The process of assisting in someone's death, also known as euthanasia, has become a very controversial topic in today's society. Webster's dictionary defines euthanasia as easy death and mercy killing. What one may ask is how an issue so intense can be defined in two simple words. The BBC News online defines euthanasia as "the active ending of a patient's life by a doctor." Scientist and doctors work everyday trying to come up with cures for various diseases such as cancer, AIDS, MS, etc. Every breakthrough in science has both positive and negative aspects. If we, as a society, had always let the negative possibilities overshadow and prevent positive realities, mankind would never have reached its present state. 
          In a July 7, 1998 article from BBC News Online, there were talks of a conference being held by leading doctors to discuss the topic of assisting death to terminally ill patients. According to the BMA (British Medical Association), this issue has, for a long time, been the main topic of serious debate and just last year was recognized saying that doctors hold a "wide range of views on the subject." 
          A Dr. John Marks said, "In over 40 years of practice, I have never deliberately killed a patient, but I have given them increasing and, in some cases, huge doses of drugs to ease theft suffering, knowing fully well I was shortening their life. Maybe I was a hypocrite, but I do know that when my time comes, I want a doctor who will give me a lot of assistance."
          Dr. Stuart Homer, a former chairman of the BMA's ethics committee, understands that people in favor of physician-assisted suicide need a strong supporter if euthanasia is ever to be legalized. He is backing the calls to hold this conference.
          Other doctors, like Jonathan Fielden and Dr. Michael Wilks are opposed to the idea of euthanasia. Although opposed, Dr. Wilks went on to say that by not holding a conference, society would get the idea that doctors are not able/prepared to discuss topics of public concern. A motion from Ayrshire and Arran doctors suggested that patients should be assisted in death if requested. This motion would commit the BMA to a pro-euthanasia policy, which is unlawful. Dr. David Watts said this policy would turn the doctor/patient relationship into one of master and servant with the patient in charge. Needless to say, this motion lost.
          In an article called "Assisted Suicide?" from September 28, 1998, it says that this topic will never go away. Many people now believe in euthanasia and that it should not be a crime. This article's emphasis is on the legalization of assisted suicide by doctors. It says that the last people who should help with suicide should be the doctors. In other words, doctors are there to help patients to live as long as possible, not assisting them in dying to prevent further suffering. A good point made in this article says that if it was legal to assist in suicide, the assisting doctor would always be set free if taken to trial, unless the prosecution could prove, without a doubt, that the assistance was illegal. It would be so simple for physicians to give unrequested assistance and never be charged for a thing. In a case like this, the one needed most would not be alive to testify. This article goes on to say according to the Kavorkian trials, that alone should show how simple it is to keep from being convicted of murder when there is no one to testify against it.
          The article asks the question why make a law where suicide can be assisted when people are fully capable of doing it themselves. Overall, this particular article is not in favor of legalizing euthanasia because if legalized, this would be a simple way to dispose of unwanted people.
          In another article called "Physician Assisted Suicide", a Dr. Timothy E. Quill spoke of his own experience in giving a patient medication and instructions on how to end her life if and when she decided to. This article was looked at in a more positive way than other articles on euthanasia. This doctor had been the primary care taker of this lady for a long period of time and he spoke of this "event" in a sensitive, caring, and compassionate way, unlike Kavorkian who seemed to be heartless. The question arises though if there is really a difference in Quill and Kavorkian although compassion was shown in one case and not the other.
          Dr. Derek Humphrey, founder of the Hemlock Society, had a long cared for patient ask him to help her die. She no longer could stand the pain caused by her cancer and asked for a heavier dosage of medication. He knew as he injected the narcotics into her veins that only an exact amount would ease her pain, while the slightest amount over would cause her respiratory arrest. Two hours after the injection, his patient died. Dr. Humphrey believes that his action was morally and ethically the right thing to do. He believes that his actions were actually to help his patient instead of harm her.
          The writer of this article believes that the health care system no longer tries to prolong death, but instead tries to ease the suffering of dying.
          A message written by Jennifer Norkus on April 26th of this year told of her belief that religion should not be a factor in medicine. This paper was written by Jennifer in response to a letter by Lisa Helton on April 20th of this year. Jennifer said that not everyone has the same religious beliefs and that it is wrong to condemn someone that is terminally ill and no longer can handle the pain. She also said that being as euthanasia obviously deals with death that people's moral beliefs would influence theft attitudes. She goes on to say that these values should not be forced on others and to keep the possibility of aided suicide between the patient, theft family, and the physician. Jennifer believes euthanasia should be possible for those who want it, but in no way affect those who do not.
          By reading these articles, one can see various opinions and facts relating to the topic of euthanasia. Even people in the medical profession express different views on the morality of assisting in someone's death. The purpose of my research was to try to determine what caused those individuals to feel the way they do without having some type of experience with euthanasia. What factors determine whether someone is for or against euthanasia was my question for research.


