Pew Releases Poll on Catholic Attitudes Toward End of Life Issues


Pope Francis greets an elderly woman in a wheelchair Nov. 23, 2013. Credit: Catholic News Agency

Last month the Pew Research Center conducted an interesting survey on attitudes toward end-of-life medical treatments. It found that 49 percent of Americans oppose physician assisted suicide while 47 percent were in favor. Long term opinion trends on the issue of physician assisted suicide are interesting. Last spring, Gallup surveyed Americans on the moral acceptability of different practices. It found that on a wide range of sexual, social, and lifestyle issues Americans have become more morally permissive during the past 20 years. However, physician assisted suicide and abortion were among the few issues were opposition held firm.

In this particular survey, Pew asked respondents if a person has a moral right to die under 4 separate scenarios. These scenarios ranged from having an incurable disease to being a burden on family. The results were broken down by religious affiliation. For each of the four scenarios, White Catholics were actually more likely than other respondents to believe that people had a moral right to die. Hispanic Catholics, White Evangelicals, and Black Protestants were among the groups least likely to support the idea of a moral right to die. Unfortunately, the survey did not ask about church attendance. Many polls show that Catholics who attend Mass on a weekly basis tend to have more conservative views on social issues. Still, the fact that Catholics are more likely than other demographic groups to believe in a moral right to die is disheartening.

The cultural left has not enjoyed the same progress with physician assisted suicide as they have with other issues. There are a variety of reasons for this. The consistent opposition from groups representing the disabled has given some political liberals pause. Also the lack of support from racial minorities is also an obstacle. Still, physician assisted suicide was recently legalized in Vermont. And a ballot proposition that would have legalized physician assisted suicide in Massachusetts failed by a narrow margin in 2012. The issue is likely gaining salience and some of the key battlegrounds may well be blue states where there is a high Catholic population. As such, clergy and laity who support the sanctity of human life need to more effectively communicate church teachings on this issue.


Categories:Euthanasia Politics Poll

  • scragsma

    I think there’s a difference between a moral right to die on the one hand (if that phrase even has any inherent meaning) and a moral right to either take your own life or ask someone else to take your life, on the other hand. We DO have the right to decline extraordinary medical treatment, according to Church teaching.

  • Libby Smith

    This question in this poll is not clear. Are they asking if someone has a right to refuse continued treatment if that treatment is deemed to be more debilitating than helpful? Or are they talking about a person actually taking something or doing something which would summarily end his or her life? Clarifying this might make a big difference in the outcome.

    In addition to the actual matter of of allowing people to choose suicide there is the slippery slope problem. “The right to die, becomes the duty to die, becomes the right to kill becomes the duty to kill. Any older person or disabled person is potentially a victim of this mentality.

  • Carol ann wilkinson

    I am not sure what is meant to have MORAL right to die? How can that even be a question?

    • Carol ann wilkinson

      What do you want modified?

  • Marie

    A very sad commentary. It is too bad they did not ask about church attendance. Maybe better preaching on life issues would help.

  • Nancy Leirer

    It’s not surprising if the moral right to die includes the right to refuse treatment. My sister-in-law, who was 71 and had been suffering from several ailments and frequent hospitalizations, chose not to have dialysis when her doctor diagnosed kidney failure. She died, at home, surrounded by her children, siblings and grandchildren. I miss her terribly but believe she had the right to choose not to undergo dialysis. To me, I would saw she had the moral right to die,

    • Phil

      Nancy, your sister in law had the moral right to refuse treatment, if not done in a deliberate intent to die. Knowing that could be the result is not the same as intending it to be that result. The doctors could have been mistaken; or, God could have blessed her with a miraculous cure. Not a moral right to die, but a moral right to refuse an onerous, painful treatment. I’m sorry for your loss.

  • Antonio A. Badilla

    What is it that Catholics do not understand about respecting life from the moment of conception till God calls us to Himself? Are the bishops reading these polls?

    • Jack Mason

      How is forcing someone to live with serious on-going pain or forcing someone to live with an incurable disease that is draining the family’s finances a respect for life? It seems just the opposite to me. We are not asked if we want to be born or not born. That being the case, why would God not give us the right to choose when to die?



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