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Important to closely read results of new survey on assisted suicide

by | Dec 15, 2016

By Dave Andrusko

If 30 years of taking surveys on euthanasia and/or assisted suicide teaches us anything, it is that the devil is in the details. Everything but everything depends on how the question is asked, what assumptions are built in or left out.

Enter the latest survey taken by LifeWay Research, the results of which were reposted on this week in Christianity Today.

The CT headline for the reposted story written by Bob Smietana is the kind intended to get people to read: “Opposition to Assisted Suicide Dies Out: Most Americans, including 4 in 10 evangelicals, want doctors to help terminally ill patients end their lives.”

For the flagship publication of the evangelical community, the 4 in 10 figure is obviously the one that grabs the reader’s attention.

So what can we learn? There are two different questions. The common denominator is that if you paint an awful enough picture, people will be more willing to say they agree that it acceptable for a physician to “assist” someone to die. Nothing new there. Let’s get specific.

#1. Respondents were asked whether they agreed or disagreed with this statement: “When a person is facing a painful terminal disease, it is morally acceptable to ask for a physician’s aid in taking his or her own life.” 67% agreed, 33% disagreed–a 2-1 margin.

The survey results are broken out for a multiplicity of demographic groups. Religious “nones” were most in agreement (84%); 59% of “Christians” were as well.

Who thought otherwise–who were more “skeptical”? “Fewer than half of those with evangelical beliefs (38 percent), African-Americans (47 percent) or those who attend religious services at least once a month (49 percent) say physician-assisted suicide is morally acceptable,” according to Smietana.

#2. The second question was worded slightly differently: “Physicians should be allowed to assist terminally ill patients in ending their lives.”

69% agreed, 31% disagreed. Again, the demographic group which agreed the least was those with “evangelical beliefs”: 42%.

Put the other way, 58% disagreed.

Here’s an intriguing and very revealing quote

Scott McConnell, executive director of LifeWay Research, says Americans want more say over how they die. That’s especially true if facing a painful, terminal illness, he says.

“If they are facing a slow, painful death, Americans want options,” he says. “Many believe that asking for help in dying is a moral option. They don’t believe that suffering until they die of natural causes is the only way out

Well…how many people of any faith, or no faith, believe that “suffering until they die of natural causes” is a desirable outcome? Probably none.

What is so disconcerting about the survey is that there is not a syllable that even suggests virtually all pain can be controlled. Nor is there a hint that overwhelmingly, people do not cite pain as the reason they want to be “assisted” to die.

Pain is well down the list behind such reasons as “loss of autonomy,” “less able to engage in activities making life enjoyable,” and “loss of dignity.”

“These are not physical but existential symptoms,” explains Dr. Peter Saunders. “But should lethal drugs be prescribed to people who feel their lives no longer have meaning and purpose?”

And should it surprise anyone that so many of these people are depressed?

Not a particularly helpful or enlightening survey.

Categories: Assisted Suicide