A recent nationwide study shows that more than four out of 10 evangelicals in America believe that physician-assisted suicide is “morally acceptable.”
Lifeway Research – an evangelical polling firm – randomly polled 1,000 respondents this fall and came up with some surprising results when looking at Americans as a whole.
“[Research indicates that 69 percent of Americans somewhat agree or strongly agree that] physicians should be allowed to assist terminally ill patients in ending their life," the Christian organization disclosed.
Losing the passion for the sanctity of human life
Lifeway Research Executive Director Scott McConnell indicates that Americans have bought into the belief that a life is an individual’s own to take – If pain or discomfort comes into the equation.
"If they are facing a slow, painful death, Americans want options," McConnell stated, according to the Christian Post. "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."
Physician-assisted suicide was found to be more aggregable to those in Christian circles than many anticipated – even though their numbers are considerably lower than among the general population.
“Forty-two percent of evangelicals expressed some level of agreement with that statement [that seeking help to die early is a moral option], while 70 percent of Catholics and 53 percent of protestants also agreed that doctors should be allowed to assist in ending a patient's life,” the Christian Post’s Samuel Smith reported regarding the survey. “In total, 60 percent of Christians surveyed agreed with the statement, compared to the 88 percent of non-religious respondents and 77 percent of respondents affiliated with other religions.”
When asked if it “is morally acceptable” for patients to ask their doctor to help them end their lives in the incident of a painful terminal disease, answers varied drastically between believers and the general population.
“While 67 percent of respondents somewhat or strongly agreed with that statement, 38 percent of evangelicals also expressed some level of agreement that it is ‘morally acceptable’ to ask for a doctor's aid in suicide,” Smith informed. “Fifty-nine percent of all Christians surveyed expressed agreement with the statement, as 70 percent of Catholics and 53 percent of Protestants also agreed to some extent.”
When looking at regular churchgoers and those who occasionally go to church, a similar trend was seen.
“Fifty-two percent of respondents who attend religious services once a month or more also expressed agreement with the statement, while 78 percent of respondents who attend services less than once a month also agreed that it is morally acceptable,” Smith added.
Christian leader speaks out
One Christian leader who is familiar with pain and hardship as a quadriplegic acknowledges that Lifeway’s research provides testimony that evangelicals “have a basic fear about suffering” in America.
Joni and Friends International Disability Center Founder Joni Eareckson Tada says that there are many misconceptions that misguide the views of Christians on this highly sensitive topic.
"They have a basic fear about old age and pain and disability, but fears are not the basis for good social policy,” Eareckson Tada told the Christian Post on Thursday. “Fundamental fears about suffering and disabilities should never ever be the basis for social policy,"
The evangelical disability activist and author argues that believers should be better informed when it comes to the legalities of end-of-life and related medical issues.
"My contention is that most Christians do not understand that we already have good laws on the books, which allow for people to 'die with dignity," Eareckson Tada shared. "You don't have to have extended treatment. You don't have to have that extra surgery. You don't have to take chemo. You don't have to undergo kidney dialysis. You don't have to prolong pain."
She insists that preserving, improving, extending and strengthening lives should be a greater priority than destroying and shortening them.
"If there is anything we should be focusing on, it should not be making it easier for people to die,” the ministry leader asserted. “Let's pull more resources into developing better pain management therapies, pain management techniques and educating more doctors on effective pain management."
Eareckson Tada is afraid that Christians today are no longer boldly standing by the biblical stance to protect the sanctity of human life. She also sees believers as less committed to bear witness when it comes to fighting for godly values regarding political issues – including same-sex marriage and abortion.
"I think a lot of Christians are throwing in the towel and feeling like the culture is so large and so massive that there is nothing that we can do to change it, and so they are just ascribing to the notions and the cultural messages that they hear in the newspaper and magazines – or across the backyard fence," she expressed.
Soon after voters in the presidential election made Colorado the sixth state to legalize doctor-assisted suicide for terminally ill patients, Lifeway unleashed its latest survey.
“The state's voters voted on election day to change the state's statutes to allow mentally capable adults diagnosed with terminal disease and [who] have less than six months to live to ask for and receive a lethal prescription that they can voluntarily take to end their own life,” Smith informed. “Opponents of Proposition 106 argued that proper safeguards are not in place and [they] fear that ‘Proposition 106 would entice insurers to drop expensive treatments for terminal patients – even when medical advances might add months or years more to a life that a patient may wish to take.’"
Because of laws legalizing physician-assisted suicide, the fight to preserve lives has taken a step back.
“In October, it was reported that a terminally ill mother in California was denied coverage for her doctor-recommended chemotherapy shortly after the state passed its assisted suicide law,” Smith recounted. “The mother was told by the company that suicide pills would be covered under her plan.”
Just months before the election, a 41-year-old man was euthanized by his physician in the Netherlands because he was unable to overcome his problem with alcoholism.
"[This man’s unnecessary death] is deeply concerning—and yet another reason why assisted suicide and euthanasia must never be introduced,” critics argue.
According to Eareckson Tada, it could be just a matter of time before states – where assisted suicide is legalized – will be required to widen the parameters of what defines a terminal illness. She also fears that it will only take one depressed disabled person who wants to prematurely end his or her life to plead to a judge so that the definition of “terminally ill” is expanded.
"I can see the day when a disparaging quadriplegic like me just throws his hands up and says 'I can't handle this' and puts forth a court challenge so that a judge might expand the definition of what a terminal illness might be – kind of like what we have seen in the Belgium and the Netherlands," Eareckson Tada warned. "I can see that coming – unless we provide the support services needed among special needs families."