Euthanasia is the practice of ending a terminally ill person’s life at his or her request, and this is a difficult topic to discuss for the vast majority of countries. Euthanasia was first legalized in 2002 in the Netherlands. Few nations have followed the Dutch example over the last 13 years, however, and there are a number of reasons for this that are psychological, religious, medical, social, economic, and historical in nature.
Some countries have a higher tolerance for euthanasia, while the majority of people in other countries consider euthanasia’s legalization unacceptable. An analysis of sociological surveys shows that attitudes might be influenced by a wide array of factors, such as socioeconomic status, education, and values. Maxim Rudnev and Alexandra Savelkaeva focused their research on values and their impact on people’s acceptance of euthanasia.
Their research was based on data from the fifth wave of the World Values Survey, 2005-2009. The final sampling included 34 countries from various parts of the world. The total number of respondents was 27,411.
Aside from the Netherlands, euthanasia is currently legal in Belgium, Luxembourg, and several U.S. states. Switzerland is also considered a centre for suicide tourism since it is not only ill Swiss citizens who can end their lives early, but tourists as well.
In many countries, the public’s attitude towards the possibility of legalizing this procedure remains negative in many countries. Germany is one example. The negative attitude towards euthanasia in Germany is the result of the country’s historical legacy,’ the researchers note, ‘namely its Nazi past, when the word “euthanasia” was used to describe the murder of the disabled.’
Euthanasia is illegal in Russia. Doctors are not allowed to take any action (or inaction) that might speed up the death of a hopelessly ill patient. In addition, the latest research shows that public approval of euthanasia has been falling recently in Russia, Ukraine, and Belarus. ‘People in the post-Soviet space see euthanasia as a threat and are worried that it might be used against them to save on healthcare spending. Overall, they are not inclined to think in terms of freedom of choice,’ the authors say, referring to previous studies from abroad.
The global trend is nonetheless such that the number of people who approve of euthanasia is on the rise. Many researchers believe that this is the result of society’s individualization. ‘Here, a role is played by the increasing value of autonomy in making decisions, including decisions on the freedom to die at your own free will, and the right to control the process of your own death,’ Rudnev and Savelkaeva explain.
In their research, the authors analysed how various factors at the individual and national level impact the approval level of euthanasia. Particular attention was paid to religion. It is clear that representatives of different religious confessions have varying opinions on legalising euthanasia for the hopelessly ill. Muslims are most sceptical of the practice, which simply confirms the results of previous studies. Representatives of different religions were on a continuum between Muslims, who were unmoveable opponents of euthanasia, and atheists, who were rather neutral. Such religions include Protestantism, Catholicism, Christianity, and Buddhism, whose approval level of euthanasia was rather similar.
But it is not just religion that determines a person’s attitude towards euthanasia. The researchers found that. In addition, people who work are more prone to approve of the practice than the unemployed, who feel less protected socially and fear that potential legalisation could be used against them. Another factor associated with a positive attitude towards euthanasia is a person’s own low level of health. ‘A person’s own familiarity with illness personally brings him or her to approve of euthanasia,’ the researchers note.
At the country level, GDP has a significant positive effect on euthanasia approval levels. In Australia, Canada, Great Britain, the U.S., and Europe, attitudes towards euthanasia are more positive than in many Eastern European countries and in Africa.
The study was most successful at identifying the connection between growing values of autonomy and euthanasia approval levels. Rudnev and Savelkaeva found that the more pronounced the values of independence and risk are, the lower scepticism is towards euthanasia. ‘Respondents who would like to see their children become independent and not selfish are more tolerant when it comes to euthanasia, while those who lean towards the value of obedience have a more sceptical mindset,’ the paper says.
The researchers note that the effects of their values remain when the level of respondents’ ‘religiousness’ and the level of the religious confession to which they ascribe are controlled. ‘Here it follows that in the countries under review, religion is not a monopolised source of moral views on vital issues, and values present themselves as an independent source of moral regulation,’ the paper says.
The authors conclude that cultures which place a high value on autonomy and independence in decision-making promote a positive attitude towards euthanasia, which appears to be valued as the realisation of a person’s right to independently control his or her own life.