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

  • Mary McNeil

    I am a practicing Catholic who is active inmy church. I am also a retired Hospice nurse. I do not believe in assisted suicide or abortion. However I firmly believe a person has the right to refuse treatment..Church teaching is very clear on extraordinary means to prolong life.

  • Helen Joanne Satmary

    Since Vatican 11 there is a lot of
    confusion in the Church and some teachings are questionable.

  • Helen Joanne Satmary

    I believe there is a lot of confusion in the Church since Vatican 11, as well as many false teachings.

    • Paul Sadek

      I confess to my curiosity, Helen. What teachings on matters of faith and morals which the Church has proclaimed as the truth–since 1965–do you feel that we, as Catholics, are free to disregard as “false”?

  • Phil

    Hey everyone, happy 2014! I wonder how end-of-life issues will gain greater public awareness as millions in the Baby-Boom generation near their lives’ ends. The next 20 years should be a really interesting time for our society and religions to face these challenging issues.

  • Bioethicist

    Asking whether a person has a “right to die” is unclear. Does it mean a person has a right to refuse medical treatment? If so, then good Catholics could answer yes. Does it mean that a person has a right to be killed? Obviously, here, the answer would be no. Ask an unclear question, get unhelpful data.

  • Clifford Wiesner

    I appreciate Nancy Leirer’s comments. I have completed a form which states that no exceptional steps are to be taken if I am dying with no hope of recovery. I would never contemplate suicide, but, if I am dying and there is no hope of recovery, let me be – God is waiting, so have I. Exceptional, mechanical, procedures are to placate those surviving, they are no solace to those who are destined to die. Let them go.



Receive our updates via email.