Views on End-of-Life Medical Treatments Strongly Associated With Religious Affiliation And Race/Ethnicity

A new survey by the Pew Research Center's Religion & Public Life Project paints a complex picture of Americans' views on end-of-life treatments.

As the report explains, a growing minority (31 percent, up from 15 percent in 1990) of respondents believe that everything possible should be done to save a patient's life, and 35% say they would tell their doctors to do everything possible to keep them alive--even if they suffered from a disease with no hope of improvement and were experiencing a great deal of pain.  Complicating the picture, "a growing share of Americans also believe individuals have a moral right to end their own lives. About six-in-ten adults (62%) say 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. A 56% majority also says this about those who have an incurable disease, up from 49% in 1990. While far fewer (38%) believe there is a moral right to suicide when someone is “ready to die because living has become a burden,” the share saying this is up 11 percentage points, from 27% in 1990."

In addition, views about end-of-life medical treatment appear to be strongly associated with religious affiliation as well as race and ethnicity.

  • White Catholics (80%) and white mainline Protestants (76%) are particularly likely to say there are circumstances in which a patient should be allowed to die. A majority of white evangelical Protestants (68%) also hold this view. By contrast, a majority of Hispanic Catholics (66%) and 54% of black Protestants say medical staff should do everything possible to save a patient’s life in all circumstances.
  • White evangelical Protestants and black Protestants are least inclined to believe suicide is morally justified. About half or more white evangelical Protestants and black Protestants reject the idea of a moral right to suicide in each of the four circumstances included in the survey.  The unaffiliated, followed by white mainline Protestants and white Catholics, are especially likely to say there is a moral right to suicide under each of these circumstances. Among each group, about six-in-ten or more believe a person is morally justified in ending his or her life when suffering great pain with no hope of improvement and when facing an incurable disease.
  • A majority of white mainline Protestants (61%) and about half of white Catholics (55%) approve of laws that allow physician-assisted suicide, as do two-thirds of religiously unaffiliated adults. However, by a margin of about two-to-one or more, black Protestants, white evangelical Protestants and Hispanic Catholics disapprove of laws that allow doctor-assisted suicide.
  • Whites are more inclined than either blacks or Hispanics to say there are some circumstances in which a patient should be allowed to die, and that people have a moral right to end their lives under any of the four circumstances described in the survey.  Whites are also more inclined to favor laws allowing doctor-assisted suicide than are either blacks or Hispanics.

Read more: resources:
Euthanasia: A Data-Driven Learning Guide (
Frederique Laubepin

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