Pew Research Center's new report, "Americans' Views on End-of-Life Medical Treatment," explores the individual preferences and choices that surround the universal experience of death.

However, starting the conversation about the end of life is not always easy, and a large chunk of U.S. adults haven't given much thought to their preferences at all.

But discussing death doesn't have to be morbid. In fact, it's often an excellent idea to talk about preferences before it's necessary. That's the idea behind "Death Over Dinner," which are meals organized in order to connect friends and strangers through conversations about life and death.

Laura Sweet, a former hospice volunteer and a "Death Over Dinner" host, says, "We want to talk in an informal way about personal experiences with death. How do people want to die? Have you shared that with anyone? What deaths have you experienced? We don't want it to be distasteful, or uncomfortable, but an uplifting atmosphere."

These facts drawn from the Pew survey about American attitudes towards death show the importance of thinking about the end of life, and communicating with loved ones about preferences.

1. America's elderly population has more than tripled in size over the last century
The share of the total U.S. population that is age 65 and older has more than tripled over the last century, from roughly 4% in 1900 to 14% in 2012.


2. Over a quarter of U.S. adults haven't really thought about future medical treatment at the end of their lives
Fully a quarter of adults (27%) say that they have not given very much thought or have given no thought at all to how they would like doctors and other medical professionals to handle their medical treatment at the end of their lives, even those aged 75 or older (25%).

thoughts on death

3. Most Americans are expected to live well into their seventies
The average life expectancy in the U.S. is now 78.7 years.


4. The majority of U.S. adults would want to stop medical treatment if they were suffering a lot of pain with dire hope for improvement
57% of adults say that they would tell their doctors to stop treatment if they had an incurable disease with no hope of improvement and were suffering a great deal of pain.


5. About one third of Americans would fight for life no matter what
About a third of adults (35%) say they would tell their doctors to do anything possible to keep them alive, even if the circumstances were so dire that they had a disease with no hope of improvement and were experiencing a great deal of pain.


6. A majority of adults believe in a moral right to suicide, if a person was in great pain with no hope of getting better
62% of adults say that a person suffering a great deal of pain with no hope of improvement has a moral right to commit suicide.

morality of suicide

7. There is a big split on the issue of the legitimacy of physician-assisted suicide
47% of adults approve of laws to allow doctor-assisted suicide for terminally ill patients, while 49% disapprove.


8. Race greatly affects the answers of whether people would want to fight to stay alive in great pain and little hope of improvement
Only 26% of white U.S. adults would ask their doctors to do everything possible to save their lives if they had a disease with no hope of improvement and were suffering a great deal of pain, in stark contrast with the 61% of black adults and 55% of Hispanic adults who would want the maximum effort expended on life-saving strategies.


9. Death has affected most people in the United States
About half of adults (47%) say they have a friend or relative who has had a terminal illness or who has been a coma within the last five years.


10. A majority of U.S. adults believe that an infant should receive as much treatment as possible in the case of a life-threatening birth defect, even if parents want to refuse treatment
38% of adults believe that a parent has a right to refuse treatment on behalf of an infant in the case of a life-threatening birth defect, while 57% say that an infant should receive as much treatment as possible, regardless of the defect.


11. Religion and race greatly affect people's response to the idea of a moral right to suicide in case of great pain
Black Protestants are most inclined to reject the idea of a moral right to suicide, out of the religious and racial groups surveyed. Religiously unaffiliated adults were most likely to support a moral right to suicide.

moral right suicide

12. Optimism for the future is harder to find in the older generation
Only about a fifth (19%) of adults aged 75 and older expect their lives to be better in ten years compared with today, though 71% of people aged 18-49 believe that their life will improve in the future.


Pew Research Center first surveyed American attitudes about death in 1990, then again in 2005. This survey was conducted by telephone with a national sample of adults, 18 years of age or older, living in all fifty U.S. states as well as the District of Columbia. 1,994 interviews were conducted in English and Spanish from March 21 to April 8, 2013. The margin of error for the entire sample is ±2.9 percentage points.

Note: In headlines, 'Americans' and 'U.S. adults' are sometimes used interchangeably for the sake of flow.

