Relation Between Euthanasia Attitudes and Religion Among Canadian Post-Secondary Students

All over the world, Euthanasia explores the widespread and contrasting opinions in its morality and justness. It is a very sensitive topic due to its involvement in the ending of one’s life. Wikipedia defines Euthanasia as the act of killing a person who is terminally ill to alleviate their suffering. There is also a distinction between active and passive euthanasia, as well as voluntary and involuntary euthanasia.

Active euthanasia is the act of taking active steps to inject a patient with poison to intentionally cause death (Wikipedia, “Euthanasia”, 2010, para. 1). Where as passive euthanasia involves stopping medical treatment (such as disconnecting kidney dialysis) to intentionally cause death. Voluntary euthanasia entails a patient has full knowledge and consent to his death.

While involuntary euthanasia indicates that the patient is unconscious or too sick to be aware of what is happening, therefore the decision to die is made by another person on their behalf (Wikipedia, 2010). The history of euthanasia dates back to ancient Roman and Greek civilizations when the practice was believed to be morally acceptable; the meaning of euthanasia in Greek is “good death” (Wikipedia, 2010). During the 1930’s, involuntary euthanasia was used by the Nazis to kill 300,000 handicapped and mentally ill Germans (Faulstich, 2000). Although euthanasia was very commonly practiced in history, it is now highly controversial and is now a global issue with varying opinions of its morality.

Euthanasia is illegal in most countries and also in Canada; the criminal code (Canadian Department of Justice, 2010) implies that euthanasia is illegal: 14. No person is entitled to consent to have death inflicted on him, and such consent does not affect the criminal responsibility of any person by whom death may be inflicted on the person by whom consent is given (consent to death, para 14). 241. Everyone who counsels a person to commit suicide or aids or abets a person to commit suicide, whether suicide ensues or not, is guilty of an indictable offence and liable to imprisonment for a term not exceeding fourteen years (counseling or aiding suicide, para 241).

Legalizing euthanasia would permit doctors to kill patients (wanting to die that are terminally ill or in a vegetative state). It would de-value and change the symbolization of human life and may open doors to more extreme legalizations. Legalizing euthanasia would give doctors an immense responsibility that they may or may not desire due to the mental stress load that comes along with it. Making euthanasia legal may change the amount of people entering the medical work force, either increasing or decreasing it.

On the other hand, it gives a person the freedom to do as they wish and frees up medical resources to help others in need. In a study of attitudes towards euthanasia among Swedish medical students (Karisson, Strang & Milberg, 2007), many students supported euthanasia because they believed that an individual has the right to autonomy (i.e. the right to choose to die).

Another argument for euthanasia was the “relief of suffering” for patients in a vegetable state or of terminal diagnosis such as cancer and AIDS. Students believed that a patient living on life support machines or are painfully dying, should have the option to die if they want to. Other opinions in Karisson et al’s study that supported euthanasia included “hopelessness” and “social factors”; a person should have the right to die in situations where death is awaiting, feelings of loneliness and where a burden on family members is present.

Euthanasia was also supported in the cases where ill elderly have “lost the will to live” and are lonely (p. 618). Karisson et al’s study also found others opposed euthanasia due to religious beliefs, namely that taking one’s life is only in the hands of God; they also believe that the patient’s desire to die are not authentic and rather come from emotional instability. A number of students acknowledged that “there is a risk of guilt and strain among those supposed to perform euthanasia, that is doctors and other staff members” (p. 617).

It would be unfair to place such a psychological burden on a person who is just trying to do their job. Karisson et al (2007) also recorded some students arguing “Euthanasia is not a task of the healthcare system. If the patient has a wish to die, suicide is a legal option” (p. 617). These arguments have a variety of perspectives connecting with religion, rights and morality, which are all strong standpoints.

My curiosity of the religious standpoint lead me to find another study by Bas and Cavlak (2007) involving the attitudes of Turkish university students of different socio-demographic backgrounds. Bas and Cavlak found that “gender, grade, educational program, father’s educational level, place of growing” (p. 398) did not have an impact on the students’ opinion of euthanasia. Alternatively, the students’ religion and mother’s educational level influenced their attitudes towards euthanasia. Students of religion were less likely to accept euthanasia than students with no religion.

