MONTPELIER, Vt. -- A poll has found apparently strong support for physician-assisted suicide in Vermont, though the poll did not use that phrase.
Nearly 80 percent of respondents would support a bill allowing terminally ill patients to receive medication from their doctors to hasten their deaths, according to the December poll of 500 Vermonters by Zogby International.
The exceptions were people who described themselves as "very conservative" or who said they attended church once a week or more. A majority of both those groups opposed the idea.
The poll was commissioned by two groups backing an assisted-suicide bill: Death with Dignity Vermont and End of Life Choices.
The survey questions did not use the words "physician-assisted suicide," a phrase usually used to describe the bill, but described the practice instead. Pollsters found that 78 percent of respondents said they would support legislation "to allow a mentally competent adult, dying of a terminal disease, the choice to request and receive medication from a physician to peacefully end suffering and hasten death."
"This reflects what I have heard from individuals and families," said Marilyn Bunker of Chelsea, a member of End of Life Choices and a nurse who worked in critical-care units for 30 years. "It's amazing how many patients and family members would pull me aside and ask, 'How much longer does this have to go on?' " when someone was suffering at the end of life, she said.
She objected to the term "assisted suicide," saying that suicide to her means taking one's own life when death is not imminent.
"This is not suicide; it is death with dignity," she said.
Dr. Robert Orr of Burlington, head of the Vermont Alliance for Ethical Healthcare, a coalition of medical professionals, disability rights advocates, and religious leaders who oppose assisted suicide, questioned the validity of the poll results. He said they contradicted a half-dozen Vermont and national surveys on assisted suicide that found that fewer than half of those polled supported the idea when it was described as physician-assisted suicide or "allowing doctors to help terminally ill patients die."
"Neither question used the word suicide," he said of the Zogby poll. "Several research articles have shown that how a question is worded makes a major difference."