By Mary Wisniewski
CHICAGO (Reuters) - As the nation debates the costs of health care and insurance, a survey released on Thursday found that a growing minority of Americans say that doctors should do everything possible to keep patients alive.
Two thirds of Americans, or 66 percent, say there are at least some situations in which a patient should be allowed to die, according to a survey by Pew Research Center.
But nearly a third, or 31 percent, said doctors should always do everything possible to save a patient's life, which is up from 15 percent in 1990, Pew found, as more Americans were willing to express an opinion on the matter.
The question of whether to save lives in all circumstances was hotly debated a decade ago in the case of Terri Schiavo, a Florida woman on life support for 15 years. Her husband wanted to terminate life support, which resulted in a highly publicized series of legal challenges before support was finally ended in 2005.
The Pew survey found that 62 percent of Americans believe that people in a great deal of pain, with no hope of improvement, have a moral right to end their own lives, up from 55 percent in 1990.
Religious groups differ about the morality of suicide in medically dire situations, with about half of white evangelical Protestants and black Protestants rejecting the idea.
By contrast, the religiously unaffiliated, white mainline (non-evangelical) Protestants and white Catholics were more likely to believe in the moral right to suicide in certain circumstances.
There is a similar pattern among religious groups when it comes to allowing physician-assisted suicide for the terminally ill. The survey interviewed 1,994 people, with a margin of error of plus or minus 2.9 percent.
(Reporting by Mary Wisniewski; Editing by Cynthia Johnston and Bernadette Baum)