Most religions are opposed to euthanasia and consider the act to morally unacceptable and sinful such as in the Catechism of the Catholic Church paragraph 2280 of Article 5 (On the Fifth Commandment): 2280: Everyone is responsible for his life before God who has given it to him. It is God who remains the sovereign Master of life. We are obliged to accept life gratefully and preserve it for his honor and the salvation of our souls. We are stewards, not owners, of the life God has entrusted to us. It is not ours to dispose of (para. 2280).

There are numerous factors that contribute to which opinion a student will possess; therefore I would like to find detailed information on the correlation between different religions and Canadian post-secondary students’ attitudes on legalizing euthanasia. I predict that the students of religion will be against legalization of euthanasia for reasons relating to God, and the atheist students will support legalization of euthanasia for reasons of autonomy.

The symbolic interactionist approach would be most suited for the topic of Euthanasia, as the controversy around it is purely the meaningful symbols we attach to it. A person who opposes euthanasia may attach symbols of hell or God, where as a person who supports euthanasia, may attach symbols of freedom or human rights. Our actions are based on the interpretation of these symbols (Cliffsnotes, n.d.). Method Participants

There were 6 chosen participants (friends and relatives) of different religion, ethnicity, educational background, gender and age. The reason for selecting friends and relatives was that they are all willing to take part in a detailed interview. Furthermore, they are all in post secondary schools and in the same age group. Students will be included from the University of British Columbia, Douglas College, Langara College, Simon Fraser University and British Columbia Institute of Technology.

ParticipantGenderAgeReligionEthnicityField of studySchool #1Female22Orthodox-ChristianSerbianCriminologyLangara college #2Female23CatholicFilipinotourismDouglas college #3Female22MuslimPersianBusinessSFU #4Female27MuslimIraqiComputer ScienceBCIT #5Male 23AtheistPolishReal estateUBC #6Male25AtheistRussianMarketingDouglas College

Procedure A qualitative interview (semi-structured) method was used to get more detailed information, rather than using a questionnaire method as previous researchers had mostly used. Detailed information was obtained on particular reasons for or against the legalization of euthanasia in Canada. All interviews were conducted between 6-7pm and lasted between 5-10 minutes each. I defined euthanasia as the act of killing a person who is terminally ill to alleviate their suffering (Wikipedia, 2010).

I also provided the definition of voluntary euthanasia as a patient having full knowledge and consent to his death; I defined involuntary euthanasia as a patient who is unconscious or too sick to be aware of what is happening, so the decision is made by another person on their behalf (Wikipedia, 2010). All responses were computer typed during the interview. I asked the following questions (over the phone): 1.Do you know what euthanasia is? (definition was provided after they answered) 2.What do you think about euthanasia?

3.Do you think euthanasia should be legalized? 4.Why or why not? 5.What do you think are the advantages and disadvantages of euthanasia? 6.Do you think that your religious beliefs have an affect on your view of euthanasia? (not asked to atheist participants) Results

Of the 6 participants, 4 knew the general idea of what euthanasia meant and some described it as “pulling the plug”. 2 participants did not know what euthanasia was at all but recognized the term after the definition was provided. The respondents’ results have been divided into 2 groups, pro euthanasia and anti euthanasia. Half of the participants were in support of euthanasia and the remaining half was against euthanasia. Pro euthanasia respondents

Respondent 1 (orthodox Christian), respondent 5 (atheist), and respondent 6 (atheist) were all in support of legalizing euthanasia. They believed that it is morally acceptable to perform euthanasia under certain circumstances such as: that a patient has no hope of living and is suffering in pain, and that consent is given by the patient or family: “I don’t think it should be considered murder.

If a person needs to be relieved of his pain and there is no hope for him, then I think it is ok to kill them as long as there is consent from them and their family.” (Respondent 1) “I think the person should try to tough it out, but if years have passed and the death is becoming extremely long and painful then I believe that euthanasia should be performed on them” (respondent 6).

Some respondents stated that the person should have “the right” to decide to die, and respondent 6 (atheist) suggested that the person be given a psychological evaluation before accepting their request to die. All respondents in this group believed that both voluntary and involuntary euthanasia were acceptable under the impression that consent is given by the patient or family (if patient is in a vegetative state) and the procedure is performed legally by a doctor. Respondent 1 (orthodox) stated that her religion had no effect on her opinion of euthanasia.

