Americans divided on facing death: Fight it, choose it or let it come

facingdeathBy Cathy Lynn Grossman

WASHINGTON (RNS) Death may be inevitable, but one in three Americans – including most blacks and Hispanics – want doctors to never quit fighting it.

And that number has nearly doubled in 23 years, a new survey finds.

In 1990, 15 percent of U.S. adults said doctors should do everything possible for a patient, even in the face of incurable illness and pain. Today, 31 percent hold that view, according to a report released Thursday (Nov. 21) by the Pew Research Center’s Religion & Public Life Project.

The majority of U.S. adults (66 percent) still say there are circumstances when a patient should be allowed to die. At the same time, however, the never-say-die view calling for nonstop aggressive treatment has increased across every religion, race, ethnicity and level of education.

“We don’t really know why there is a doubling in that viewpoint,” said the survey’s author, Pew senior researcher Cary Funk, who found the shift “surprising.”

“When it comes to yourself, well, you might just hang on a little longer as you face the reality of identifying your own condition,” said Funk. Doctors “are always offering one more hope, one more treatment. You don’t know what the possibilities are.”