End-stage of life, assisted dying and religion

As various jurisdictions are presently addressing the question of legalising assisted, end of life dying, a deep delve on this issue was timely since it would provide the public with an independent picture of where Australians stand on this issue.

Since 2013, instinct and reason has conducted a quarterly on-line, social survey monitoring socio-economic issues impacting on people aged over 55 years (Boomers). In 2017, instinct and reason commenced a quarterly on-line, social survey monitoring socio-economic issues impacting on people aged 18 – 35 years (Millennials).

On the basis of that social survey data, Dr Anthony Hogan has prepared a paper on the topic of community perspectives on end-stage of life.

Executive Summary :

  • This paper reports on nationally representative surveys concerned with peoples’ views (50 years and over (Boomers) and 18–35 year olds (Millennials)) on the questions of euthanasia (in the context of terminal illness) and assisted dying. Given the ethical nature of current public debate concerning this policy issue, respondent perspectives by religious identification were also documented.

  • The study found that as a whole some two-thirds (65%) of Boomers and 58% of Millennials support the legalization of euthanasia. There was, however, a high level of uncertainty in the community around this issue. The issue was in turn examined within the context of religious belief or religious affiliation. Approximately one third of respondents reported a formal religious affiliation. Of those with a religious affiliation, 48% of Boomers and 39% of Millennials supported the legalization of euthanasia. Again, for both groups, uncertainty remained an issue with some while a further 28% of Boomers and 40% of Millennials reporting uncertainty or neutrality on these issues. A strong majority of Roman Catholic, Anglican and Uniting Church members supported the legalization of euthanasia while members of smaller Christian denominations opposed the legalization of euthanasia.

  • Further analysis of the data found that peoples’ positions of the legalization of euthanasia shifted with regards the context within which such a procedure may be offered. The more specific the context (e.g. euthanasia offered as a solution to people who have a terminal condition or extreme physical illness; enables a person to die with dignity) was with regards access to euthanasia, the greater was support from community. When better contextualized, it is likely that some 90% of Boomers and 70% of Millennials would support the legalization of euthanasia.

  • While people with a specific religious affiliation make up approximately one third of the community, this cohort did not report a unified position with regards access to euthanasia, when such an offering is contextualized. When examined in this manner, opposition to contextualized euthanasia amongst those with a religious affiliation stood at about half of this group, or 15% of the population.

  • It is evident from this study that there is strong community support for the legalization of euthanasia which provides a voluntary, dignified, pain free death, where such a service is provided in the context of terminal, end stage disease.

To download a copy of that report in full, please click here.