Religion and medicine: Sometimes a healing prescription

November 4, 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: Study: Religious belief declines in Britain

Related Stories

Religion and healthcare should mix, study says

October 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 ...

The power of prayer?

June 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. ...

Recommended for you

French teen finds 560,000 year-old tooth (Update)

July 28, 2015

A 16-year-old French volunteer archaeologist has found an adult tooth dating back around 560,000 years in southwestern France, in what researchers hailed as a "major discovery" Tuesday.

Oldest known Koran text fragments discovered

July 23, 2015

Two pages of text written on parchment that are believed to be sections of the Koran (Chapters 18 and 20) have been discovered by a PhD student in a British university library and are believed to be the oldest ever found. ...

1 comment

Adjust slider to filter visible comments by rank

Display comments: newest first

marjon
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.