Growing minority say docs should keep patients alive in all circumstances

Although they still represent a minority of Americans, those who believe doctors should try to save a patient's life in all circumstances are increasing in number, according to a new survey from Pew Research Forum.

Sixty-six percent of respondents said there are circumstances under which patients should be allowed to die, while 31 percent said medical professionals should take all steps possible to save a patient's life, according to Pew. Support for the latter position has increased steadily over the last 25 years, according to the survey announcement, up nine points from 2005 and 16 points from 1990.

The increase is due in part to a slight reduction of the proportion of Americans that believe there are circumstances where patients should be allowed to die, and partly due to a larger proportion of people expressing an opinion. Only 3 percent of respondents declined to respond or had no opinion, compared to 12 percent in 1990 and 8 percent in 2005.

There were variations in support under more personalized circumstances. For example, 57 percent said they would want their doctors to stop treatment if they were in pain with no hope of recovery or improvement, and a slight majority (52 percent) would ask their doctors to stop treatment if they had an incurable condition that left them totally dependent on a caregiver.

However, more than a third--35 percent--said they would want their doctor to do everything possible to keep them alive, even in situations where there was no hope of improvement, compared to 28 percent in 2005. This, again, is largely due to a decline in respondents who express no opinion, as the proportion of respondents who would stop their own treatment has remained largely unchanged since 1990, according to the survey.

A June report found hospitals have improved end-of-life care for Medicare patients and increased hospice care, FierceHealthcare previously reported.

To learn more:
- read the survey announcement