Religion in the U.S.
About half of all American claim no regular religious denominational affiliation, though many still consider themselves loosely affiliated, a sensibility that sometimes becomes more important during times of crises. The chart at right represents the percentages of religious affiliation in the U.S. (U.S. Census Bureau, 2014). the excerpts below reflect representative statements of denominational positions related to end-of-life decision making. Religions are listed in order of their preponderance of adherents in the general population.
True compassion . . . encourages every reasonable effort for the patient’s recovery. At the same time, it helps draw the line when it is clear that no further treatment will serve this purpose.
–Pope John Paul II: Statement on Palliative Care, National Catholic Bioethics Quarterly; 5, no. 1 (2005): 153-155.
Palliative care is an expression of the properly human attitude of taking care of one another, especially of those who suffer. It bears witness that the human person is always precious, even if marked by age and sickness. . . . For this reason, when life becomes very fragile and the end of earthly existence approaches, we feel the responsibility to assist and accompany the person in the best way.
— Pope Francis’ address to the Pontifical Academy for Life, 3/5/15
There is no moral or religious obligation to use [medical technologies] when the burdens they impose outweigh the benefits they offer, or when the use of medical technology only extends the process of dying.
— Faithful Care for Persons Suffering and Dying, Book of Resolutions (2004).
Health care professionals are not required to use all available medical treatment in all circumstances. Medical treatment [including artificially-administered nutrition and hydration] may be limited in some instances, and death allowed to occur. Patients have a right to refuse unduly burdensome treatments which are disproportionate to the expected benefits.
— End-of-Life Decisions, ELCA Message (1992)
The Christian moral tradition allows for the possibility of withholding or withdrawing treatment when it can no longer restore life. People should not have to fear that others will unnecessarily prolong their dying .. . . Such caring may require the Christian community to take initiative in developing and supporting new models of care, such as hospice.
— Euthanasia, Assisted Suicide and End-of-Life Issues, Study Guide (1995)
Assemblies of God
There are times when a debilitating accident, a life-threatening illness at an advanced age, or prolonged terminal illness without any natural hope of recovery makes it appropriate for a patient to say, “Do not perform any extraordinary measures to resuscitate me or maintain my body on life support machines, for I am ready to go home to be with my Lord” (2 Corinthians 5:1-10).
— Euthanasia, & Extraordinary Support to Sustain Life, AoG statement (undated)
Churches of God
The National Association of Evangelicals acknowledges that the withdrawal of life-support systems is an emotional and difficult issue. However, we believe that medical treatment that serves only to prolong the dying process has little value. It is better that the dying process be allowed to continue and the patient permitted to die.
— Termination of Medical Treatment, National Assoc. of Evangelicals (1994)
There is no moral obligation to prolong the act of dying by extraordinary means and at all costs if such dying person is ill and has no reasonable expectation of recovery. . . . The decision to withhold or withdraw life-sustaining treatment should ultimately rest with the patient, or with the patient’s surrogate decision-makers in the case of a mentally incapacitated patient.
— Established Principles Re: the Prolongation of Life, Church Resolution (1991)
United Church of Christ
We can legitimately refuse certain medical treatments when 1) their purpose is solely to extend life without attendant quality of life, 2) they bring greater hardship than comfort, and 3) they provide no significant medical value. What might be ordinary and ethically mandated treatment for a healthy adult or child (for example, antibiotics for the treatment of pneumonia) may be excessive or extraordinary treatment for an elderly resident of a nursing home (pneumonia is often described as the “old person’s friend”) or a person is already in the final stages of the dying process. . . . Further, the utilization of pain relievers is not considered killing the patient even though morphine and other pain relief will likely shorten a person’s lifespan.
— End-of-Life Care, UNC Science & Technology Taskforce (undated)
Jewish law is compatible with the principles of palliative medicine and end-of-life care as they are currently practiced.
— Kinzbruner, BM. Jewish Medical Ethics and End-of-Life Care, J of Palliative Medicine, 7:4, 2004. (Orthodox Rabbi and MD)
The Cessation of Medical Treatment for Terminal Patients. Jewish tradition teaches that we achieve this compassion through two means: measures aimed at the relief of pain, and the cessation of unnecessary medical treatment for the terminally ill.
— On the Treatment of the Terminally Ill, CCAR RESPONSA, 5754.14