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Religious beliefs affect end-of-life care decisions

Non-religious doctors are nearly twice as willing to making decisions that speed up a patient’s death as those who hold a deep faith, according to new research.

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Those with no religious beliefs were also more likely to discuss treatments which hastened death with seriously ill patients, the survey of almost 4,000 British doctors revealed.

As part of the study, doctors from a wide range of specialities - including those relating to end of life care - were asked for their views on patients’ death.

This included doctors working in intensive care, neurology, hospital specialities, elderly care, palliative end of life care and general practice.

Doctors were asked about their religious views and their care of the last patient who died, as well as details about decisions they may have taken that were expected, or partly intended to, end life.

The findings, published in the Journal of Medical Ethics, revealed that the ethnicity of the doctor was largely unrelated to whether they took controversial decisions.

But doctors who described themselves as non-religious were more likely than any other group to have given continuous deep sedation until death, having taken a decision they knew could or would end life.

And those doctors who described themselves as “extremely” or “very non-religious” were almost twice as likely to have taken these kinds of decisions as those with a strong religious belief.

Click here to see the Journal of Medical Ethics article

Readers' comments (8)

  • does this mean that those who are non reigious aslo do not value life,to keep someone in deep sedation up to death I would have though is unethical. The idea is to keep someone pain free surly not deelpy sedated.

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  • It would be very interesting for some follow-up research on "why" - asking people at different points in the spectrum.

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  • The modern hospice movement was started by a remarkable woman who shared the "deep faith" mentioned above, similar to many of those who start palliative services in other countries. Such faith can lead to genuine compassion, which we know is at the root of the best care.

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  • >does this mean that those who are non reigious aslo do not value life,to keep someone in deep sedation up to death I would have though is unethical. The idea is to keep someone pain free surly not deelpy sedate

    Not ALWAYS possible to keep someone pain free and conscious I'm afraid, despite what the textbook say.

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  • What an interesting research question. I agree anonymous above the 'why' is conspicuously absent. It also raises the discussion of do you require a faith to be a compassionate person. The abstract does highlight the apparent willingness of those without a strong faith to address and discuss the end of life wishes more readily with people considered able to do that, which is interesting.
    I also think it raises the question of just how deeply the existential motivations of people run, and how they define boundaries be it personal or professional. In response to Jean above I think it is a leap to think that the rejection of the available mainstream faith defines you as not valueing life, and a leap to a completely wrong conclusion in my view, but an area that needs discussion.

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  • Having recently studied palliative care modules i find this article very poorly stated. It may provoke an unfair bias towards physicians who may be agnostic, though excellent practitioners. End of life care is an extremely complex area with both spiritual and moral empowerment at it's core. A great many healthcare staff are battling unfounded bias from uninformed media outlets. The terms " hasten" ,or "speed up" are alarming and sensationalistic. It is disappointing to find this poor example of editorial standards in a national nursing magazine.

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  • An important factor which would skew the results has not been mentioned. Was it an anonymised questionairre? Anyone reporting a decision with any ambiguity with regard to their professional code of conduct, and possible investigation, and it not be anonymous would be risking a great deal.

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  • who wrote this article?

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