Also on HuffPost:

Loading Slideshow...
  • Daughter Shares Final Dance With Dying Father

    AUBURN, CA - The veil, the dress, the makeup, the gazebo - it was all perfect. The only thing missing was a groom. But that's exactly how it was planned. The daddy and daughter dance was just for just for 25-year-old Rachel Wolf and her father. Her father is Dr. James Wolf. He's losing his battle with pancreatic cancer. <a href="" target="_blank">Read more here</a>

  • The Top Five Regrets of the Dying: A Life Transformed by the Dearly Departing

    By Bronnie Ware <a href="" target="_blank">Find it here</a>

  • To One Shortly To Die

    "FROM all the rest I single out you, having a message for you: You are to die—Let others tell you what they please, I cannot prevaricate, I am exact and merciless, but I love you—There is no escape for you." -Walt Whitman <a href="" target="_blank">Read more here</a>

  • How To Live Before You Die -Steve Jobs

    Steve Jobs' 2005 Stanford Commencement Address Drawing from some of the most pivotal points in his life, Steve Jobs, chief executive officer and co-founder of Apple Computer and of Pixar Animation Studios, urged graduates to pursue their dreams and see the opportunities in life's setbacks -- including death itself -- at the university's 114th Commencement on June 12, 2005.

  • Jane Lotter's Self-Penned Obituary

    Before dying peacefully at home through Washington's Death With Dignity Act, due to her advanced cancer, Jane Lotter wrote her own obituary. <a href="" target="_blank">Read it here</a>

  • A Decalogue: Ten Commandments for the Concerned Caregiver

    By Rabbi Earl A. Grollman "Grieving is hard work-- work that tears at you in so many ways. Grief taxes every part of you-- body, soul and spirit. And when loss comes after a prolonged illness you may feel that you have twice as much work. And in many ways, you do-- for you are grieving both during and after the illness." <a href="" target="_blank">Read more here</a>

  • 'Last Day," from Charlotte's Web by E.B. White

    “Charlotte,” said Wilbur after awhile, “why are you so quiet?” “I like to sit still,” she said. “I’ve always been rather quiet.” “Yes, but you seem specially so today. Do you feel all right?” “A little tired, perhaps. But I feel peaceful. Your success in the ring this morning was, to a small degree, my success. Your future is assured. You will live, secure and safe, Wilbur. Nothing can harm you now. These autumn days will shorten and grow cold. The leaves will shake loose from the trees and fall. Christmas will come, and the snows of winter. You will live to enjoy the beauty of the frozen world, for you mean a great deal to Zuckerman and he will not harm you, ever. Winter will pass, the days will lengthen, the ice will melt in the pasture pond. The song sparrow will return and sing, the frogs will awake, the warm wind will blow again. All these sights and sounds and smells will be yours to enjoy, Wilbur—this lovely world, these precious days…” <a href="" target="_blank">Read more here</a>

  • A Good Death

    One Man's Passing, A Photo Project by Joshua Bright "FOR more than a year, I visited and photographed a dying man named John R. Hawkins. I had found him through the New York Zen Center for Contemplative Care when I went in search of both a photo project and a profound experience." <a href="" target="_blank">Read more here</a>

  • Jae Rhim Lee: My mushroom burial suit Here's a powerful provocation from artist Jae Rhim Lee. Can we commit our bodies to a cleaner, greener Earth, even after death?

  • Dying Is Absolutely Safe

    "Something has happened to me as a result of meandering through many realms of consciousness over the past fifty years that has changed my attitude toward death. A lot of the fear about death has gone from me. I am someone who actually delights in being with people as they are dying. It is such incredible grace for me. In the morning, if I know I am going to be with such a person, I get absolutely thrilled because I know I am going to have an opportunity to be in the presence of Truth." -Ram Dass <a href="" target="_blank">Read more here</a>

  • The"Coffinmaker"

    Every year, Americans bury enough metal in the ground to rebuild the Golden Gate Bridge, says Vashon Island coffin maker Marcus Daly. <a href="" target="_blank">Read more</a>

  • Congratulations you gonna die! (by Alan Watts)

    interesting and amusing thoughts about death and dying in our Alan Watts.

  • My Gift of Grace

    Users test a prototype of My Gift of Grace.

  • My Gift of Grace

  • My Gift of Grace

  • My Gift of Grace

  • My Gift of Grace