5 Facts About Americans’ Views on Life-and-Death Issues

Jan 07, 2014

A 13-year-old California girl is at the center of the latest national debate about end-of-life care. Jahi McMath was pronounced brain-dead in December following complications related to a tonsillectomy to treat sleep apnea. A legal battle between McMath’s family and Children’s Hospital Oakland ensued, forcing the hospital to keep the girl on a ventilator. On Sunday, citing a court order, the hospital released McMath to her family (via the Alameda County coroner).

In another case, in Texas, Marlise Machado Muñoz collapsed in November and now has no brain activity. Her husband wants her taken off life support, citing her wishes, but Muñoz was 14 weeks pregnant when she collapsed and Texas law requires expectant mothers to be kept alive.

The two situations highlight the complicated nature of end-of-life questions. A recent Pew Research Center survey explores Americans’ views on the topic, ranging from the morality of suicide to personal preferences for end-of-life care. Here are some of the key findings:

  1. Death may not be the most comfortable topic to ponder, but 37% of Americans say they have given a great deal of thought to their own wishes for end-of-life medical treatment – up from 28% in 1990. A third (35%) say they have put their wishes in writing. At the same time, however, about a quarter (27%) say they’ve given no thought or not very much thought to their wishes.

Read the full article at the Pew Research Center.

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