Advantages and Disadvantages given by pro euthanasia group Advantages: •Euthanasia stops the person’s pain •gives person their right to decide •frees up medical health system for others •allows family members to be emotionally relieved Disadvantages: •judged negatively by others who are against euthanasia •may be making the wrong decision.

Anti Euthanasia group Respondent 2 (Catholic), respondent 3 (Muslim), and respondent 4 (Muslim) were all against the legalization of euthanasia (on the most part). They believed that individuals should die of natural causes only. Respondent 2 stated that there shouldn’t be an option to die and that everyone should try to live as long as possible, unless years have passed, then they should be able to have euthanasia performed: “I think I would be against it, you want to try to live as long as you can.

There are miracles…but if it’s been a long time and years of no improvement then I would agree” (respondent 2). Respondent 4 (Muslim) referred to her religious beliefs in connection to euthanasia: “I refer to my religious values, its all in Gods will. So no, I am fully against euthanasia. Everyone should die naturally” (respondent 4). All anti euthanasia respondents claimed that their religion did have an effect on their opinion; however, they all believed that their opinions would be the same if they had no religion. Advantages and Disadvantages given by anti euthanasia group

Advantages: •Giving the person the right to do what they want Disadvantages: • giving permission to euthanasia can lead to more extreme cases • may not be the right decision, there is a possibility the person may have gotten better (ie. A miracle) •giving up easily will put less pressure on research and development to find cures for illnesses •people may rush into irrational, and emotional based decision making •diagnosis may be based on limited information and knowledge

The results from my study have been similar to previous studies, although, I had not found any studies recording a “miracle” as any of the students’ reasons for opposing euthanasia. My prediction that the religious group would be against euthanasia was almost accurate, besides respondent 1 (Orthodox) who was strongly pro euthanasia, who also expressed that her religion had no effect on her opinion. It is possible that this respondent’s opinion may have been affected by her studies in criminology where human rights are often stressed. The two atheist students were also in favour of euthanasia, which their opinion may have been affected by their gender as they were both male.

However, previous studies have discovered that gender was not a contributing factor to a students’ decision. The anti euthanasia group appeared to view life as a privilege and related many disadvantages to the legalization of euthanasia. While the pro euthanasia group seemed to think that allowing someone to live would be more immoral; their disadvantages were minimal to the legalization of euthanasia.

Some focused their opinions on their relationships with their families. When I asked the participants their opinion of euthanasia, many of them first imagined themselves as the patients in order to answer the question. About half the participants were not sure of their opinion at first and had to think for a substantial amount of time before answering. The results in my study have shown a correlation between euthanasia opinions of students and religious background (Though, the level of religiosity was not measured); students with religion are more likely to oppose euthanasia than students who have no religion.

References Aslan, U., & Cavlak, U. (2007). Attitudes Towards Euthanasia among University Students: A Sample Based on Turkish Population. Journal of Medical Sciences, 7(3), 396-401. Retrieved from Academic Search Complete database.

Catholic Bishops. (n.d.). USCCB - Catechesis in the Catholic Church. United States Conference of Catholic Bishops. Retrieved April 12, 2010, from

Criminal Code (2010, April 6). In The Department of Justice, Government of Canada. Retrieved April 10, 2010, from

Euthanasia. (2010, March 29). In Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia. Retrieved 20:24, April 10, 2010, from

Faulstich, H. (2000). Die Zahlder “Euthanasie-Opfer” (The number of “victims of Euthanasia”). In A Frewer & C. Eickhoff (Eds.), “euthanasia” and the present discussion on mercy killing) (pp. 218-232). Frankfurt, Germany: Campus

Karrison, M., Strang, P. & Milberg, A. (2007). Attitudes toward euthanasia among Swedish medical students. Pallative Medicine, 21(7), 615-622. Retrieved from Academic Search Complete Database.

Sociology: Three Major Perspectives in Sociology - CliffsNotes . (n.d.). Get Homework Help with CliffsNotes Study Guides - CliffsNotes . Retrieved April 8, 2010, from,articleId-26837.html