Most Americans believe that "health insurance should pay for any treatments which will save lives" regardless of cost and that everybody is entitled to "the treatment a millionaire gets," a new national survey found.
The survey, released this week, was conducted for Harvard Community Health Plan survey by Louis Harris and Associates.
In polling 1,250 American adults during April and May of 1987, the survey looked at a series of difficult ethical questions ranging from access to health care to the most appropriate way to treat a terminally ill person. The poll also examined the feelings of physicians, nurses, employers, labor unions and political leaders.
The financial pressures to limit access to health care is a concept most accepted by employers, political leaders and some physicians, the survey found. Nurses, labor union leaders and the general public "tend to think that limiting coverage is unreasonable," according to the survey.
When it comes to issues raised by imminent death, the Harvard survey found that 84 percent favored following a patient's written instructions or "living will" even when that sometimes means allowing very sick people to die. By comparison, a 1982 Harris public opinion poll found that only 64 percent of Americans favored a law allowing doctors to adhere to "living wills."
Among other results of the poll:
More than half of those surveyed believe that it is appropriate for doctors to use euthanasia when terminally ill patients in severe pain request it. The survey found, however, that most doctors (66 percent) and nurses (58 percent) disagreed and felt that euthanasia would be wrong. About three quarters of those surveyed said that painkilling medications should be given to terminally ill patients -- even when these drugs shorten lives.
A majority of those surveyed said that when a person is seriously ill, it is the patients and their families -- not physicians -- who should have the responsibility for making decisions about treatment. By contrast, a 1982 Harris survey found that most Americans believed doctors should make the decision about treatment for a seriously ill person.