Friday, January 10, 2014

Life Death and Religious Cultures


Life and Death
 in 2013

The world’s largest religions generally promote a prolife position. Life is valuable from the moment of conception until death. In many countries, people of faith are outspoken about some aspect of life and death. Overall, the world is a less violent place (Pinker, 2011), although it may not seem like it to those in war torn areas or to those who pay attention to news reports without an historical context.

In Western Democracies, prolife has often been thought of in terms of a moral position against abortion. But in the view of many, including my own, prolife describes a culture that values life rather than death. In this summary, the reports offer brief quantitative information with links to sources for those interested in details. What’s missing from many reports is a careful look at the quality of life. This post is a look at the current state of a culture of life around the world. I am also on the lookout for more details about the link between religion and matters of life and death—not just beliefs—but data supported associations.

The USA is largely populated by people who believe in God and identify as Christian. President Ronald Reagan proclaimed the first National Sanctity of Human Life Day on January 22, 1984, which was linked to the 11th anniversary of the Roe v. Wade Supreme Court decision on abortion. Reagan later designated the third Sunday in January as Sanctity of Human Life Day. I take a look at the data about life in several categories. 

According to the Central Intelligence Agency, (CIA) the US ranked 51st in average life expectancy among listed countries with an average age of 78.62 years. My obvious thesis is that a longer life is one indicator of how much a culture supports life.

The CDC reports data on contraception, which is an obvious indicator of intent to prevent life. The most common type of contraception in the US is the pill for women ages 15-29. The percentage of women age 15 to 44 using the pill is 17.1 percent. And 16.5 percent use female sterilization. For men,  6.2% are sterilized.

In August 2013, the Guttmacher Institute reported that there were 62 million US women of childbearing age (15 to 44). Of these, about 70% were at risk of having an unplanned pregnancy because they are sexually active, do not wish to become pregnant, and are without adequate contraception. The pregnancy odds for couples who do not use contraception is about 85% in a given year. Most US women only want two children, which means they will need to use some form of contraception for nearly three decades. Some data were available based on religious beliefs (, August, 2013):
Some 68% of Catholics, 73% of Mainline Protestants and 74% of Evangelicals who are at risk of unintended pregnancy use a highly effective method (i.e., sterilization, the pill or another hormonal method, or the IUD). Only 2% of at-risk Catholic women rely on natural family planning; the proportion is the same even among those women who attend church once a month or more.
The year 2013 was the 40th anniversary of the U S Supreme Court decisions (Roe v. Wade; Doe v. Bolton) that decriminalized abortion. In recent years, antiabortion groups have engaged in a variety of actions that limit the ability of women to obtain a legal abortion.

Abortion and Faith. According to the Guttmacher Institute: “More than seven in 10 U.S. women obtaining an abortion report a religious affiliation (37% protestant, 28% Catholic and 7% other), and 25% attend religious services at least once a month. The abortion rate for protestant women is 15 per 1,000 women, while Catholic women have a slightly higher rate, 22 per 1,000.”

According to Cheryl Sullenger of Operation Rescue, 2013 was a record year for closing abortion clinics. “The total number of surgical abortion clinics left in the U.S. is now 582. This represents an impressive 12% net decrease in surgical abortion clinics in 2013 alone, and a 73% drop from a high in 1991 of 2,176.

The laws in the 50 US states vary in terms of the rules under which a woman is allowed to obtain an abortion. Guttmacher ( updates text tables that classify the different limitations. Here are some ways the details of state laws are grouped: Physician and hospital requirements; Gestational limits; Partial-birth abortions; Public funding; Coverage by private insurance; Refusal (The right of individuals, hospitals or others to refuse to participate in an abortion); State-mandated counseling for a woman seeking an abortion; Waiting periods (usually 24 hours); Parental involvement (consent, notification). Several states passed laws that increased restrictions in 2013. Several states passed highly restrictive laws in 2013 e.g., Kansas, Texas, North Dakota.

Amnesty International reported 43 US executions in 2012. Capital punishment is legal in 32 states. As of November 20, 2013 CNN reported, 3,108 inmates in 35 states were awaiting execution. In addition, the US government and military have about 63 persons in line for the death penalty. In terms of the world, the US ranked fifth highest in executions in 2012.

The Center for Disease Control (CDC; reports data for U.S. self-inflicted injury and suicides. Emergency department visits for self-inflicted injury were 713,000.  Suicide ranks 10th in causes of death with 38, 364 per recent data (2010). Most completed suicides are due to firearms (19,392). Suicide rates remained high in the US military despite prevention programs.  More people died by suicide than were killed in combat. Through April, 2013, the suicide rate was one suicide every 18 hours. (NBC news).

