Misinformation on euthanasia polls and support

For years polls have indicated significant majority support for legalising some sort of assisted dying/assisted suicide/euthanasia.

Opponents of the End of Life Choice Bill currently working it’s way through Parliament have been trying to discredit the polls and have falsely claimed a majority of submissions on the Bill represents some sort of majority opposition. Groups who oppose euthanasia, in particular the Catholic Church, organised submissions to boost the opposing numbers – see Record number of submissions on euthanasia Bill.

In a debate on Newshub Nation yesterday Peter Thirkell from anti-euthanasia group Care Alliance promoted the submission numbers while dismissing poll history.

What I would say to that figure of 40,000 and your analysis saying 90 per cent was against the bill is that outside of the select committee process, there’s been a lot of polls which seem to indicate that the public is in favour of some form of assisted dying.

Thirkell: Well, polls are fairly whimsical things. They tend to be single-question things. They’re usually framed in a way— They use soft language like ‘assisted dying’, ‘with the approval and assistance of the doctor’, and, you know, ‘given certain safeguards’.

That seems to describe the aims of the bill.

That really doesn’t carry the weight of expert evidence. There were 54,000 pages of evidence that went to the select committee. Over 600 doctors wrote in, and 93 per cent of them were opposed; 800 nurses, 93% opposed. So almost 2000 medical professionals, and 94 per cent of them were opposed, so these are the experts that are speaking out on the bill.

There was not 38,000 experts submitting on the bill – ‘experts’ were only a very small proportion of the overall number of submitters.

The Care Alliance have been disingenuous claiming that a majority of submissions represents public opinion, it doesn’t do anything like that. It  mostly indicts an organised campaign to  boost the number of submissions opposing the bill.

Seymour: Well, first of all, the overwhelming majority of New Zealanders don’t make submissions to the select committee. That’s their choice. It doesn’t mean that their views are less valid. The same with nurses, the same with doctors. And I think Dr Thirkell needs to ask himself, as do most people that oppose this bill, why it is that over 20 years New Zealanders have consistently said…70 per cent, 75 per cent of New Zealanders consistently say that they want choice in this area…

A website called ‘a NEW ZEALAND RESOURCE for LIFE related issues’ on Public Opinion Polls:

Polls have been asking the following (or similar) question regularly since the 1960s and ’70s: “If a hopelessly ill patient, in great pain, with absolutely no chance of recovering, asks for a lethal dose, so as not to wake again, should the doctor be allowed to give the lethal dose?”, and the number in favour has steadily increased from about 50 to nearly 80 percent.

As one commentator said, it would be hard for an uninformed person to say “no” to that question without feeling negligent, dogmatic or insensitive.

But when the current ability of good palliative care to relieve the severe pain of terminal illness is known, though it it also known tragically not to be sufficiently available, the same question could be more accurately put: “If a doctor is so negligent as to leave a terminally-ill patient in pain, severe enough to drive him / her to ask to be killed, should the doctor be able to compound that negligence by killing the patient, instead of seeking help?” 

The question is really about medical standards, not euthanasia.

That suggested question is hopelessly slanted and would be terrible for a poll.

And “the following (or similar) question” is nothing like questions asked in euthanasia polls.

Ironically that website claims in About Us:

ESTABLISHING THE TRUTH

We believe that it is enormously beneficial for the public of New Zealand to be able to establish truth for themselves (with the assistance of a website like this one) rather than to rely on information that may be biased, or that is deliberately kept incomplete.

It has been our firm belief, throughout the development of this website, that people will recognise the truth when it is spoken, and that access to more information will empower them to make wiser decisions than if they have partial information, and therefore have a lesser, or shallower understanding of the issues.

Their lack of truthfulness would condemn them to hell based on Israel Folau’s recent proclamation.

The actual truth

A survey done by Massey University in 2003 showed that 73% wanted assisted suicide legalised if it was performed by a doctor, but if done by others support dropped to 49%. The wording of the questions were:

“Suppose a person has a painful incurable disease. Do you think that doctors should be allowed by law to end the patient’s life if the patient requests it?”

“Still thinking of that person with a painful incurable disease. Do you think that someone else, like a close relative, should be allowed by law to help end the patient’s life, if the patient requests it?”

A survey carried out on behalf of the Voluntary Euthanasia Society in 2008 showed that 71% of New Zealanders want to have it legalised. The question read:

“In some countries, though not all, if you have an illness that results in your being unable to have an acceptable quality of life, you are legally allowed to get help from a doctor to help you to die. If you had an illness or condition which resulted in your having a quality of life that was totally unacceptable to you, would you like to have the legal right to choose a medically assisted death?”

Another survey by Massey University in 2008 gave similar results.

Horizon poll in 2017: Q.1  Do you support a law change to allow medical practitioners to assist people to die, where a request has come from a mentally competent patient, 18 years or over, who has end stage terminal disease and irreversible unbearable suffering, e.g. cancer?

  • Strongly support 46%
  • Support 29%
  • Neither support nor oppose 8%
  • Oppose 3%
  • Strongly oppose 8%
  • Not sure 6%

Q.2  Do you support a law change to allow medical practitioners to assist people to die, where such a request has come from a mentally competent patient, 18 years and over, who has irreversible unbearable suffering which may not cause death in the immediate future, e.g.: motor neurone disease?

