Americans would rather be dead than disabled: poll

NEW YORK (Reuters) - More than half of Americans would rather die than live with a severe disability, according to a survey.

Glen House is seen at the base of Pikes Peak in the Rocky Mountains, just west of Colorado Springs, in this September 13, 2003 file photo. House became the first person to climb the mountain in a wheelchair. REUTERS/Handout

In the online poll commissioned by Disaboom, a Web site and social network for people affected by disabilities, 52 percent of the 1,000 “nationally represented” adults chose death over losing the ability to live an independent life.

Disaboom, which launched the survey to better understand people’s perceptions of disabilities, said more than 54 million Americans -- 1 in 6 people -- live with some form of debilitating condition.

“We want to show everyone that it’s not the end, it’s a new beginning,” Glen House, co-founder of Disaboom and a quadriplegic for 18 years, said in an interview.

The poll, conducted by Kelton Research, found significant differences in attitudes based on age, income, location and level of education.

Middle-aged Americans were less willing to live with a severe disability than older Americans, it found.

In the 35 to 44 age group, 63 percent chose death over severe disability, compared with half of the 55 to 64 group and 56 percent of those 65 and older.

House, who was 20 when he broke his neck in a skiing accident, is also a director of rehabilitation at Penrose Hospital in Colorado Springs and the first person to climb Pikes Peak in the Rocky Mountains in a wheelchair.

Asked if he was shocked by the findings, House said: “If you asked me when I was 20, I probably would have been in that group as well, because I didn’t know anybody who lived with severe disability.”

After his accident, he said, he had “amazing support.”

“Right from the beginning I thought ‘Let’s move on,’” House said.

The survey found people with higher household incomes were more likely to choose death over severe disability -- 59 percent of those earning $75,000 or more compared with 45 percent of those making $25,000 or less.

Only 45 percent of people living in the South picked death, compared with 61 percent in the West. College graduates were more likely to choose death (57 percent) than respondents who have did not finish high school (30 percent).

Reporting by Claire Sibonney; editing by John O’Callaghan