At a time of national debate over health care costs and insurance, a Pew Research Center survey on end-of-life decisions finds most Americans say there are some circumstances in which doctors and nurses should allow a patient to die. At the same time, however, a growing minority says that medical professionals should do everything possible to save a patient’s life in all circumstances.
When asked about end-of-life decisions for other people, two-thirds of Americans (66%) say there are at least some situations in which a patient should be allowed to die, while nearly a third (31%) say that medical professionals always should do everything possible to save a patient’s life. Over the last quarter-century, the balance of opinion has moved modestly away from the majority position on this issue. While still a minority, the share of the public that says doctors and nurses should do everything possible to save a patient’s life has gone up 9 percentage points since 2005 and 16 points since 1990.
The uptick comes partly from a modest decline in the share that says there are circumstances in which a patient should be allowed to die and partly from an increase in the share of the public that expresses an opinion; the portion that has no opinion or declines to answer the survey question went down from 12% in 1990 to 8% in 2005 and now stands at 3%….
Religious groups also differ strongly in their beliefs about the morality of suicide. About half of white evangelical Protestants and black Protestants reject the idea that a person has a moral right to suicide in all four circumstances described in the survey. By comparison, the religiously unaffiliated, white mainline Protestants and white Catholics are more likely to say there is a moral right to commit suicide in each of the four situations considered.
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