  • Strongly support 33%
  • Support 33%
  • Neither support nor oppose 15%
  • Oppose 6%
  • Strongly oppose 9%
  • Not sure 5%

The current Bill is unlikely to allow euthanasia in that situation. It is likely to require that an illness is terminal with death likely within 6 months. But there is still only 15% oppose or strongly oppose.

Colmar Brunton in 2017 asked “Parliament is to consider a new bill on euthanasia. Do you think a person who is terminally or incurably ill should be able to request the assistance of a doctor to end their life?”

  • Yes 74%
  • No 18%
  • Don’t know 9%

Newshub in 2018 – 71% support, 19.5% oppose:

So very similar results from Colmar Brunton and Reid Research in recent polls, and similar from Horizon, and their questions were nothing like what was suggested above.

See commentary and poll details at NZ Parliament Assisted dying: New Zealand

 

 

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12 Comments

  1. artcroft

     /  14th April 2019

    Still, that’s a lot of doctors and nurses who are opposed.

    Reply
    • Yes, a lot of doctors and nurses. And they are significant views. But only a small proportion of them.

      Number of doctors in New Zealand:
      – 2015: 14,737
      – 2016: 15,212
      – 2017: 15,819

      Click to access Workforce-Survey-Report-2017.pdf

      Number of nurses in New Zealand: At 31 March 2017 there were 52,711 practising nurses in New Zealand

      Click to access J002605-NCNZ-Workforce%20Document%202016-17%20WEB.pdf

      Reply
      • Grumpy

         /  14th April 2019

        Still, more health professionals opposed in submissions than supported.

        Reply
        • Grumpy

           /  14th April 2019

          93% in fact. They probably object to being forced to become killers. In the US there are moves to force doctors to perform abortions up till birth. How’s that for mission creep?

          Reply
          • “In the US there are moves to force doctors to perform abortions up till birth.”

            I call bullshit on that, it’s a disingenuous misrepresentation of reality.

            What’s True
            The New York state legislature passed a law allowing abortions after 24 weeks if the mother’s health is at risk or there is an absence of fetal viability.

            What’s False
            The law does not allow for unrestricted abortion up through the normal term of pregnancy.

            https://www.snopes.com/fact-check/new-york-abortions-birth/

            Reply
            • Kitty Catkin

               /  14th April 2019

              This has been around for many years, and has been debunked many times.

              The cruelty of forcing someone to carry a dead baby to full term is horrifying. I have seen two dead babies, and it’s indescribably distressing.

              Removing the dead baby isn’t abortion, it’s the obvious, humane thing to do.

  2. Grumpy

     /  14th April 2019

    The problem with the polls is that they are slanted towards the pro position. They are worded in a way that most people have some sympathy with but not what this bill says. This bill promotes killing “incurable” illnesses which will include things such as arthritis. More evidence is emerging of “mission creep” in Holland, Belgium and Canada where loneliness and the killing of children is now starting.
    Here we can see how Homosexual Law Reform and other liberal legislation rapidly morphs into something more than what the public originally bought into.

    Reply
    • Kitty Catkin

       /  14th April 2019

      I thought so until I knew what the bill was really saying.

      If it did cover arthritis, it would be the extreme kind where the person is completely crippled and in constant agonising pain, not the kind where someone has twinges in their knees or hands.

      All homosexual law reform did was make men able to do what they do in private not be a crime.

      Reply
  3. Fight4NZ

     /  14th April 2019

    Is the use of medical science to prolong otherwise unviable lives ‘mission creep’? Is there an ethical question raised by using disproportionate quantities of resources on individuals where these resources would be able to assist many who miss out as a result?

    Reply
    • Kitty Catkin

       /  14th April 2019

      How much does this happen, do you know ? it’s not something that I know a great deal about. We all know that people are not given antibiotics when they have pneumonia if their life is devoid of dignity and would be a burden to them and everyone else.

      I know that there are stories of people being kept on life support for a long time, but suspect that this is urban myth and people are confusing it with nursing care, as in the case of the US woman who had been in a coma for years and was being kept alive not by life support but by being fed.

      Reply
  4. oldlaker

     /  15th April 2019

    The most telling point about how much support there is among voters is that opponents do not want Seymour’s End of Life Choice Bill to go to a referendum. They don’t really believe that the number of submissions accurately reflect public opinion. If they did, they’d be baying for a referendum to prove them right.

    Reply
  5. sarineal

     /  17th April 2019

    The difference is the polls ask a simple question, there’s no alternatives given and simple yes or no answer needs to be given. So it’s as easy as ticking a box. There’s no skin in the game, no reference to sticky details like defining what sorts of conditions we are looking at or how this interfaces with medical care and what actions a doctor needs to make to kill a patient who desires it.

    Submitters to the bill select committee were submitting on a bill in written form, with a definite proposal in front of them and therefore this has more weight. Medical professionals can be counted individually but actually some medical groups such as the NZMA submitted representing many doctors as well as those in palliative care.

    Polls tell us nothing really, the positive or negative submissions are likely to be very much more informative and based on solid grounding of an actual bill and an idea of how this will be achieved.

    Reply

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