A growing minority of Americans said that medical professionals should do everything possible to save a patient’s life in all circumstances, according to a survey by the Pew Research Religion and Public Life Project.
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, according to a survey of 2,000 people. The balance of opinion has increased by 9 percentage points since 2005 and 16 points since 1990, the organization said in a report.
While 57% said they would tell their doctors to stop treatment if they had a disease with no hope of improvement and were suffering a great deal of pain, and 52% said they would ask their doctors to stop treatment if they had an incurable disease and were totally dependent on someone else for their care, 35% said they would tell their doctors to do everything possible to keep them alive with no hope of improvement and a great deal of pain. In 1990, by comparison, 28% expressed this view.
The increase stems from an increase in the share of the public that expresses a preference on these questions; the portion that had no opinion or declined to answer the survey question fell from 12% in 1990 to 8% in 2005 and 3% in 2013. Those who would choose to step treatments has remained about the same over the past 23 years.
Also, the survey reported that some opinions were closely tied to religious beliefs:
• 62% said that a person suffering a great deal of pain with no hope of improvement has a moral right to commit suicide, up from 55% in 1990;
• 56% also said this about those who have an incurable disease, up from 49% in 1990;
• 32% said a person has a moral right to suicide when he or she “is an extremely heavy burden on his or her family,” roughly the same share as in 1990 (29%); and
• 47% approve and 49% disapprove of laws that would allow a physician to prescribe lethal doses of drugs that a terminally ill patient could use to commit suicide, about the same as in 1990.
The majority of Americans reported they have not prepared for end-of-life decisions:
• 37% have given a great deal of thought to their wishes for end-of-life treatment,
• 35% have given some thought, and
• 27% have not given very much thought or have given no thought at all.
Even among Americans ages 75 and older, 1 in 4 said they have not given very much or any thought to their end-of-life wishes, 1 in 5 have neither written down nor talked with someone about their wishes for medical treatment at the end of their lives, and 1 in 3 who describe their health as fair or poor have neither written down nor talked about their wishes with anyone, according to the survey.