A Pew Research Center survey on end-of-life decisions finds most Americans say there are some circumstances in which doctors and nurses should allow a patient to die.
At the same time, however, a growing minority says that medical professionals should do everything possible to save a patient's life in all circumstances.
The November 21 survey published the views of different religious groups on "end-of-life" issues, with most religious groups opposing physician-assisted death or euthanasia or that the emphasis should be on saving life not ending it.
Christians, Buddhists, Hindus, Jews, Muslims generally oppose assisted-death.
Among Christians this holds true for Assemblies of God, Baptists, Catholics, the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (Mormon Church), Episcopalians and Lutherans.
Six after the survey came out at the Vatican on November 27, Pope Francis, during his weekly homily, spoke on the mystery of death and how it brings Christians the hope of resurrection as he explained why some people are so afraid the end of life.
The survey and the Pope's reflection on death provided an insight into changing beliefs on the treatment of those who are dying and how humanity comes to grips with the final part of people's lives on earth.
"If we remain close to God in our lives, especially in solidarity with the poor and vulnerable," Francis said, "we need not fear death but rather welcome it as the door to heaven and to the joy of eternal life."
Personal preferences about end-of-life treatment in the United States are strongly related to religious affiliation as well as race and ethnicity the Pew survey showed.
For example, most white "mainline Protestants" (72 percent), white Catholics (65 percent) and white evangelical Protestants (62 percent) say they would stop their medical treatment if they had an incurable disease and were suffering a great deal of pain.
By contrast, most black Protestants (61 percent) and 57 percent of Hispanic Catholics say they would tell their doctors to do everything possible to save their lives in the same circumstances.
On balance, blacks and Hispanics are less likely than whites to say they would halt medical treatment if they faced these kinds of situations.
The Pew survey came at a time of debate in the United States over health care costs and insurance,
When asked about end-of-life decisions for other people, two-thirds of Americans (66 percent say there are at least some situations in which a patient should be allowed to die, while nearly a third (31 percent) say that medical professionals always should do everything possible to save a patient's life.
Over the last quarter-century, the balance of opinion has moved modestly away from the majority position on this issue.
While still a minority, the share of the U.S. public that says doctors and nurses should do everything possible to save a patient's life has gone up 9 percentage points since 2005, and up 16 points since 1990.
The uptick comes partly from a modest decline in the share that says there are circumstances in which a patient should be allowed to die and partly from an increase in the share of the public that expresses an opinion.
When thinking about a more personal situation, many Americans express preferences for end-of-life medical treatment that vary depending on the exact circumstances they might face.
A majority of U.S. adults say there are at least some situations in which they, personally, would want to halt medical treatment and be allowed to die.
For example, 57 percent say they would tell their doctors to stop treatment if they had a disease with no hope of improvement and were suffering a great deal of pain.
And about half (52 percent) say they would ask their doctors to stop treatment if they had an incurable disease and were totally dependent on someone else for their care.
But about a third of adults (35 percent) say they would tell their doctors to do everything possible to keep them alive – even in dire circumstances, such as having a disease with no hope of improvement and experiencing a great deal of pain.
In 1990, by comparison, 28 percent expressed this view.
This modest uptick stems largely from an increase in the share of the public that expresses a preference on these questions; the share saying they would stop their treatments so they could die has remained about the same over the past 23 years.
On Wednesday, Pope Francis spoke on the meaning of Christian death, emphasizing that the resurrection of Jesus gives it light. He cautioned against worldly ideas which can overcome us, Catholic News Agency reported.
"If we allow ourselves to be taken in by this mistaken vision of death, we have no other choice than that of hiding death, of denying it, or of trivializing it, so that it won't make us afraid," the Pope said in his Nov. 27 general audience.
The Pope reflected on "our dying and rising in Jesus Christ."
Francis noted that among many today, "there is a mistaken way of seeing death."
"It questions us in a profound way, especially when it touches us up close, or when it strikes the little ones, the defenseless in a way that seems to us scandalous," the Pope reflected.
"If death is understood as the end of everything," he explained, "it frightens, terrifies, and is transformed into a threat that shatters every dream, every prospect, which breaks every relation and interrupts every way."
This vision of seeing life "enclosed between two poles: birth and death" without anything beyond, the Pope noted, "is typical of atheistic thought, which interprets existence as finding oneself accidentally in the world and walking towards nothingness."
"There is also a practical atheism, which is to live only for one's own interests and earthly things," Francis said, noting if we fall into this vision we have no other choice than to avoid the reality of death so that we won't be afraid.
However, noted the pontiff, "this false solution reveals in man's heart, the desire that we all have for the infinite, our nostalgia of the eternal."
Turning to the meaning of Christian death, Pope Francis referred to the passing of a loved one, noting in pain "we remember that, even in the tragedy of the loss...the conviction arises in our heart that everything cannot be finished, that the good given and received was not useless."
Francis said, "There is a powerful instinct within us, which tells us that life does not end with death."