More Than Half of Arizonans Support Right-to-Die Laws, Poll Finds

Do terminally ill individuals have the right to end their own lives? Should it be legal for doctors to help facilitate the process?

According to a new poll from the Phoenix-based Behavior Research Center, 56 percent of Arizonans think so.

Researchers asked Arizonans if they would "favor or oppose a proposed law [allowing] terminally ill persons to end their own lives provided that two doctors certify that the person is terminally ill and is mentally competent."

People also were told that this hypothetical law stipulates the person self-administer the lethal drug orally or via injection, assuring that "the patient would be in total control of their end-of-life decision.”

Fewer than a third of respondents, or 31 percent, reported opposition to a law like this, while 13 percent said they were unsure.

There was no significant difference in opinion between men and women, but researchers found much greater support for the measure among people 55 and older. Also noteworthy, 72 percent of Democrats and 65 percent of registered Independents support the hypothetical law, while only 43 percent of Republicans report favoring of it.

"Support for a law of this type is relatively uniform in most geographic areas of the state, although it appears a little higher in urban areas compared to rural Arizona," the researchers write. "Support is also uniform within the Caucasian and Hispanic populations, but falls off about 10 points among non-Hispanic or non-Caucasian populations."
Right-to-die laws, sometimes referred to as "death with dignity" or "assisted suicide" laws, are a controversial topic around the country. Despite repeated attempts to pass a law like this in Arizona, the Legislature has yet to do so.

Oregon was the first state to pass such a law in 1997, and in the years since, only a handful of other states have implemented similar legislation.

Most recently, California Governor Jerry Brown made headlines when he signed his state's End of Life Option Act earlier this year, noting that: “The crux of the matter is whether [states] should continue to make it a crime for a dying person to end his life . . . In the end, I was left to reflect on what I would want in the face of my own death.

“I do not know what I would do if I were dying in prolonged and excruciating pain. I am certain, however, that it would be a comfort to be able to consider the options afforded by this bill. And I wouldn’t deny that right to others.” 

Whether Arizona eventually will pass a right-to-die law remains to be seen, but what is certain is that groups like Compassion and Choices Arizona will continue to fight for what they believe is a person's fundamental right to end his own life:

"We believe that the right to choose the course and manner of one's own death should rest only with the individual involved, not with the State, the Legislature, the Medical Association, or with any other person," the group writes on its website.

"As important, each one of us should be able to die in accordance with our own individual beliefs. Currently, Arizonans are forced to die according to a set of beliefs shared by some but not by all of us."

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Miriam is a staff writer at Phoenix New Times.
Contact: Miriam Wasser