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How does religion influence beliefs about end-of-life care? | Deseret News National
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How does religion influence beliefs about end-of-life care?

Doctors are trained to be experts in providing end-of-life care for American patients, but studies show that religious patients prefer to put their life in God's hands as death draws near.

An annual update to Gallup's Values and Beliefs poll showed that a strong majority of Americans continue to support euthanasia in cases where a person suffers from an incurable disease. Support wanes, however, among respondents who frequently attend worship services.

Gallup reported that 48 percent of Americans who attend worship weekly believe "doctors should be allowed by law to end the patient's life by some painless means if the patient and his or her family request it" compared to 69 percent of Americans overall. The results were based on a poll of 1,028 American adults.

The study showed that support for physician-assisted euthanasia increases as attendance at worship services decreases. Seventy-four percent of Americans who attend church "nearly weekly or monthly" and 82 percent who attend church "less often" support laws that would allow doctors to painlessly end a patient's life. Both figures are notably higher than the 48 percent of weekly worshippers.

The Gallup poll can be paired with a 2013 Pew Research Center Religion and Public Life report on end-of-life medical treatments to create a fuller picture of the influence religion has on the decisions surrounding death.

Pew reported that "a majority of white mainline Protestants (61 percent) and about half of white Catholics (55 percent) 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."

In an article about the Pew survey, Deseret News National reported that religion and ethnicity both affect the way patients and their families discuss end-of-life care.

"Most white Protestants, whether mainline or evangelical, and most white Catholics said if they could not be cured and were suffering great pain, they'd stop treatment. Black Protestants and Hispanic Catholics said even in those circumstances they'd ask the doctor to do everything possible to save them," the Deseret News reported.

Divine influence on death was also in the news recently because of a new study about the possibility of medical miracles. The Atlantic reported that a new paper from researchers at Johns Hopkins University discusses how complicated end-of-life care can become when doctors compete with patients' religious beliefs.

"For a religious patient, not even an esteemed or beloved physician will win in a contest with God," the researchers explained.

Email: kdallas@deseretnews.com Twitter: @kelsey_dallas