Religion influences doctors' decisions in caring for terminally ill

The religious beliefs of a doctor can play a part in end-of-life care discussions for terminally ill patients, a British study published this week in the Journal of Medical Ethics determined. Doctors who identified themselves as agnostic or atheist were two times more likely to talk about life-ending care than those who had strong religious beliefs. 

As such, Dr. Clive Seale, the study's author, concluded that both religious and non-religious physicians alike should be required to disclose their views to patients--whose views he refers to as being "of paramount importance"--early on in the treatment process. 

"[D]octor's [should] become more aware of how broader sets of values, such as those associated with religiosity or a nonreligious outlook, may enter into their decision-making in end-of-life care," Seale wrote. 

Of nearly 8,900 physicians surveyed, only around 42 percent--slightly more than 3,700--responded. Other findings, as reported by Medical News Today, included: 

  • Palliative-care doctors, more often than not, were Christian and white, while specialists who treated the elderly generally were either Hindu or Muslim.
  • Hospital specialists were 10 times more likely than palliative-care doctors to report decisions pertaining to ending a patient's life.
  • Highly religious doctors and palliative-care specialists were more likely to be opposed to assisted-dying and euthanasia legislation. 

Dr. R. Sean Morrison, president of the American Academy of Hospice and Palliative Medicine and director of the National Palliative Care Research Center, told HealthDay News that he agreed with Seale's conclusion about disclosure. 

"Physicians have feelings," Morrison said. "Physicians have beliefs. And those feelings and beliefs can influence some of the advice and decisions they make. But the key is not to let those feelings and beliefs guide your care, but to recognize when it's happening and how it might be in conflict with the patient's best interest." 

For more information:
- here's the survey's abstract
- read this Medical News Today piece
- here's the HealthDay News article
- check out this MedPage Today story