Religion and medicine: Sometimes a healing prescription

Nov 04, 2009

Do pediatric oncologists feel that religion is a bridge or a barrier to their work? Or do they feel it can be either, depending on whether their patients are recovering or deteriorating? A novel Brandeis University study examines these questions in the current issue of Social Problems.

Through in-depth interviews with 30 pediatricians and pediatric oncologists at elite medical centers, the authors discovered that physicians tend to view and spirituality pragmatically, considering them resources in family decision-making and in end of life situations, and barriers when they conflict with medical decisions, said lead author Brandeis sociologist Wendy Cadge.

Pediatricians, more than pediatric oncologists, say that religion is outside the purview, or boundary, of their profession, most likely because they deal primarily with healthy children. Pediatric oncologists, on the other hand, say that religion can help families cope with a dying child or an unfavorable medical outcome, said Cadge.

"Physicians view religion and spirituality as a barrier when it impedes medical recommendations and as a bridge when it helps families answer questions medicine inherently cannot," the authors wrote.

Only one physician in the study directly asked patients and their families about religion and spirituality regularly. The other pediatricians said that direct conversations about religion were either not relevant or too personal, drawing a clear boundary between public and private that puts religion on the private side of the line.

Still, religion and almost always come up when fails to cure the patient. As one physician explained, "The old adage that there are very few nonbelievers in fox holes applies in this setting also." The study found that many of the physicians believe religious and spiritual beliefs help patients and their families shift from curative to palliative care.

As one physician said, "…frankly those who do have religious convictions…there's a belief…that there's something beyond this world, they seem to handle better, even the patients quite a bit better. And it's easier to talk about death with those families and those patients. There's an underlying belief that there's something beyond this world that is basically a better world. It is much easier to discuss in a much more helpful manner than with families that do not."

"The study shows that physicians do not want religious beliefs to trump medical care or expertise, and they get frustrated when such beliefs interfere with medical decisions," said Cadge. "But at the end of the day, when a loved one is dying or all medical options are exhausted, physicians often welcome a family's religious beliefs because they help a family answer the "why us" questions that medicine cannot," said Cadge.

Source: Brandeis University (news : web)

Explore further: 'Here comes the sun': Does pop music have a 'rhythm of the rain?'

Related Stories

The power of prayer?

Jun 17, 2009

Health and religion have always been intertwined, most obviously through prayer on behalf of the sick. Does intercessory prayer for sick people actually help heal them? For thousands of years some people have believed so. ...

Religion and healthcare should mix, study says

Oct 23, 2007

Research shows that religion and spirituality are linked to positive physical and mental health; however, most studies have focused on people with life threatening diseases. A new study from the University of Missouri-Columbia ...

Recommended for you

Price fairness: When do consumers blame the Michelin Man?

3 hours ago

If you feel particularly annoyed when Michelin raises the prices of their tires, blame the Michelin Man. According to a new study in the Journal of Marketing, companies whose brands are represented by or associated with h ...

Team publishes research on friendship

4 hours ago

In the most inclusive study to date on friendship, Chapman University research looks at gender, age, and sexual orientation differences in the number of friends people rely on for support, to what extent they choose friends ...

User comments : 1

Adjust slider to filter visible comments by rank

Display comments: newest first

not rated yet Nov 05, 2009
"The study found that many of the physicians believe religious and spiritual beliefs help patients and their families shift from curative to palliative care."

How are people trained in hope and faith?

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.