The U.S. CDC reported the number of visits to emergency departments for treatment following an assault was 2 million. There were 16,259 homicides with most a result of a firearm (11,078).

In a disturbing investigation, the BBC issued a report on child abuse and child death in the United States
  • Every five hours a child dies from abuse or neglect in the US.
  • The latest government figures show an estimated 1,770 children were killed as a result of maltreatment in 2009.
  • A recent congressional report concludes the real number could be nearer 2,500.
  • In fact, America has the worst child abuse record in the industrialised world. Why? The BBC's Natalia Antelava investigates.


The CIA publishes a world fact book. Life expectancy was the highest for Monaco at 89.63 years. And 33 counties had an average life expectancy above 80 years.

 According to the GatesFoundation, “more than 220 million women in developing countries who don’t want to get pregnant lack access to effective methods of contraception and voluntary family planning information and services. Less than 20 percent of women in Sub-Saharan Africa and barely one-third of women in South Asia use modern contraceptives. In 2012, an estimated 80 million women in developing countries had an unintended pregnancy and at least one in four resorted to an unsafe abortion.”

On December 20 news stories reported that the Spanish government acted to tighten restrictions on abortion, which would be allowed only in cases of rape or serious health risks to the mother or the unborn child. According to the BBC, five countries have a total ban on abortion: El Salvador, Nicaragua, Chile, Honduras and Dominican Republic.

 In their State of the World report, Amnesty International reported a majority of countries (140; about two-thirds) abolished the death penalty by the end of 2012. Among the world’s industrialized democracies, only the US and Japan retain the death penalty (CNN).

 According to the International Association for Suicide Prevention, at least 100,000 adolescents commit suicide each year. Suicide is the third leading cause of death for people aged 15 to 24. For a detailed report of suicide in the UK see

A UN report from 2010 put the number of annual deaths due to homicide at 468,000.
Globally, the total number of annual deaths estimated by UNODC to be homicides in 2010 was
468,000. More than a third (36 per cent) of those are estimated to have occurred in Africa, 31 per
cent in the Americas, 27 per cent in Asia, 5 per cent in Europe and 1 per cent in Oceania. When
relating these figures to the population size of each particular region a slightly different picture
emerges showing that the homicide rate in Africa and the Americas (at 17 and 16 per 100,000 population, respectively) is more than double the global average (6.9 per 100,000), whereas in Asia, Europe and Oceania (between 3 and 4 per 100,000) it is roughly half.


The recent health care contraception provisions in the U.S. (Affordable Care Act) brought to light the traditional teaching of the Catholic church, which affirms the sanctity of life and opposes contraception.

Gallup published polling data in 2012 indicating most Americans think birth control is morally acceptable. When moral acceptability was analyzed by religious affiliation, 89% of Catholics and 90% of non-Catholics found contraception morally acceptable.

The Catholic church has consistently affirmed the sanctity of life and taught against abortion. A summary of the positions of the large world religions is available from the Society for the Protection of Unborn Children. All of the major faith groups oppose abortion. But some include exceptions.

Survey data from PewResearch (2013) indicate about half view abortion as morally wrong in the U.S. The strongest opposition to abortion came from White Evangelical Protestants (75%). Others opposed to abortion by religious group were: Hispanic Catholic 64%; Black Protestant 58%, White Catholic 53%, White mainline Protestant 38%, Unaffiliated 25%.

In a PBS report on suicide, Betty Rollin provided an overview of the history of suicide in Christianity. There are seven biblical accounts of suicide without indications of condemnation. She traced the origin of suicide as sin to St. Augustine. In 1983, Catholics changed the code of canon law permitting a person who died by suicide to have a Catholic funeral and burial. Comments from Rabbi Joseph Ozarowski and Imam Inamul Haq as well as Christian Reverend Jerry Andrews refer to the seriousness of taking one's own life in their faith traditions. The PBS story also focused on the difficulties of survivors in coping with the suicide of a loved one and wondering about their eternal state.

It is hardly newsworthy that religious persons are against murder. But some wonder about euthanasia. The Catholic Church is clear in its opposition to ending the life of another person.

Many people have been concerned about the welfare of animals and the environment. In recent years, some Evangelical Christians have expressed concerns under the banner of Creation Care. Unfortunately, the senseless destruction of animals persists as people desire parts of some animal bodies for unsupported claims of benefits for health or virility. One example is the ivory trade. Other people destroy habitats needed to support life. Still others adopt and abandon pets. There are more issues than I can cover. If you have links to data concerned with life beyond human beings and the environment, please post in a note.

You can find a summary of the positions of the major world religions on the BBC ethics page for euthanasia. Most religions oppose euthanasia

Prolife is about a culture of life.

If you have credible research sources with additional relevant data, please post in a comment with a link.

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