Survey polls South Africans on euthanasia

Family members should be allowed to switch off the life-support system of a brain-dead person, said 70% of South African adults approached in a recent survey.

But half of them opposed active euthanasia, indicated the poll results released on Monday.

Euthanasia is the painless killing of a patient suffering from an incurable disease or in an irreversible coma. A brain-dead patient is medically defined as dead.

The telephonic survey was conducted by Research Surveys among 493 adults in urban areas last month.

Said researcher Neil Higgs: “There is a fair amount of agreement that, if a person is on life support and brain-dead, her or his husband or wife or family member should be allowed to make the decision to turn off the life-support system.”

The first question posed to respondents was whether a patient’s family should be allowed to turn off life-support systems if the individual had been declared brain-dead.

About 87% of whites polled were in favour of such a decision, as were 56% of black respondents, 88% of Indians and 70% of coloured people.

“Clearly, one’s culture plays a notable role in one’s views on this question,” Higgs said.

Religion also played a significant role in responses, but gender had no impact.

Seventy percent of Christians who were polled agreed, as did 89% of Muslims or Hindus and 65% of those practising ancestral or other religions. Fifty-six percent of respondents had no religion.

On the issue of the right to die when terminally ill, people were “sharply divided”, said Higgs.

Half of those questioned agreed people should never be allowed to take their own lives, even if they were terminally ill and in considerable pain.

Almost 60% of black people polled held this view, as did 35% of white people, 56% of Indians and 47% of coloured people.

Forty-four percent of respondents disagreed with the statement.

“On this clearly contentious issue, differences between the race groups are very strong, but it is interesting to note that differences between different religions are not evident.”

He said people older than 46 were more likely to disagree with the statement.

The third statement put to the respondents was whether a terminally ill person had the right to die with medical assistance from doctors.

Forty-six percent of the respondents agreed with this, while 51% disagreed.

Thirty-seven percent of black respondents agreed, as did 60% of white respondents, 50% of Indians and 49% of coloured respondents.

“Again, differences in response between religions are not evident. Neither are there any age or gender differences.”

Higgs concluded it is relatively acceptable for the life support of a brain-dead patient to be turned off, but taking one’s life—even in extremes—remains controversial.

“Culture plays a major role in shaping one’s views on these issues, but religion, perhaps surprisingly, plays a much lesser role,” said Higgs.—Sapa

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