1. As a person gets older, they tend to have a more positive outlook on euthanasia.

2. A person having no religious preference will be more likely to be for euthanasia.

3. The higher one's education, the more they will be in favor of euthanasia.

4. The more confidence one has in the medical profession, the more positively they will look at euthanasia.


          This analysis utilizes interview data collected by the National Opinion Research Center (NORC) in the 1991 General Social Survey (hereafter GSS). The GSS, a nationwide annual survey, offers the advantage of multi-stage probability sampling and can be considered representative of English-speaking, non-institutionalized adults (18 years of age and older) living in U.S. households. (For more detailed information on the GSS, see Babbie and Halley {1994}.) This examination of the relationships between age, religion, and euthanasia feelings relies on a subset of 1750 of the original 1976 respondents. Following is a brief description of the variables considered and of the frequency distributions for these variables.


          In this analysis, respondents' ages ranged from 18-89. The ages of the respondents were grouped into five categories. These categories went as follows: (18-30, group 1), (31-38, group 2), (39-49, group 3), (50-62, group 4), and (62-89, group 5). The respondents were asked the question, "When a person has a disease that cannot be cured, do you think that doctors should be allowed by law to end the patient's life by some painless means if the patient and his family request it?" By looking at table one, you can see that about 20% of my respondents were placed in each group.


          This analysis uses three different religious preferences to determine views on euthanasia. The three are Catholic, Protestant, and individuals with no religious preference. (See table 2) These three religions were grouped as follows: Protestants 1, Catholics 2, and no preference 3. They were also asked the question, "When a person has a disease that cannot be cured, do you think doctors should be allowed by law to end the patient's life by some painless means if the patient and his family request it?"


          By looking at the results of the crosstab on age, (see table 3), it shows that as people get older they view euthanasia more negatively. Group one had 76.3% (145), group two, 79.0% (139), group three, 71.9% (138), group four, 63.3% (112), and group five 64.3% (108). The chi-square test had a value of 17 (p.c. 002), which tells us that the relationship between age and euthanasia attitude was positive and significant. The gamma test however, shows that the relationship was relatively weak. The results of this test did not support my hypothesis on age because I assumed that the older one gets, the more they would support euthanasia.

           The tests done on religion show that the people with no preference were the highest group for euthanasia with 90.8% (79). Next, were Catholics with 70.6% (173), followed by the Protestants with 67.2% (346). (See table 4) The chi-square test done on religion show that we would get results like this by chance less than one time in 1,000. The lambda results only account for 0.0% of the respondents, which proves that the positive relationship between religion and euthanasia attitudes is also very weak. The results of these tests do prove my hypothesis correct saying that people with no religious preference would be more likely to approve of doctor- assisted suicide.

          During the course of my research, I became concerned that perhaps the observed relationship between religious background and euthanasia attitude was a function of the individual's age. To rule this possibility as crass-tabulation was done with the two significant predictor of euthanasia attitudes. The study only explains about 6% of the population's views.


