Between February 8 and February 14, 2010, ICM Direct (a national polling organization which does extensive research for the media and many businesses and institutions) and Kindle Research (based in Brighton) conducted a telephone survey among permanent adult residents of Brighton and Hove - the 1,000 people interviewed were a representative sample of those living in this city.
A total of five questions were asked regarding Living Wills (also known today as Advance Decisions). Of particular significance, this poll revealed that 8% had a Living Will, and 14% knew of a relative or friend who had one. When those who did not yet have a Living Will were asked how likely would they be to writing one, 17% replied “very likely”, and 30% said “quite likely”. Developing a greater acceptance and use of Living Wills is a major activity of SOARS.
When these 1,000 individuals were then asked whether a mentally competent adult, suffering unbearably from a terminal illness (that is, not expected to live more than six months), should be legally allowed to receive a doctor’s assistance to die, 76% were in favour, and only 12% were not (the remaining 12% were uncertain). This result is similar to that recorded in other surveys which have been made, in the UK, in recent years.
But, the very exciting result of this February 2010 poll was that on the specific question as to whether mentally competent, very elderly adults, suffering unbearably from a variety of serious health problems (none of which was “terminal”) should also be legally allowed to receive a doctor’s assistance to die, if this is their persistent request, 67% of the Brighton and Hove residents were in agreement, and only 18% disagreed (15% were uncertain).
The full results of this February 2010 poll are available as a pdf here
Then, between July 2 and July 4, 2010, because further supporting statistical information was required for a BBC Radio Four programme ("Choosing a Time to Die"), a national poll was done, again by ICM and Kindle Research. This poll, of 1,009 adults throughout the UK, showed very similar results.
For the frequently-asked question, regarding whether terminally-ill, mentally competent adults should be legally allowed to receive a doctor's assistance to die, 78% were in favour, and only 13% were opposed. And, for the all-important question, of particular interest to SOARS, regarding whether very elderly, competent individuals who are suffering unbearably from a variety of serious health problems (that they will not die from) should also be legally allowed to receive a doctor's assistance to die, there was a 67% support, with only 19% opposed (the others were uncertain).
The main results of the July 2010 telephone poll are available as a pdf here
More recently, between March 4 and March 6, 2011, two further ICM and Kindle Research national polls were undertaken. The first, of 1,008 individuals interviewed by telephone, showed that 76% were in favour of a mentally competent, terminally-ill adult receiving a doctor's assistance to die (only 12% were opposed). And, most importantly, 66% agreed that very elderly, mentally competent persons, suffering unbearably from serious health problems (but, none of them "terminal") should legally be able to ask a doctor to help them to die (only 18% were opposed). The second poll, of 2,024 individuals, was conducted online. This revealed 73% support for helping those who were terminally-ill, and 60% in favour of similar assistance for the very elderly with serious health problems. Two possible explanations for less support, from the online poll, are that those participating in this poll were considering the moral and legal implications more carefully and that the lack of an interviewer (as in a telephone poll) removed any pressure to give a socially correct answer.
The main results of the March 2011 poll are available as a pdf here
In future, SOARS plans to commission regular national opinion polls every two years.
In March 2013, ICM and Kindle Research repeated both telephone and online polls nationally. The first, of 1,002 individuals interviewed by telephone, showed that 70% agreed with the possibility of Old Age Rational Suicide. And, the second poll, involving 2,000 persons online, repeated the 60% result of March 2011.
The main results of this March 2013 poll are available as a pdf here.
This continuing degree of support for Old Age Rational Suicide is most encouraging. Now, there must be serious discussion, in this country, about providing the possibility of legalized doctor-assisted suicide for very elderly, mentally competent individuals, who are suffering from various medical conditions, in addition to the present debate on making this procedure available for those who are terminally ill or severely disabled.