Poll: Americans Want Better, Not Longer Life


people-worldA large majority of Americans say the quality of life, not the length, is more important when their days are numbered. But more than half also say the health care system should spare no expense to extend life.

The seemingly contradictory views were among those revealed in a new poll conducted by the National Journal and the Regence Foundation that probed beliefs about that most uncomfortable and inevitable subject: death, and what should be done as it approaches.

More than 70 percent of Americans believe enhancing the quality of life, not extending its length, matters most at the end of life, a new poll says. But more than half say the health care system should spare no expense in extending life.

The survey sought to get beyond the politically charged subject of “death panels” that colored the 2009 debate about health care reform.

The poll found 71 percent agreed that it was more important to enhance the quality of life for seriously ill patients, even if it means a shorter life. A minority, 23 percent, said it was more important to extend the life of seriously ill patients through every medical intervention possible.

Nearly two-thirds said they had firsthand experience with end-of-life care for a family member. Those who had been through it, the poll found, were more likely to value the quality of life in the final days than the quantity of those days.

Yet when asked on a more theoretical level whether the health care system spends too much on extending the lives of the seriously ill — one in four Medicare dollars is spent on patients in the last year of life — as opposed to other priorities, just 37 percent agreed.

Most, 55 percent, agreed that the health care system “has the responsibility, the medical technology and the expertise to offer treatments to seriously ill patients and spend whatever it takes to extend their lives.”

The poll uncovered a lack of information about end-of-life care and what the new health care law says about it.

About 23 percent incorrectly said the law allows “a government panel to make end-of-life decisions for people on Medicare.” Another 36 percent said they didn’t know. Just 40 percent correctly said the law did not include so-called “death panels.”

In a discussion of the findings, panelists said that they showed a yearning by the public for more information on palliative care and end-of-life treatment, but that the fear that talking about death could kill you must be eliminated.

Rep. Earl Blumenauer, an Oregon Democrat, championed a proposal to pay for end-of-life counseling under Medicare, which was the basis for conservatives’ charges about government “death panels.” He said the administration and Congress are “going to have to get a backbone” to discuss what’s best for dying patients and their families and must not bow to politically whipped-up “hysteria.”

That said, the poll found widespread distrust of elected officials, as well as health insurance companies and the news media, in regard to unbiased information on end-of-life matters. Most put their trust in health care providers, family and friends.

{AOL News/Matzav.com Newscenter}


  1. The age of the poll resondants is missing, an that’s a key. It’s easy to say that when you’re relatively young – no one wants to spend the end of their life bored and helpless, dependent on others. Ask the question to seniors, or near seniors. I can hardly imagine a relatively robust 70 year old willfully submit to euthenasia.