3/4/05 FOX Poll: Right-to-Die: Who Should Decide?

As Terri Schiavo's (search) parents continue their fight to extend her life, a FOX News poll finds a majority of Americans agree with a Florida judge's ruling that her feeding tube can be removed. Additionally, in the same situation, most would not want to be kept alive artificially.

Nearly six in ten Americans (59 percent) say that as Schiavo's guardian they would remove her feeding tube, while 24 percent would keep the tube inserted and 17 percent are uncertain which action they would take. These numbers remain virtually unchanged from a previous FOX poll in which 61 percent of Americans said they would remove the tube and 22 percent said they would not, with 17 percent unsure (October 2003).

Opinion Dynamics Corporation conducted the national telephone poll of 900 registered voters for FOX News on March 1-2.

Last week, the judge gave Schiavo's husband the right to remove her feeding tube, but also granted her parents three weeks to pursue other legal avenues. The decision fell on the 15th anniversary of Schiavo's collapse into a "persistent vegetative state," and amid numerous attempts by Schiavo's parents to keep their daughter alive, as well as intervention from the Florida government.

Who should decide? Americans are divided — 45 percent think it is the spouse's right to make such a decision, while 38 percent believe it is up to the family's wishes. Few believe the government (2 percent) or the patient's doctor (3 percent) should make the call.

This shows a small shift from the 2003 poll, when half of the public said a patient's spouse should make the decision and 31 percent said the decision should be made by the parents.

Women are evenly divided on who they think should choose if a patient is kept alive; 42 percent say the patient's parents and 39 percent the spouse. A slim majority of men (52 percent), on the other hand, believe the choice is that of the spouse and 34 percent the parents.

Not surprisingly, married people are more likely to think it is the spouse who should make the decision regarding life support, while unmarried people think the decision belongs to the patient's family. Moreover, 54 percent of married men say the patient's spouse compared to 45 percent of married women. There is no difference of opinion between parents and non-parents however, as both groups would give the decision to the spouse by a 17-point margin.

It has been the contention of Schiavo's husband that his wife would not want to be kept alive artificially, and the poll finds that nearly three-quarters of Americans would feel the same way — 74 percent say they would want their guardian to remove their feeding tube, with 15 percent saying they would want the tube to remain.

"People find it easier to make the decision about whether to end their own lives than to make the same decision about someone else," observes Opinion Dynamics Vice-President Lawrence Shiman. "The toughest decision of all is not whether to end your own life, but whether to end the life of someone you love, even if there is no real chance of recovery."

• Pdf: Click here for full poll results.