           The respondents' opinions on euthanasia did, in fact, vary according to their religion and to theft age. My objective in this research was to prove that age, religion, education, and confidence in medicine caused different reactions toward the idea of assisted suicide. The results of my tests did not, in some cases, agree with my hypothesis on the variables, but the four variables I used did explain a small percentage of peoples' views on my topic.
          The age of the respondents seemed to have a slight positive relationship on theft views toward euthanasia. As the age went up, theft views became more negative. Religion had a small significant relationship on the topic. Both education and confidence in medicine had slight positive relationships, but when compared with religion and age, the results were somewhat spurious. Basically, one's education and confidence in medicine did not play an important role in how someone feels about euthanasia like I assumed they would. These results from respondents were random and could be different each time someone is tested.
           As a result of this research, I have realized that many other factors come in to play when determining one's feelings on euthanasia. The variables age, religion, education, and confidence in medicine all proved to be significant, but overall did not explain as much as I had expected. Euthanasia is a growing concern in today's society. Until faced with the experience personally, I believe people will remain close minded to the possibility of a physician helping someone they love or even themselves take theft own life. To be as complicated and important a decision as euthanasia is, I can truly see where several thoughts, feelings, emotions, and information will, in the end, determine how someone decides whether euthanasia is really the morally "best" or only alternative.

Table 1.  Frequency Distribution of Respondent Age.

FrequencyValid Percentage

Table 2.  Frequency Distribution of Respondent Religious Preference.

Frequency Valid Percent
Protestant 547 61.1
Catholic 259 28.9
None 89 9.9
Total 895 100.0


Table 3.  Crosstabular Analysis of Attitude toward Euthanasia by Age of Respondent.

Age of Respondent
1 2 3 4
YES 145 139 138 112
76.3 79.0 71.9 63.3
NO 45 37 54 65
23.7 21.0 28.1 36.7
TOTAL 190 176 192 177
100.0 100.0 100.0 100.0

chi-square 17 (p = .002) 

Gamma .191

Table 4.  Crosstabular Analysis of Attitude toward Euthanasia by Religion.

YES 346 173 79 598
67.2 70.6 90.8 70.6
NO 169 72 8 249
32.8 29.4 9.2 29.4
TOTAL 515 245 87 847
100.0 100.0 100.0 100.0

CHl-SQUARE= 20.0 (p <.0001)


TABLE 5.  Crosstabular Analysis of Euthanasia Attitude by Religion Controlling for Age.



YES 67.8% 84.9% 93.3%
NO 32.2% 15.1% 6.7%
YES 75.3% 75.0% 92.3%
NO 24.7% 25.0% 7.7%
YES 69.0% 70.5% 57.9%
NO 29.5% 16.7% 42.1%
YES 57.9% 68.9% 91.7%
NO 42.1% 31.1% 8.3%
YES 67.2% 50.0% 100.0%
NO 32.8% 50.0% 0.0%
AGE=l 10.7   (p=0.005)
AGE=2 3.736  (p=0.154)
AGE=3 1.530  (p=0.465)
AGE=4 6.184  (p=0.045)
AGE=5 4.521  (p=0.104)

Table 6.  Regression of Euthansia Attitude on Age, Religion, Education and Confidence in Medicine.  (NOTE:  Standardized Regression Coefficients [a.k.a. Betas] are shown.]).
R SQUARE= .061
F= 5.184

* =P<.05
** =P<.01
*** =P<.001


"Assisted Suicide." Home page. 28 September 1998.  

Norkus, Jennifer. "Reply." E-mail to Lisa Helton. 26 April 1998.

"Physician Assisted Suicide." <http.//>.

"Doctors to Debate Right to Help Patients to Die." 7 July 1998. BBC News Online:Health: Latest News. 128000/1283/.sum.