Volume 24, Number 4, April 2023 Supplement - Section I: The survey

Perspectives of major world religions on euthanasia and assisted dying

Katherine Pettus
IAHPC Senior Director of Partnerships & Advocacy

A 2010 report based on a study of more than 230 countries by the Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life claimed that, “worldwide, more than eight-in-ten people identify with a religious group.”1 The religious profile of the world is rapidly changing, driven primarily by differences in fertility rates and the size of youth populations among the world’s major religions, as well as by people switching faiths. Over the next four decades, Christians will remain the largest religious group, but Islam is projected to grow faster than any other major religion.2 While there are many differences within the major world religions, and a multitude of individual opinions and interpretations of their faith by people who identify as religious or “spiritual,” we at the IAHPC believe that, given the sheer size of the demographic that self-defines as religious, teachings of major world religions are an important frame of reference for assisted dying discussions.


While the teachings of Buddha do not specifically address euthanasia, it is clear that the religion opposes “mercy killing.”3 A 2013 document by the Pew Research Center on how different religious groups view end-of-life issues states that, “Buddhists generally oppose assisted suicide and euthanasia. Buddhism teaches that it is morally wrong to destroy human life, including one’s own, even if the intention is to end suffering. Buddhists are taught to have a great respect for life, even if that life is not being lived in optimal physical and mental health. Buddhists also believe that life need not be preserved at all costs and that one does not need to go to extraordinary lengths to preserve a dying person’s life. This means, for instance, that while a terminally ill person should not be denied basic care, he or she could refuse treatment that might prove to be futile or unduly burdensome. […] The bottom line is that so long as there is no intention to take life, no moral problem arises.4

Christianity: Anglican (Episcopal)

An Anglican Communion Resolution on euthanasia from the 1998 Lambeth Conference states that, “In the light of current debate and proposals for the legalization of euthanasia in several countries, this Conference:

  1. affirms that life is God-given and has intrinsic sanctity, significance and worth;
  2. defines euthanasia as the act by which one person intentionally causes or assists in causing the death of another who is terminally or seriously ill in order to end the other's pain and suffering;
  3. resolves that euthanasia, as precisely defined, is neither compatible with the Christian faith nor should be permitted in civil legislation;
  4. distinguishes between euthanasia and withholding, withdrawing, declining or terminating excessive medical treatment and intervention, all of which may be consonant with Christian faith in enabling a person to die with dignity. When a person is in a permanent vegetative state, to sustain him or her with artificial nutrition and hydration may be seen as constituting medical intervention…”5

However, there is considerable debate in the Anglican Communion.6,7

Christianity: Catholic

According to the Catechism of the Catholic Church, intentional euthanasia, whatever its forms or motives, is murder. It is “gravely contrary to the dignity of the human person and to the respect due to the living God, his Creator.”8 Catholic teaching views suicide as a grave offense against love of self, one that also breaks the bonds of love and solidarity with family, nation, and God.9 To assist another’s suicide is to take part in “an injustice which can never be excused, even if it is requested.”10 At the European Regional Meeting of the World Medical Association on end-of-life issues, Pope Francis said “It is clear that not adopting, or else suspending, disproportionate measures, means avoiding overzealous treatment; from an ethical standpoint, it is completely different from euthanasia, which is always wrong, in that the intent of euthanasia is to end life and cause death.”11  He reiterated the teaching of the Catechism of the Catholic Church that “Discontinuing medical procedures that are burdensome, dangerous, extraordinary, or disproportionate to the expected outcome can be legitimate; it is the refusal of ‘over-zealous’ treatment. Here one does not will to cause death; one’s inability to impede it is merely accepted.”11


The Islamic code of law discusses many issues regarding life and death, as it considers any act of taking one's life to be forbidden. Islam sanctifies life and depicts it as a gift from God (Allah). It consistently emphasizes the importance of preserving life and well-being. Therefore Muslims, the followers of Islam, have no right to end their life. All Islamic doctrines consider physician-assisted suicide and euthanasia to be forbidden. However, if the patient has an imminently fatal illness, withholding or withdrawing a futile medical treatment is considered permissible. From a legal perspective, Islamic countries have not legalized physician-assisted suicide and euthanasia. Such practices are therefore considered suicides when patients consent to the procedure, and homicides when physicians execute the procedure.12


Under Jewish law, the directive to preserve human life generally outweighs other considerations, including the desire to alleviate pain and suffering. According to Rabbi Leonard A. Sharzer, associate director for bioethics at the Louis Finkelstein Institute for Religious and Social Studies at The Jewish Theological Seminary in New York City, Judaism teaches that life is a precious gift from God. A person’s life belongs to God, he says, and therefore deciding when it ends should be left to God.4 A Jew may not commit suicide, ask others to help in committing suicide, or assist in the suicide of someone else. Withholding or withdrawing machines or medications from a terminally ill patient, however, does not constitute suicide and is permitted.13 

  1. Pew Research Center. The Global Religious Landscape: A Report on the Size and Distribution of the World’s Major Religious Groups as of 2010. The Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life, 2012.
  2. Pew Research Center. The Future of World Religions: Population Growth Projections, 2010-2050. Why Muslims Are Rising Fastest and the Unaffiliated Are Shrinking as a Share of the World’s Population. Pew-Templeton Global Religious Futures Project, 2015. 
  3. Chaicharoen P, Ratanakul P. Letting-Go or Killing: Thai Buddhist Perspectives on Euthanasia. Eubios J Asian International Bioethics 1998; 8: 37-40. 
  4. Pew Research Center. Religious Groups’ Views on End-of-Life Issues. 2013.
  5. Anglican Communion. Resolution 1.14 – Euthanasia. 1998.
  6. Frankling S. Archbishop Nichols Urges Canadian Anglicans Not to Oppose Assisted Suicide Laws. Anglican Church of Canada. Anglican Journal, 2022.
  7. Cagney H. Anglican Bishops Declare Support for Assisted Dying. Lancet Oncology 2014; 15(9): e368. DOI: 10.1016/S1470-2045(14)70340-7.
  8. Catechism of the Catholic Church. Euthanasia. Point 2277.
  9. Fisher S. National Catholic Register. What Does the Church Teach about Suicide? Catechism of the Catholic Church, Point 2281. August 14, 2014.
  10. John Paul II. Evangelium Vitae, no. 66. (The Gospel of Life encyclical). Point #3.
  11. Pope Francis.  Pope Addresses End of Life Issues. https://www.vaticannews.va/en/pope/news/2017-11/pope-addresses-end-of-life-issues-.html 
  12. Madadin M, Al Sahwan HS, Altarouti KK, Altarouti SA, Al Eswaikt ZS, Menezes RG. The Islamic Perspective on Physician-Assisted Suicide and Euthanasia. Med Sci Law 2020; 60(4): 278-286. DOI: 10.1177/0025802420934241
  13. Dorff Rabbi EN. The Rabbinical Assembly. Assisted Suicide. YD 345.1997a.
    For Jewish and Catholic reiterations, see the just published 17th Bilateral Commission Meeting of the Delegations of the Chief Rabbinate of Israel and the Holy See’s Commission for Religious Relations with the Jews; Jewish and Catholic Approaches to the terminally ill: The Prohibited, the Permitted and the Obligatory (Jerusalem, May 2-4, 2023; Iyar 11-13, 5783) https://press.vatican.va/content/salastampa/it/bollettino/pubblico/2023/05/12/0362/00784.html

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