Marlowe's Shade

Tuesday, December 06, 2005

Is Euthanasia Doc Survey Objective?

Because I've seen so many surveys skewed by subliminally suggestive phrasing, I tend to be dismissive, particularly when I don't like the results. This is certainly the case with many of the recent surveys on euthanasia, and there is of course the possibility that sour grapes could be causing me to ignore a growing acceptance of euthanasia rather than confronting it. However Wesley J Smith for one has shown how more factually and objectively worded polls can tell a different story.

The mainstream media also tends to ignore polls that show euthanasia as being less popular than supposed, while shouting those that support that view from the rooftops. This latest poll from The Wake Forest University Baptist Medical Center seems to fall into the latter category. That isn't a slam on the hospital, it seems to have a stellar reputation and what I could see of it's bio-ethical orientation seems to lean toward pro-life. But it immediately spread like a brush fire throughout the MSM.

There is little evidence to support the argument that legalizing physician-assisted death would reduce patients' trust in their doctors, according to a researcher from Wake Forest University Baptist Medical Center and colleagues.

"Overall, three times as many people disagree as agree that legalizing physician-assisted death would cause them to trust their personal doctors less," said Mark Hall, J.D., professor of public health sciences at Wake Forest Baptist and Fred D. and Elizabeth L. Turnage Professor of Law at Wake Forest University.

To be fair, the survey poses the negative view of euthanasia and the participants disagree, which would suggest overcoming a bias in the survey. However there is another aspect of the wording which I think (possibly unintentionally) has an even strong effect in skewing the results.

Hall and colleagues designed a random telephone survey of 1,117 adults in the United States to measure attitudes about physician aid in dying. The results are reported in the current issue of the Journal of Medical Ethics.

Survey participants were asked to use a five-point scale to state their agreement or disagreement with this statement: "Assume for the purpose of this question that euthanasia were legal. If doctors were allowed to help patients die, you would trust your doctor less." The question did not distinguish between physician-assisted suicide, where the physician helps a patient take his or her own life, and euthanasia, where the physician directly administers the lethal dosage, because prior studies found that attitudes are essentially the same for both.

I think there is a big difference between saying, "trust a doctor less" and "trust your doctor less". And in the question itself there is no linkage that states whether one's personal doctor is performing euthanasia or PAS. So why would this survey be an endorsement of euthanasia? This would be more relevant if either it made clear whether one's own doctor participated in euthanasia, or asked if it affected one's confidence in doctors in general.

Public Policy seems to be a cross-disciplinary chair at Wake Forest. Mark Hall, as some of the versions of this article state, is a JD also affiliated with the School of Law and not a medical doctor (although many of the reports I've seen omit this). While his previous studies don't seem to indicate any heavy bias regarding euthanasia per se, I am concerned that he was the recipient of a Robert Wood Johnson Foundation grant and his specialty is managed care economic issues.

I want to stress that I don't think there is any malicious intent in the study itself, but I think it is flawed and the imprecise wording is already being used to promote the right-to-die agenda.
papijoe 8:02 AM