The Connection Between Values and Actions

on August 28, 2010
Featured in News to Know

Are controversies over religion, origins, and the like merely academic? Of course not; new research reminds us of the powerful connection between values and actions.

The research, which appears in the Journal of Medical Ethics, shows that atheist and agnostic doctors are far more likely to undertake actions “expected or partly intended to end life.” The result comes from a survey of several thousand doctors working in the UK. Many of the doctors surveyed came from specialties where end-of-life treatment is routine: neurology, elderly care, palliative care, and intensive care.

The doctors were asked questions about their faith and level of religiosity. Respondents included Christians, Muslims, Hindus, and those of other faiths (including atheists and agnostics). One series of questions pushed the respondents to recall the care they provided to their last patient who had died, asking, for example, whether they discussed with the patients options likely to hasten their death.

The least religious doctors were, not surprisingly, nearly twice as likely as other doctors to take life-ending decisions for patients. They were also more supportive of laws allowing euthanasia and other doctor assistance in bringing about a patient’s death.

When one rejects God, the consequences are more than theological. The value of a human life—young or old, born or unborn, healthy or diseased—is a very different question for an individual who believes humans are created in the image of God and one who believes humans are the accidental result of an unforgiving, bloody process of millions of years of natural selection.

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