Who should live? Who should die? Take a poll!

December 6, 2010 09:00 AM

One of the most remarkable aspects of the digital information age is the ongoing use of polls—designed, I suppose, to make people feel like their opinion really matters. While there is nothing fundamentally wrong with the idea of engaging folks in an activity that makes them feel important, there is something very wrong about the substance of some polls.

Here are a few examples of recent polls that have come to our attention. In the first, a 27-year-old quadriplegic is in a struggle with Milwaukee, Wisconsin’s Froedtert Hospital because he no longer wants to live and he wants the hospital to remove his ventilator. The news report is a “compassion piece” rather than real news, and accompanying the report is a poll that asks online readers the following question: “Should patients with high-level disabilities be given the right to terminate their lives?”

Such a query is posted, I presume, for those who wish to register their agreement or disagreement with the fellow at the center of the story—a man who, it would appear, desperately needs counseling and affirmation rather than news coverage that exposes him to what could result in misplaced compassion, which in his case might mean hastened death. 

Quadriplegia is not a simple condition; I am quite familiar with it, as I have a close friend who has struggled for ten years with the same situation. He has not, however, sought death, but rather relied on his enormous cadre of friends to be with him when he is down. 

The Australian newspaper, the Herald Sun, featured a comment by Bishop Peter Elliott who presciently observed that, “It is no surprise that euthanasia is being strongly promoted today. Nor should it be a surprise that this is the policy of a political and ideological force that puts more value on wattle and wombats than people. Resurgent aggressive secularism resorts to killing as it strives to engineer, direct and control not only society, but your life and mine.”

On the same page with the bishop’s quotes, the newspaper conducted a poll asking the question, “Does euthanasia devalue people?” Fortunately, the majority of readers say that indeed it does. Here again, though, we find another poll with a question of life versus death. Do those who partake in such polls benefit from the education that might be gained by looking into the matter closely, or is their response merely a knee-jerk click?

In September of this year, the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) issued a statement referring to a poll revealing that “a plurality of Americans (47%) oppose federal funding of stem cell research that involves destroying human embryos, while only thirty-eight percent (38 percent) support such funding.”

While the results are a clear indicator that much more education needs to be done in our nation regarding the fact that a human being dies when a human embryonic stem cell is retrieved from his body, the point of the statement referenced above was not focused on education but rather on using the results to bolster the argument that taxpayers do not want their tax dollars used to fund this deadly research.

But what if the private sector is funding the research? Is the death less egregious if our tax dollars are not involved? Would it not be a better tactic to persuade our fellow citizens that, regardless of who is funding it, such research should be banned? Presumably the public does not know or think about the difference, but shouldn’t we? And shouldn’t those of us who know enlighten those who don’t know?

These are questions that we must all consider, for many lives depend upon our actions. Hopefully, you are seeing my point, which is really quite simple. Many things in daily life can be decided based on opinion—such as the best car for the least money or the tastiest can of tomato soup with the least sodium. But we absolutely cannot decide life and death issues based on public opinion.  Whether someone should live or die, and who should pay, is never a matter of opinion. 

To my mind this makes no sense. Right is right; wrong is wrong. It does not matter how many left clickers agree. Polls like these should be used to teach and preach the difference, not move a political agenda forward. 
Back to news