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Public Supports Removal of Feeding Tube for Terri Schiavo

by David W. Moore

Majority of Americans would do the same if they had child or spouse in similar condition

GALLUP NEWS SERVICE

PRINCETON, NJ -- A new CNN/USA Today/Gallup survey finds a majority of Americans supporting the decision by a state judge to remove the feeding tube that was keeping Florida woman Terri Schiavo alive. The poll also finds that a clear majority of Americans, if faced with a similar situation in the case of a spouse or child, would also remove life support. The public's attention to the Schiavo case, despite massive media coverage, is well below the degree that the public has followed other major news stories of the last several years.

The Florida woman has been in a persistent vegetative state since 1990, and doctors have told her family that she has no chance of recovering. But her husband and parents disagree over whether to keep her alive with the aid of a life support system. A Florida state judge ordered the feeding tube removed last Friday, in accordance with the wishes of Michael Schiavo, the woman's husband. But Congress passed a highly unusual bill on Monday morning, immediately signed by President George W. Bush, authorizing the federal courts to intervene.

The poll, conducted March 18-20, shows that 66% of Americans have been following the case either "very" closely (27%) or "somewhat" closely (39%), while another 33% say they have not been following the issue closely -- either "not too closely" (21%) or "not at all" (12%). This level of attention to the story is not high in the context of other major news events of the last few years. However, given the intervention by Congress and the president, one might expect attention to increase.

When told that the feeding tube had been removed, 56% of Americans agreed that it was the right thing to do, while 31% disagreed.

As you may know, on Friday the feeding tube keeping Terri Schiavo alive was removed. Based on what you have heard or read about the case, do you think that the feeding tube should or should not have been removed?

2005 Mar 18-20

Should have

Should not have

No opinion

%

%

%

OVERALL

56

31

13

 

 

 

HOW CLOSELY FOLLOW

 

 

 

Very closely

56

40

4

Somewhat closely

62

29

9

Not closely

48

26

26

 

 

 

CHURCH ATTENDANCE

 

 

 

Weekly

51

37

12

Nearly weekly/monthly

55

31

14

Seldom/never

60

27

13

 

 

 

PARTY AFFILIATION

 

 

 

Republicans

54

35

11

Independents

54

31

15

Democrats

62

26

12

 

 

 

POLITICAL IDEOLOGY

 

 

 

Conservatives

50

38

12

Moderates

57

29

14

Liberals

69

22

9

A comparison of responses by various subgroups of people shows majority support in most of the groups. People who are following the issue very closely show the lowest percent of no opinion, with 56% in favor of removing the tube and 40% against. Just 4% are undecided.

Some observers have characterized the issue as a political one, with conservatives and Republicans lining up on one side and liberals and Democrats on the other. The poll shows majority support among conservatives, Republicans, and people who attend church on a weekly basis. There is proportionally greater support among liberals, Democrats, and people who seldom or never attend church, but the differences among these subgroups are not nearly as pronounced as they often are on high salience issues.

When asked what they would do if they had a child or spouse in the same condition as Terri Schiavo, a clear majority of Americans said they would remove the feeding tube.

Suppose you had a (child/spouse) who was in the same condition as Terry Schiavo, and it were up to you to decide whether to keep that child alive through the use of a feeding tube. What would you, personally, decide to do in that situation [ROTATED -- remove the feeding tube (or) keep the feeding tube in place]?           

           

Remove

Keep in place

No opinion

 

 

 

Child

56%

34

10

Spouse

61%

30

9

There is a slight difference in the percentage of the public who would remove a feeding tube from a child compared with the percentage who would remove a feeding tube from a spouse. But those differences are within the poll's margins of error for the sub samples of respondents asked one question or the other.

Survey Methods

Results in the current survey are based on telephone interviews with 909 national adults, aged 18 and older, conducted March 18-20, 2005. For results based on the total sample of national adults, one can say with 95% confidence that the margin of sampling error is ±4 percentage points.

In addition to sampling error, question wording and practical difficulties in conducting surveys can introduce error or bias into the findings of public opinion polls.

21. How closely have you been following the news about Terri Schiavo, a Florida woman who has been in a persistent vegetative state since 1990, and whose parents and husband disagree over whether she should be kept alive -- very closely, somewhat closely, not too closely, or not at all?

Very closely

Somewhat closely

Not too closely

Not at
all

No
opinion

 

 

 

 

 

2005 Mar 18-20

27%

39

21

12

1

22. As you may know, on Friday the feeding tube keeping Terri Schiavo alive was removed. Based on what you have heard or read about the case, do you think that the feeding tube should or should not have been removed?

Should have

Should not have

No opinion

 

 

 

2005 Mar 18-20

56%

31

13

23. Suppose you had a child who was in the same condition as Terry Schiavo, and it were up to you to decide whether to keep that child alive through the use of a feeding tube. What would you, personally, decide to do in that situation [ROTATED -- remove the feeding tube (or) keep the feeding tube in place]?     

Remove

Keep in place

No opinion

 

 

 

2005 Mar 18-20

56%

34

10

24. Suppose you had a spouse who was in the same condition as Terry Schiavo, and it were up to you to decide whether to keep your spouse alive through the use of a feeding tube. What would you, personally, decide to do in that situation [ROTATED -- remove the feeding tube (or) keep the feeding tube in place]?

Remove

Keep in place

No opinion

 

 

 

2005 Mar 18-20

61%

30

9

Gallup


Gallup http://news.gallup.com/poll/15310/public-supports-removal-feeding-tube-terri-schiavo.aspx
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