WASHINGTON (BP)–About eight in 10 Americans believe a doctor should not be able to withhold life support against the wishes of a patient or the patient’s family, according to a recent poll.
A Wirthlin Worldwide survey announced in late February showed 79 percent of adults think a family should be able to choose life support for an unconscious patient even when a physician believes the patient’s quality of life does not warrant such action. In the same poll, 85 percent of respondents said life support should be given when a patient has requested it, even if a doctor thinks the patient’s quality of life is too low to merit it.
“While we do not determine right and wrong by polling data, it is heartening to know that the average person understands the issue better than the so-called experts,” said Ben Mitchell, assistant professor of Christian ethics at Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. “Physicians have an important role to play, but they are not God. Most of them realize that fact.
“We’re involved in a huge social engineering experiment,” Mitchell stated. “When pro-death social engineers team up with economists, the result is policy that kills patients who are judged to have a life not worth living.”
Some ethicists have advocated policies under which life support would be withheld despite the wishes of patients and their families. Some hospitals have implemented such procedures. Such policies have been promoted under “the rubric of futile treatment,” Mitchell said.
Five states have adopted laws requiring hospitals to provide treatment at least until the patient can be moved to a facility willing to place him on life support in response to his wishes. The states are Maryland, Minnesota, Ohio, Oklahoma and South Dakota. Similar laws are expected to be considered this year in the legislatures of at least four states, Arkansas, Florida, New York and Texas, and possibly in Congress, according to the National Right to Life Committee.
Mitchell also serves as a biomedical consultant for the Southern Baptist Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission.
Reported by Tom Strode