americans told Gallup they feel sympathetic 
toward the Schindlers, and three in five feel sympathetic for Michael 

>From the sidelines, Americans perceived that Terri Schiavo's mental 
condition was unlikely to ever improve. They believed her husband when he 
said that it would not have been her wish to be indefinitely sustained 
through a feeding tube. Most Americans know that they, themselves, would not 
want to persist in that state. All of this helps to explain why Americans 
would so roundly and consistently agree with the courts on the removal of 
Schiavo's feeding tube, even if that sentiment is profoundly disappointing 
to her parents.

*Results are based on telephone interviews with
620 national adults, aged 18 and older, conducted March 22, 2005. For 
results based on the total sample of national adults, one can say with 95% 
confidence that the maximum margin of sampling error is ±4 percentage 

Results are based on telephone interviews with
909 national adults, aged 18 and older, conducted March 18-20, 2005. For 
results based on the total sample of national adults, one can say with 95% 
confidence that the margin of sampling error is ±4 percentage points.

Survey by Nathan Cummings Foundation and Fetzer Institute. Methodology: 
Conducted by Gallup Organization during May, 1997 and based on telephone 
interviews with a national adult sample of 1,200.

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